State Of Minn. v. Finnegan, A08-0777.

Citation784 N.W.2d 243
Decision Date30 June 2010
Docket NumberNo. A08-0777.,A08-0777.
PartiesSTATE of Minnesota, Respondent,v.Jason FINNEGAN, petitioner, Appellant.
CourtSupreme Court of Minnesota (US)

784 N.W.2d 243

STATE of Minnesota, Respondent,
Jason FINNEGAN, petitioner, Appellant.

No. A08-0777.

Supreme Court of Minnesota.

June 30, 2010.

784 N.W.2d 244
Syllabus by the Court

Because appellant did not meet his burden to prove that his absence from trial was involuntary and justified, the district court properly denied appellant's petition for postconviction relief.

Lori Swanson, Attorney General, John B. Galus, Assistant Attorney General, St. Paul, MN; and David J. Hauser, Otter Tail County Attorney, Fergus Falls, MN, for respondent.

David W. Merchant, Chief Appellate Public Defender, Leslie J. Rosenberg, Assistant
784 N.W.2d 245
State Public Defender, St. Paul, MN, for appellant.
GILDEA, Justice.

This case is before us on review of the district court's denial of appellant Jason Finnegan's petition for postconviction relief. Finnegan contended in his petition that he was entitled to a new trial because a portion of his first trial was conducted in his absence. The postconviction court denied the petition, and the court of appeals affirmed. Because we conclude that Finnegan did not meet his burden to show that he was involuntarily absent, we affirm.

An Otter Tail County jury found Finnegan guilty of one count of first-degree criminal sexual conduct in violation of Minn.Stat. § 609.342, subd. 1(c) (2008), and two counts of third-degree criminal sexual conduct in violation of Minn.Stat. § 609.344, subds. 1(b), (c) (2006).1 The evidence at trial established that at approximately 11:30 p.m. on February 4, 2005, then 14-year-old M.F. returned home from a high school dance with her sister and her sister's boyfriend. M.F.'s other sister, that sister's boyfriend, and Finnegan, a family friend, were all at M.F.'s home. After one of the couples left, those remaining congregated in the lower level recreation room of M.F.'s family home; all, except M.F., were drinking. Finnegan also smoked marijuana that evening.

By 12:30 a.m., both M.F.'s sisters and their boyfriends had gone to bed, leaving M.F. and Finnegan alone. M.F. fell asleep on a loveseat. About twenty minutes later, M.F. testified that Finnegan woke her up, wrapped his arm around her, pulled her to the floor, and told her to remove her pants. M.F. refused, but in response, Finnegan tightened his grip and threatened to break her neck if she did not remove her pants. Because of the pain in her neck, M.F. obliged, and then Finnegan sexually assaulted her.

M.F. subsequently reported the sexual assault to authorities, and Finnegan was charged. In August 2005, Finnegan failed to appear for his omnibus hearing scheduled in the case, resulting in a bench warrant. Because Finnegan failed to appear at his omnibus hearing, the district court also postponed the scheduled jury trial.

Trial was thereafter scheduled to begin on May 4, 2006. On the first day of trial, the jury was selected and the State called several witnesses, including M.F., the physician who examined M.F. after she reported the assault, and M.F.'s sister. At the end of that day, the court told the jury “[w]e are looking forward to wrapping this up tomorrow early afternoon.” The court then instructed Finnegan and both attorneys to appear in the courtroom at 9 a.m. the next day.

On the morning of May 5, 2006, Finnegan did not appear. The district court held a hearing and the transcript reflects that Finnegan's trial counsel informed the court that Finnegan's mother had called and reported that Finnegan was in bed and nonresponsive. She thought Finnegan was having “a nervous breakdown,” and she asked that transportation be provided

784 N.W.2d 246
for him. The court ordered that officials “go get Mr. Finnegan, get some proper clothes on him, and get him to this courtroom as soon as possible.”

The hearing resumed approximately one hour later. The prosecutor told the court that Sergeant Barry Fitzgibbons, who had been dispatched to transport Finnegan, reported that Finnegan's condition was “beyond an officer's ability.” The prosecutor stated that Fitzgibbons believed Finnegan's state was due to a medical condition, likely an overdose, because there was no movement of Finnegan's legs; Finnegan was drooling; Finnegan's eyes had rolled back in his head; and Finnegan could not speak. The prosecutor reported that an ambulance was en route to pick Finnegan up.

The district court asked the State what its position was with regard to continuing with trial. The State requested to proceed, stating that Finnegan's absence was “a choice” and argued that Minn. R.Crim. P. 26.03 permitted the court to continue with trial. The State also cited considerations of expense and witness convenience. Finnegan's attorney objected to proceeding without Finnegan, citing his constitutional right to be present at trial, and asked the court to “find out more as to why he's in the hospital” and to ascertain Finnegan's condition.

The district court did not wait or investigate further but determined that Finnegan had voluntarily absented himself from trial. The court stated that Finnegan's “conduct of choosing to overdose or whatever he did to make himself in a stupor” waived his right to be present. The trial proceeded, and the State called five additional witnesses, including a DNA expert, M.F.'s mother, and the two officers who interviewed M.F. and collected related evidence. The defense rested without calling any witnesses.

The district court then excused the jury for lunch, and the court and the attorneys continued, on the record, to discuss Finnegan's absence. During this hearing, Finnegan's attorney noted, with regard to Finnegan's right to testify, that Finnegan was not present to make the decision. The court concluded that Finnegan waived his right to testify by failing to attend trial. The court also asked for an update on Finnegan's condition. The prosecutor reported that she learned from a police officer that Finnegan was unaware of his surroundings, unable to communicate, and still receiving medical treatment. The doctor preliminarily concluded that Finnegan had overdosed on sleeping pills, and the prosecutor said that Finnegan needed to remain in the hospital. The court then took the lunch recess.

Following the recess, but before the jury returned, the prosecutor made a record as to Finnegan's August 2005 failure to appear for court and the subsequent bench warrant that had been issued for his arrest. Closing arguments and jury instructions followed. Thereafter, the jury deliberated and returned guilty verdicts.

Three days later, on May 8, 2006, the district court held a hearing at which Finnegan was present. The court explained to Finnegan that his trial had continued in his absence because the court had “determin[ed] that it was by your own willful acts that you failed to appear for the second day of your trial.” The court then gave Finnegan's attorney an opportunity to be heard, and counsel moved for a new trial “given that [Finnegan] wasn't available.” Finnegan did not attempt to explain his absence or submit any evidence of explanation. The court denied the motion for a new trial.

The court next ordered a presentence investigation and a “sex offender evaluation.”

784 N.W.2d 247
The resulting psychologist's report, dated May 25, 2006, noted that Finnegan's absence from the second day of trial was “due to the influence of illicit substances and suicidal thinking.” Additionally, the presentence investigation report stated that Finnegan's hospitalization “occurred ... as a result of [Finnegan's] attempting suicide.”

On June 16, 2006, the district court held a sentencing hearing. The court gave Finnegan the opportunity to correct or add to the two reports discussed above. Finnegan's counsel stated that she had no corrections or additions to the reports. The court thereafter sentenced Finnegan to 144 months imprisonment.

On September 7, 2007, Finnegan filed a petition for postconviction relief, alleging prosecutorial misconduct and violation of his right to be present at trial. The postconviction court held that Finnegan was not entitled to postconviction relief. Specifically, the court concluded that the trial court had not erred in proceeding without Finnegan because Finnegan voluntarily and unjustifiably absented himself, and that there was no prosecutorial misconduct.

Finnegan appealed. The court of appeals held that no prosecutorial misconduct occurred. The court further held that a “defendant voluntarily and without justification absents himself from trial after trial has commenced by attempting suicide, and thereby, waives his right to be present at all stages of trial.” Finnegan v. State, 764 N.W.2d 856, 858 (Minn.App.2009). We subsequently granted Finnegan's petition for review on the question relating to his absence from trial.

Finnegan contends that he is entitled to a new trial because, in allowing his trial to proceed without Finnegan, the district court violated his constitutional right to be present. The State contends that the postconviction court's finding that Finnegan was voluntarily and without justification absent from trial is not clearly erroneous. We review the postconviction court's legal determinations de novo. Bonga v. State, 765 N.W.2d 639, 642 (Minn.2009). But we will reverse the court's factual findings only if they are clearly erroneous. Doppler v. State, 771 N.W.2d 867, 875 (Minn.2009).


A defendant has a constitutional right to be present at every stage of trial. See State v. Martin, 723 N.W.2d 613, 619 (Minn.2006); State v. Cassidy, 567 N.W.2d 707, 709 (Minn.1997); see also Minn. R.Crim. P. 26.03, subd. 1(1) (“The defendant must be present at ... every stage of the trial....”). Like other constitutional rights, the right to be present can be waived. See, e.g., Martin, 723 N.W.2d at 619; State v. Ware, 498 N.W.2d 454, 457 (Minn.1993). The right may be waived expressly or impliedly, and a court may imply waiver from a defendant's conduct. Cassidy, 567 N.W.2d at 709; see...

To continue reading

Request your trial
45 cases
  • Colbert v. State
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Minnesota (US)
    • 21 Octubre 2015
    ...L.Ed.2d 636 (1986) (exclusion of the defendant's testimony regarding the circumstances of his confession); see also State v. Finnegan, 784 N.W.2d 243, 251 n. 6 (Minn.2010) (continuing the trial in the defendant's absence). Structural errors resulting in automatic reversal occur only in a “v......
  • State ‘i v. Walsh
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Hawai'i
    • 23 Agosto 2011
    ...has a right to be present during any stage of trial where his substantial rights might be adversely affected); State v. Finnegan, 784 N.W.2d 243, 255 (Minn.2010) (defining the right to be present at trial as a fundamental right); State v. Muse, 967 S.W.2d 764, 766 (Tenn.1998) (“The right of......
  • State v. Watkins, A11–1793.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Minnesota (US)
    • 4 Diciembre 2013
    ...2142, 90 L.Ed.2d 636 (1986) (exclusion of the defendant's testimony regarding the circumstances of his confession); State v. Finnegan, 784 N.W.2d 243, 251 n. 6 (Minn.2010) (continuing the trial in the defendant's absence). The United States Supreme Court considered the difference between st......
  • State v. Koppi
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Minnesota (US)
    • 8 Junio 2011
    ...the petitioner fails to raise in a petition for further review because such a failure waives the issue on appeal. State v. Finnegan, 784 N.W.2d 243, 248 n. 3 (Minn.2010). A finding of waiver is particularly appropriate in cases like this one in which the legal issue is not dispositive of th......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT