State v. Beamon, 2010AP2003–CR.

Citation2013 WI 47,347 Wis.2d 559,830 N.W.2d 681
Decision Date29 May 2013
Docket NumberNo. 2010AP2003–CR.,2010AP2003–CR.
PartiesSTATE of Wisconsin, Plaintiff–Respondent, v. Courtney C. BEAMON, Defendant–Appellant–Petitioner.
CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Wisconsin

OPINION TEXT STARTS HERE

For the defendant-appellant-petitioner, there were briefs by Donna L. Hintze, assistant state public defender, and oral argument by Donna L. Hintze.

For the plaintiff-respondent, the cause was argued by Sally L. Wellman and the brief was by Rebecca Rapp St. John, assistant attorneys general, with whom on the brief was J.B. Van Hollen, attorney general.

An amicus curiae brief was filed by Robert R. Henak and Henak Law Office, S.C., Milwaukee, on behalf of the Wisconsin Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.

PATIENCE DRAKE ROGGENSACK, J.

[347 Wis.2d 564]¶ 1 This is a review of a published decision of the court of appeals 1 that affirmed the judgment of conviction entered by the Racine County Circuit Court.2 Relevant to this appeal, defendant Courtney C. Beamon was convicted of fleeing or attempting to elude a traffic officer, in violation of Wis. Stat. § 346.04(3) (2009–10).3 Beamon argues that, under the particular jury instructions given in this case, there was insufficient evidence to convict him of fleeing or attempting to elude a traffic officer. Specifically, Beamon claims that the jury instructions required the State to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Beamon violated § 346.04(3) “by increasing the speed of the vehicle to flee,” and that there was no evidence that Beamon increased the speed of his vehicle after law enforcement officers began to pursue him.

¶ 2 Wisconsin Stat. § 346.04(3) sets out the two requirements necessary for commission of the offense charged. The secondrequirement may be proven in three different ways. That is, § 346.04(3) does not require that the defendant's flight or attempt to elude have been accomplished by the defendant increasing the speed of his vehicle to flee, as the instructions given in this case provided. Beamon's argument, therefore, rests on his contention that the sufficiency of the evidence must be evaluated by comparison with the jury instructions actually given, even though those instructions added a requirement to the statutory definition of the crime.

¶ 3 We conclude that jury instructions that add requirements to what the statute sets out as necessary to prove the commission of a crime are erroneous; and therefore, we examine the sufficiency of the evidence in this case by comparison to what the statute requires and not by comparison to an additional requirement in the jury instructions. Furthermore, jury instruction errors are subject to harmless error analysis, which we apply here. A harmless error analysis asks whether, based on the totality of the circumstances, it is clear beyond a reasonable doubt that a rational jury, properly instructed, would have found the defendant guilty.

¶ 4 We conclude that under the totality of circumstances, it is clear beyond a reasonable doubt the jury would have found Beamon guilty of fleeing or attempting to elude an officer absent the erroneous jury instruction. The evidence at trial unquestionably supported the jury's verdict that Beamon violated the fleeing or eluding statute. Accordingly, we conclude that there was sufficient evidence to convict Beamon, and we affirm the decision of the court of appeals.

I. BACKGROUND

¶ 5 In the early morning hours of November 19, 2007, off-duty Racine Police Officer Dennis Cecchini and another officer were working as private security guards at the American Legion Bar in Racine. At approximately 12:45 a.m., the officers heard multiple gunshots. After radioing police dispatch, the two officers left the bar to investigate. Officer Cecchini heard two more gunshots, and took cover behind a parked vehicle.

¶ 6 Officer Cecchini then observed a male figure run from the porch of a nearby house in a crouched position and enter a vehicle parked near the house. Cecchini again radioed dispatch to describe the vehicle and to provide information about the vehicle's direction of travel, noting that the vehicle was driving north, with its headlights extinguished.

[347 Wis.2d 567]¶ 7 As he was speaking to the dispatcher, Cecchini heard Racine Police Officer Frank Miller remark on the radio that he saw the vehicle that Cecchini had described. At that point, Officer Miller activated his emergency lights and siren and began following the vehicle, which he noted was travelling approximately 45 to 50 miles per hour in a 30 miles-per-hour zone.

¶ 8 When Officer Miller began pursuit, he was approximately three-quarters of a block behind the speeding vehicle. As the vehicle slowed to negotiate a soft right turn, Officer Miller closed the distance between his squad car and the other vehicle. After negotiating the turn, the vehicle continued driving toward an intersection controlled by a four-way stop sign. The vehicle, still with its lights off, drove through the intersection without stopping or slowing down.

¶ 9 Immediately after the vehicle passed through the intersection, Officer Miller saw the suspect roll out of the driver's-side door of the vehicle, which was then travelling approximately 25 miles per hour. The vehicle then ran over the suspect's legs and collided with a parked car.

¶ 10 After the suspect was run over by his vehicle, he stood up and began running away from Officer Miller's squad car. For a short time, Officer Miller remained in his squad car as he pursued the suspect, with the lights and sirens still activated. After coming within a few feet of the suspect, Officer Miller exited his vehicle and began pursuing on foot. During the chase, Officer Miller issued various orders to the suspect, all of which the suspect disregarded. After a lengthy chase, Miller finally knocked the suspect to the ground, placed him in handcuffs, and took him to the hospital for medical treatment.

[347 Wis.2d 568]¶ 11 The suspect, later identified as Beamon, was charged in an eight-count information, including repeater enhancements for all counts. The charge relevant to Beamon's current appeal is Count 1, Vehicle Operator Flee/Elude Officer, in violation of Wis. Stat. § 346.04(3). For that charge, the information provided that: “On or about 11–19–2007 ... [defendant Beamon did] unlawfully and feloniously, as the operator of a vehicle, after having received a visual or audible signal from a traffic officer, or marked police vehicle, knowingly flee or attempt to elude any traffic officer by willful or wanton disregard of such signal so as to interfere with or endanger the operation of the police vehicle, or the traffic officer or other vehicles or pedestrians, or did increase the speed of the vehicle or extinguish the lights of the vehicle in an attempt to elude or flee....”

¶ 12 At trial, the jury heard testimony from Officer Cecchini describing the gunshots and the suspect's subsequent flight in a vehicle with its headlights extinguished. The jury also heard Officer Miller's testimony regarding the car chase, the suspect's exit from his moving vehicle, and the foot chase ending with Beamon's arrest.

¶ 13 Additionally, the jury heard Beamon's testimony, which generally corroborated the officers' testimonies. For example, Beamon testified to having been near the location of the shots fired; having gotten into the car and driven away with his headlights extinguished; and having rolled out of the vehicle while it was still moving. Beamon also did not challenge Officer Miller's testimony that Miller had activated his emergency lights and siren during the pursuit; instead, Beamon asserted that he did not remember seeing or hearing the emergency signals until he approached the stop sign, at which point he rolled out of his vehicle. Beamon also testified that he had been extremely intoxicated that night.

¶ 14 During the course of the trial, the jury twice heard the charge against Beamon for fleeing or eluding, exactly as set forth in the information. The jury first heard the charge during jury selection, when assistant district attorney Sharon Riek read the entire information. The second time the jury heard the information was when Judge Mueller read the charge, as set forth in the statute, immediately before reading the jury instructions for the charged offense.

¶ 15 The instructions that the jury heard immediately following Judge Mueller's reading of the information did not track the language used in either Wis. Stat. § 346.04(3) or in the information. Instead, the instructions provided that:

Sec. 346.04(3) of the Wisconsin Statutes is violated by a person who operates a motor vehicle on a highway after receiving a visual or audible signal from a marked police vehicle and knowingly flees any traffic officer by willful disregard of such signal so as to interfere with or endanger the traffic officer by increasing the speed of the vehicle to flee. Before you may find the defendant guilty of this offense, the State must prove by evidence which satisfies you beyond a reasonable doubt that the following two elements were present.

First, the defendant operated a motor vehicle on a highway after receiving a visual and audible signal from a marked police vehicle.

Secondly, the defendant knowingly fled a marked squad car by willful disregard of the visual or audible signal so as to interfere with or endanger the traffic officer by increasing the speed of the vehicle to flee.

(Emphases added.) The jury found Beamon guilty of fleeing or eluding a traffic officer, as well as the other seven counts charged. The circuit court subsequently entered a judgment of conviction on the jury verdict, and Beamon was sentenced.

¶ 16 Beamon appealed his conviction for fleeing or eluding, alleging that the evidence was insufficient to convict him, based on the jury instructions. Namely, Beamon argued that there was no evidence that he had increased the speed of his vehicle after Officer Miller began...

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