State v. Blunt, No. 20090110.

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of North Dakota
Writing for the CourtSANDSTROM
Citation785 N.W.2d 909,2010 ND 144
Decision Date16 July 2010
Docket NumberNo. 20090110.
PartiesSTATE of North Dakota, Plaintiff and Appellee v. Charles BLUNT, Defendant and Appellant.
785 N.W.2d 909
2010 ND 144


STATE of North Dakota, Plaintiff and Appellee
v.
Charles BLUNT, Defendant and Appellant.


No. 20090110.

Supreme Court of North Dakota.

July 16, 2010.

785 N.W.2d 911

Cynthia Mae Feland (argued) and Lloyd Clayton Suhr (on brief), Assistant State's Attorneys, Bismarck, N.D., for plaintiff and appellee.

Michael Ray Hoffman, Bismarck, N.D., for defendant and appellant.

SANDSTROM, Justice.

[¶ 1] Charles Blunt appeals from an order deferring imposition of sentence entered upon a jury verdict finding him guilty of misapplication of entrusted property. We affirm.

I

[¶ 2] Blunt was the Executive Director of Workforce Safety and Insurance ("WSI") from 2004 to 2007. The State Auditor's Office conducted a performance review of WSI in 2006. The Auditor's report questioned the use of public funds at WSI, noting more than $18,000 in expenditures which allegedly failed to comply with constitutional provisions, state law, and policies of the Office of Management and Budget. See State v. Blunt, 2008 ND 135, ¶ 2, 751 N.W.2d 692.

[¶ 3] As a result of the Auditor's report, Blunt was charged with two counts of misapplication of entrusted property in violation of N.D.C.C. § 12.1-23-07(1). Count I charged Blunt with a class B felony for misapplying more than $10,000 in WSI funds for gift certificates given to WSI employees; food, beverages, flowers, balloons, decorations, costume rentals, ornaments, and gifts for WSI meetings; and food and convention expenses provided to legislators. See N.D.C.C. § 12.1-23-07(2)(a) (misapplication of entrusted property exceeding $10,000 is a class B felony). Count II charged Blunt with a class C felony for misapplying more than $500 in WSI funds for illegal bonuses paid to three high-ranking WSI executives. See N.D.C.C. § 12.1-23-07(2)(b) (misapplication of entrusted property exceeding $500 but less than $10,000 is a class C felony).

785 N.W.2d 912

[¶ 4] Following a preliminary hearing, the district court concluded the State had failed to establish probable cause and dismissed the complaint. We reversed and remanded on appeal, concluding "the district court erred in concluding there was not probable cause to believe that an offense had been committed or that Blunt had committed it." Blunt, 2008 ND 135, ¶ 32, 751 N.W.2d 692.

[¶ 5] On remand to the district court, the State filed an information and Blunt was arraigned. After the arraignment Blunt filed numerous motions, including a motion for a bill of particulars. In its response to this motion, the State noted, in addition to evidence of the gift certificates, meeting expenses, expenditures on legislators, and employee bonuses, it intended to present evidence at trial that Blunt: (1) had illegally authorized payment of sick leave to a WSI executive who was resigning but was not sick; (2) had failed to recoup relocation expenses owed to WSI by this same executive; and (3) had illegally committed $150,000 in grant money to the North Dakota Firefighter's Association under a grant program that did not exist.

[¶ 6] Prior to trial, Blunt moved to bar the State from aggregating the value of multiple items misapplied so as to reach the $10,000 threshold for a class B felony, arguing that each item allegedly misapplied was a separate offense. He requested the district court rule that only an individual item allegedly exceeding $10,000 is relevant to prove a class B felony. The district court ruled that the State was allowed to include the value of all items misapplied to reach the grading thresholds under N.D.C.C. § 12.1-23-07(2).

[¶ 7] The case was tried to a jury. At the close of the State's case-in-chief, Blunt moved for a judgment of acquittal under N.D.R.Crim.P. 29. The district court concluded the State had presented insufficient evidence to go to the jury on the allegations regarding the grant money, but "everything else" should go to the jury:

The grant program.... I'm going to grant the motion in regards to the grant program. We'll have to figure out how to address that. But that amount will not be considered by the Jury, as I'm going to dismiss that portion of the allegation, is one way to put it, I guess....
So, I guess, I don't-I'm finding there is insufficient evidence for that portion of it to go to the Jury. But everything else is going to stay. So simply, that portion will be out. But we'll go forward on the others with that, then.
After the district court ruled on Blunt's N.D.R.Crim.P. 29 motion, the State questioned whether the court could dismiss only that part of the charge in Count I involving the grant money and argued that the entire count should be submitted to the jury. The following colloquy then occurred between the court and the attorney for the State:
THE COURT: But, guess what, that's the way it is. I mean, I don't think you proved that portion of it. You charge it out that way. If I say, oh, that can go forward, too, where am I at when they come back guilty?....
....
THE COURT: So I think it's appropriate and it's carved out of there. I'm going to say they can't consider that amount ... in coming to a conclusion on Count I.
MS. FELAND: So then am I under the understanding it is part of the Court's ruling, since the Court has said that there will be no comment about
785 N.W.2d 913
that, that includes comments from either side? So there is no discussion about the grants for all practical purposes, as if it never existed as part of this charge. It that what I'm understanding?
THE COURT: It is going to be in the closing instructions that they can't consider those amounts.

[¶ 8] At the close of all the evidence, Blunt moved the court "to enter the judgment of acquittal granted as to Count I" under N.D.R.Crim.P. 29, and the State again argued that the grant money allegations should be submitted to the jury. The district court again denied Blunt's motion on all allegations other than the grant money and reiterated its conclusion:

I'm indicating there is insufficient evidence to go before the Jury to find a conviction on the Firemens Fund grant program as an offense. And that's how I'm going to rule. And I'm going to issue an instruction along those lines that they are not to consider that in considering Count I.
In its closing instructions, the court instructed the jury:

Evidence not Considered

As a matter of law, the Court has determined, you are not to consider any evidence of the Fireman's grant funds in reaching your verdict.

[¶ 9] The jury found Blunt guilty on Count I and not guilty on Count II. Blunt filed a post-trial motion, arguing that the district court's granting of a part of his N.D.R.Crim.P. 29 motion for judgment of acquittal required acquittal on all of Count I. The court denied the motion. The court entered an order deferring imposition of sentence, and Blunt appeals.

[¶ 10] The district court had jurisdiction under N.D. Const. art. VI, § 8, and N.D.C.C. § 27-05-06. The appeal is timely under N.D.R.App.P. 4(b). This Court has jurisdiction under N.D. Const. art. VI, §§ 2 and 6, and N.D.C.C. §§ 29-01-12 and 29-28-06.

II

[¶ 11] Blunt contends the district court erred when it did not grant a judgment of acquittal on all of Count I after concluding there was insufficient evidence to allow allegations regarding the grant money to go to the jury. Blunt contends the district court's action constituted an acquittal on Count I and any further prosecution on that Count was barred.

[¶ 12] Under N.D.R.Crim.P. 29(a), the district court is authorized, upon the defendant's motion, to "enter a judgment of acquittal of any offense for which the evidence is insufficient to sustain a conviction." Thus to grant a motion for judgment of acquittal under Rule 29, "a trial court must find the evidence is insufficient to sustain a conviction of the offenses charged." State v. Maki, 2009 ND 123, ¶ 7, 767 N.W.2d 852 (quoting State v. Kautzman, 2007 ND 133, ¶ 10, 738 N.W.2d 1); see also State v. Ness, 2009 ND 182, ¶ 11, 774 N.W.2d 254; State v. Hammeren, 2003 ND 6, ¶ 6, 655 N.W.2d 707. When considering a motion for judgment of acquittal, "the trial court, upon reviewing the evidence most favorable to the prosecution, must deny the motion if there is substantial evidence upon which a reasonable mind could find guilt beyond a reasonable doubt." Hammeren, at ¶ 6 (quoting State v. Steinbach, 1998 ND 18, ¶ 16, 575 N.W.2d 193).

[¶ 13] Blunt contends that because the district court stated it was granting

785 N.W.2d 914
the motion for judgment of acquittal as to the grant money, the court's action constituted an acquittal of the offense charged in Count I. In determining what constitutes an acquittal, however, the label used by the district court is not conclusive, and "we look at the substance of the judge's ruling to determine whether it actually represents a resolution of some or all of the factual elements of the offense charged." State v. Deutscher, 2009 ND 98, ¶ 8, 766 N.W.2d 442 (quoting State v. Jackson, 2005 ND 137, ¶ 5, 701 N.W.2d 887). In United States v. Pacheco, 434 F.3d 106, 112 (1st Cir.2006), the court, interpreting Fed.R.Crim.P. 29 in a case in which the trial court purported to grant a "partial" judgment of acquittal on a portion of a single-count indictment, concluded:
[T]he question of what constitutes a "judgment of acquittal" is not governed either by the form of the trial judge's ruling or by his characterization of it. See United States v. Scott, 437 U.S. 82, 96, 98 S.Ct. 2187, 57 L.Ed.2d 65 (1978); [ United States v.] Martin Linen [ Supply Co.], 430 U.S. [564,] 571, 97 S.Ct. 1349 [51 L.Ed.2d 642] [ (1977) ]. Rather, a reviewing court "must determine whether the ruling of the judge, whatever its label, actually represents a resolution, correct or not, of some or all of the factual elements of the offense charged." Martin Linen, 430 U.S. at 571, 97 S.Ct. 1349; see Gonzalez [ v. Justices of the Mun. Ct.], 420 F.3d [5,] 8-9 [ (1st Cir.2005) ]. A resolution in the defendant's favor of a necessary factual element of the
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12 practice notes
  • State v. Holly, No. 20120324.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of North Dakota
    • July 18, 2013
    ...64] A motion for a judgment of acquittal may be granted if the evidence is insufficient to sustain a conviction of guilt. State v. Blunt, 2010 ND 144, ¶ 12, 785 N.W.2d 909. We sustain a guilty verdict “if upon reviewing the evidence in a light most favorable to the verdict, we determine tha......
  • State v. Herzig, No. 20110304.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of North Dakota
    • November 28, 2012
    ...to ‘enter a judgment of acquittal of any offense for which the evidence is insufficient to sustain a conviction.’ ” State v. Blunt, 2010 ND 144, ¶ 12, 785 N.W.2d 909 (quoting N.D.R.Crim.P. 29(a)). To grant a motion for judgment of acquittal under N.D.R.Crim.P. 29, “ ‘a trial court must find......
  • Disciplinary Bd. of the Supreme Court N.D. v. Feland (In re Feland), No. 20110321.
    • United States
    • North Dakota Supreme Court
    • August 20, 2012
    ...(“WSI”), for misapplication of entrusted property. See State v. Blunt, 2011 ND 127, 799 N.W.2d 363 (“Blunt III ”); State v. Blunt, 2010 ND 144, 785 N.W.2d 909 (“Blunt II ”); State v. Blunt, 2008 ND 135, 751 N.W.2d 692 (“Blunt I ”). One of the issues presented in the criminal trial was wheth......
  • State v. Estrada, No. 20120270.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of North Dakota
    • May 14, 2013
    ...the jury of the law on the essential issues of the case.’ ” State v. Starke, 2011 ND 147, ¶ 12, 800 N.W.2d 705 (quoting State v. Blunt, 2010 ND 144, ¶ 24, 785 N.W.2d 909).1 [¶ 15] Estrada first argues the district court erred when it failed to provide a justification jury instruction. He ar......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
12 cases
  • State v. Holly, No. 20120324.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of North Dakota
    • July 18, 2013
    ...64] A motion for a judgment of acquittal may be granted if the evidence is insufficient to sustain a conviction of guilt. State v. Blunt, 2010 ND 144, ¶ 12, 785 N.W.2d 909. We sustain a guilty verdict “if upon reviewing the evidence in a light most favorable to the verdict, we determine tha......
  • State v. Herzig, No. 20110304.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of North Dakota
    • November 28, 2012
    ...to ‘enter a judgment of acquittal of any offense for which the evidence is insufficient to sustain a conviction.’ ” State v. Blunt, 2010 ND 144, ¶ 12, 785 N.W.2d 909 (quoting N.D.R.Crim.P. 29(a)). To grant a motion for judgment of acquittal under N.D.R.Crim.P. 29, “ ‘a trial court must find......
  • Disciplinary Bd. of the Supreme Court N.D. v. Feland (In re Feland), No. 20110321.
    • United States
    • North Dakota Supreme Court
    • August 20, 2012
    ...(“WSI”), for misapplication of entrusted property. See State v. Blunt, 2011 ND 127, 799 N.W.2d 363 (“Blunt III ”); State v. Blunt, 2010 ND 144, 785 N.W.2d 909 (“Blunt II ”); State v. Blunt, 2008 ND 135, 751 N.W.2d 692 (“Blunt I ”). One of the issues presented in the criminal trial was wheth......
  • State v. Estrada, No. 20120270.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of North Dakota
    • May 14, 2013
    ...the jury of the law on the essential issues of the case.’ ” State v. Starke, 2011 ND 147, ¶ 12, 800 N.W.2d 705 (quoting State v. Blunt, 2010 ND 144, ¶ 24, 785 N.W.2d 909).1 [¶ 15] Estrada first argues the district court erred when it failed to provide a justification jury instruction. He ar......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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