State v. Carpenter

Decision Date08 February 2011
Docket NumberNo. 20100085.,20100085.
Citation793 N.W.2d 765,2011 ND 20
PartiesSTATE of North Dakota, Plaintiff and Appellee v. Joseph Anthony CARPENTER, Defendant and Appellant.
CourtNorth Dakota Supreme Court

Ladd R. Erickson (argued), State's Attorney, Washburn, ND, for plaintiff and appellee.

Kent M. Morrow (argued), Bismarck, ND, for defendant and appellant.

KAPSNER, Justice.

[¶ 1] Joseph Carpenter appeals from a criminal judgment entered after a jury found him guilty of endangering by fire or explosion. The jury and the trial court found Carpenter was a habitual offender based on prior criminal convictions, and the court increased Carpenter's sentence accordingly. On appeal, Carpenter argues the evidence was insufficient to support the guilty verdict, the guilty verdict was inconsistent, the verdict form constituted an improper special verdict, the jury was erroneously given the task of determining Carpenter's habitual offender status, and the State did not provide reasonable notice of its intention to seek a sentence enhancement. We affirm the conviction but reverse and remand for resentencing upon proper notice to Carpenter.

I

[¶ 2] Carpenter and Jeffrey Hart lived in separate vehicles parked near each other in a parking lot. Carpenter and Hart were involved in an altercation. Several hours later, Hart awoke to find his vehicle in flames. Hart had burns on his hands, arms, and legs. His vehicle was destroyed, along with his possessions inside. Investigators determined the fire was set intentionally, and Carpenter was charged with endangering by fire or explosion. The jury found Carpenter guilty of endangering by fire or explosion by placing another person in danger of death under circumstances manifesting an extreme indifference to the value of life, and guilty of endangering by fire or explosion by causing damage to property in excess of two thousand dollars. The trial court sentenced Carpenter based on the jury's verdict of guilty on endangering by fire or explosion by placing another person in danger of death under circumstances manifesting an extreme indifference to the value of life. The trial court did not sentence Carpenter for endangering by fire or explosion by causing damage to property in excess of two thousand dollars.

[¶ 3] One day before trial, the State filed notice of its intention to seek a habitual offender sentence enhancement under N.D.C.C. § 12.1-32-09. Carpenter objected to the notice before the trial began by asserting one day was unreasonable notice. The trial court found the notice was reasonable. The jury was not informed of the State's intention to seek a habitual offender sentence enhancement until after the guilty verdict was returned. During sentencing, the State presented Minnesota criminal judgments against Carpenter to the jury, and the jury found Carpenter was a habitual offender within the meaning of the statute. The trial court noted it also found Carpenter was a habitual offender and enhanced Carpenter's sentence.

II

[¶ 4] On appeal, Carpenter argues the evidence was insufficient to support the guilty verdict returned by the jury because only circumstantial evidence was presented,and the circumstantial evidence was not consistent.

[¶ 5] This Court's review of the sufficiency of the evidence to support a guilty verdict by a jury is highly deferential:

In an appeal challenging the sufficiency of the evidence, we look only to the evidence and reasonable inferences most favorable to the verdict to ascertain if there is substantial evidence to warrant the conviction. A conviction rests upon insufficient evidence only when, after reviewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the prosecution and giving the prosecution the benefit of all inferences reasonably to be drawn in its favor, no rational fact finder could find the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. In considering a sufficiency of the evidence claim, we do not weigh conflicting evidence, or judge the credibility of witnesses. A verdict based on circumstantial evidence carries the same presumption of correctness as other verdicts. A conviction may be justified on circumstantial evidence alone if the circumstantial evidence has such probative force as to enable the trier of fact to find the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

State v. Addai, 2010 ND 29, ¶ 52, 778 N.W.2d 555 (quoting State v. Noorlun, 2005 ND 189, ¶ 20, 705 N.W.2d 819 (citations omitted)).

[¶ 6] The jury heard testimony from Hart on the fight between Hart and Carpenter. A fire marshal testified she found gasoline on the ground around Hart's vehicle, and it was clear the gasoline did not come from the vehicle's unexploded gasoline tank. The fire marshal determined the fire was arson, gasoline was used to start the fire, and the fire began outside the vehicle and moved inside. A police officer testified Hart told him about the fight with Carpenter, and the officer found blood in and around Carpenter's vehicle. The police officer testified he later found Carpenter behind washing and drying machines in a nearby laundry facility. Carpenter said he was hiding because he was afraid of someone. The sweatshirt Carpenter was wearing had a significant amount of blood on it. The police officer testified he found a lighter on Carpenter and the police car smelled strongly of gasoline while Carpenter was in the backseat. The police officer testified someone reported a gasoline can missing from a shed near the scene of the fire, and police found what appeared to be blood around and on the shed. The gasoline can was later found in a garbage can, which also had blood on it.

[¶ 7] Carpenter admits the evidence suggests guilt, but argues the evidence "does not exclusively show only Carpenter's guilt." Carpenter argues no one tested the substances that appeared to be blood to ensure the substances were blood. Carpenter contends no one saw him at the scene of the fire, nor did anyone testify they found blood at the scene of the fire. These claims do not render the circumstantial evidence so inconsistent that the evidence lacks sufficient probative force. "[A] jury may find a defendant guilty even though evidence exists which, if believed, could lead to a not guilty verdict." Addai, 2010 ND 29, ¶ 57, 778 N.W.2d 555 (quoting Noorlun, 2005 ND 189, ¶ 20, 705 N.W.2d 819). There was evidence on the record for the jury to rely upon in finding Carpenter guilty. Even without any of the evidence concerning the blood trail, the jury heard evidence about a fight, the fire several hours later, the testimony of the fire marshal that the fire was started with gasoline, and the gasoline on Carpenter's shirt. The evidence was not inconsistent and was sufficient to support the verdict.

III

[¶ 8] Carpenter argues the verdict was inconsistent.

[¶ 9] On the verdict form, the jury marked Carpenter guilty of endangering by fire or explosion by placing another person in danger of death under circumstances manifesting an extreme indifference to the value of human life, and guilty of endangering by fire or explosion by causing damage to property of another constituting pecuniary loss in excess of two thousand dollars. The trial court sentenced Carpenter based upon the jury finding Carpenter guilty of endangering by fire by placing another person in danger of death, but Carpenter was not sentenced upon the jury finding Carpenter guilty of endangering by fire and causing property damage.

[¶ 10] Carpenter did not explain how the verdict was inconsistent, and we need not address this issue further. "Our Court will not consider an argument that is not adequately articulated, supported, and briefed." State v. Bachmeier, 2007 ND 42, ¶ 10, 729 N.W.2d 141.

IV

[¶ 11] Carpenter argues the verdict form was an improper special verdict.

[¶ 12] Carpenter was charged with one count of endangering by fire or explosion by starting a fire and placing another person in danger of death, a class B felony, or by starting a fire and causing damage to property in excess of two thousand dollars, a class C felony. The verdict form provided:

We, the jury duly impaneled and sworn to try the above-entitled action, do make the following findings regarding the defendant, Joseph Carpenter,
Endangering by Fire or Explosion by placing another person in danger of death under circumstances manifesting an extreme indifference to the value of human life:
NOT GUILTY ____ GUILTY ____
and/or
Endangering by Fire or Explosion by causing damage to property of another constituting pecuniary loss in excess of two thousand dollars.
NOT GUILTY ____ GUILTY ____

The jury was told they could find Carpenter not guilty, guilty of endangering by fire or explosion by either method, or guilty of endangering by fire or explosion by both methods. The jury marked guilty on both methods of endangering by fire or explosion. The trial court, however, sentenced Carpenter based on only the first method, because it is a higher-level offense, and Carpenter was only charged with one count of endangering by fire or explosion.

[¶ 13] "A special verdict is one in which the jury finds all the facts and then refers the case to the court for a decision on those facts." State v. Sheldon, 301 N.W.2d 604, 613 (N.D.1980). A special verdict includes findings on all the material issues and is rendered in lieu of a general verdict. Id. The verdict form in this case looks like a special verdict, because the jury was required to determine by which method Carpenter was guilty, and since the jury decided Carpenter was guilty of both methods, the court was required to decide which method Carpenter would ultimately be convicted and sentenced upon.

[¶ 14] Special verdicts are generally disfavored in criminal cases. State v. Steen, 2000 ND 152, ¶ 9, 615 N.W.2d 555. Special verdicts may coerce jurors into rendering a guilty verdict or prevent the jury from deciding guilt or innocence free from influence. Id. (citing Sheldon, 301 N.W.2d at 614). Special verdicts are allowed in criminal cases in very...

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