State v. Garland, A19-0240

Citation942 N.W.2d 732
Decision Date06 May 2020
Docket NumberA19-0240
Parties STATE of Minnesota, Respondent, v. Matthew Michael GARLAND , Appellant.
CourtSupreme Court of Minnesota (US)

Keith Ellison, Attorney General, Saint Paul, Minnesota; and John J. Choi, Ramsey County Attorney, Thomas R. Ragatz, Assistant Ramsey County Attorney, Saint Paul, Minnesota, for respondent.

Cathryn Middlebrook, Chief Appellate Public Defender, Jennifer Workman Jesness, Assistant Public Defender, Saint Paul, Minnesota, for appellant.

OPINION

THISSEN, Justice.

A jury found appellant Matthew Michael Garland guilty of first-degree murder and second-degree murder for the shooting death of Rondell Dunn and the district court adjudicated him guilty on both counts. Garland challenges both convictions. First, Garland argues that the district court erred by denying his request for an evidentiary hearing on the admissibility of the DNA evidence. Second, he argues that the district court abused its discretion by denying his pretrial motion to exclude the State’s expert testimony regarding DNA evidence. He contends that the evidence should have been excluded because the expert’s opinion lacked foundational reliability, was unhelpful to the trier of fact, and should have been evaluated under the Frye-Mack standard because it involved a novel scientific technique. He also contends that the DNA evidence was inadmissible because it was more prejudicial than probative. Finally, Garland contends that the prosecutor’s unobjected-to responses to three fact questions posed by the jury in open court with the judge and defense counsel present after the jury had begun deliberations constituted structural error.

We hold that any error the district court may have made by declining to hold an evidentiary hearing regarding the DNA evidence was harmless. We also hold that the district court did not abuse its discretion by denying Garland’s motion to exclude the DNA evidence. We further hold that even if the prosecutor’s conduct was plain error—an issue we do not reach—it is not reasonably likely that the jury would have reached a different result had the prosecutor not answered the three jury questions. Consequently, Garland was not prejudiced by the alleged prosecutorial misconduct. Finally, we hold that the district court erred by entering a formal adjudication on both first-degree murder and second-degree murder. We remand to the district court to correct that error. Accordingly, we affirm in part, reverse in part, and remand.

FACTS

Just after 2:00 p.m. on April 17, 2017, Rondell Dunn was shot at the corner of Saint Albans Street and Fuller Avenue in Saint Paul. A police investigation led to the arrest of Garland and his friend, S.L. Garland was charged with first-degree murder, first-degree murder committed for the benefit of a gang, second-degree murder, and second-degree murder committed for the benefit of a gang. S.L. was charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder. S.L. ultimately pled guilty to aiding an offender and testified against Garland.

After the district court conducted several pretrial hearings, Garland filed an additional pretrial motion to exclude DNA evidence and related expert testimony that the State sought to introduce against him. He also requested an omnibus hearing on the motion. In his motion, he argued that the expert opinion lacked foundational reliability under Minnesota Rule of Evidence 702, the DNA evidence was inadmissible under the Frye-Mack standard, and the evidence was more prejudicial than probative under Minnesota Rule of Evidence 403. The district court denied Garland’s motion to exclude the evidence without holding an evidentiary hearing.

Garland petitioned for a writ of mandamus from the court of appeals. He argued that the district court erred by failing to hold an evidentiary hearing to determine whether the State’s expert testimony met the requirements of Rule 702 and the Frye-Mack standard. He asked the court of appeals to direct the district court to hold an evidentiary hearing on the admissibility of the evidence and expert opinion testimony. The court of appeals denied Garland’s petition and the case proceeded to trial.

At trial, the State established the following facts using witness testimony, crime scene surveillance videos, scientific test results, and other evidence. Just before 1:00 p.m. on the day of Dunn’s murder, S.L. picked up Garland in S.L.’s girlfriend’s car, a gold Saturn Vue. Garland was wearing a red Polo hat, a black True Religion shirt, black pants, and a black jacket. That was the same outfit Garland was seen wearing in a gas station surveillance video just one week before the murder.

S.L. and Garland drove toward S.L.’s house. As they were driving, they spotted Dunn. Garland told S.L. to park at a corner nearby. S.L. did so. Garland then told S.L. that he was going to "blow his ass down," which S.L. took to mean that Garland was going to shoot at Dunn. S.L. would not let him do it from the car, so Garland got out and walked down the street toward Dunn. He passed Dunn, turned around, and shot Dunn several times in the back.

After Garland left the car, S.L. immediately drove part of the way around the block and stopped by an alley. S.L. then saw Garland running through the alley and across a yard. He drove to the next street and picked up Garland in the middle of the block. Garland told S.L. that he had shot Dunn. Garland still had his gun, but said that it was empty. He was no longer wearing his red Polo hat. A different eyewitness confirmed parts of S.L.’s testimony about these events.

S.L. and Garland sped away from the scene of the shooting but got stuck at a stoplight. S.L. attempted to get around several cars, hitting one in the process.

S.L. drove away from the scene of that accident and dropped Garland off at another person’s house before picking his girlfriend up from work.

The woman whose car S.L. hit called 911 to report that she was the victim of a hit-and-run accident at a stoplight. The license plate number she provided to police was connected to a gold Saturn Vue that matched the car that surveillance cameras had recorded driving near the scene of the shooting. Officers determined that the car belonged to S.L.’s girlfriend and that S.L. had previously been seen driving the car. Police arrested S.L. and searched the Saturn Vue incident to that arrest. Garland’s black jacket, which he was wearing in the gas station surveillance video and on the crime scene surveillance video, was found in the car. And Garland’s fingerprints were found on the exterior of the car window.

Garland disputed his involvement in the murder, stating that he had been in Chicago on April 17, 2017. But cell-site location information placed his cell phone in Minneapolis and Saint Paul on April 16 and 17. And messages from his Facebook account showed that he was making plans to meet a woman in Saint Paul on the afternoon of April 17.

The State also presented DNA evidence linking Garland to the shooting. At the scene of the shooting, police recovered a red hat with a Polo design on it that looked virtually identical to the one that Garland had been wearing in the gas station surveillance videos. Police sent the hat to the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) for DNA testing. A BCA forensic scientist used a GlobalFiler test kit to analyze two DNA samples taken from the hat. Based on her analysis, the scientist opined that a swabbing sample taken from the hat, Item 1-1, contained a mixture of DNA from four or more individuals. She also concluded that a cutting sample taken from the hat, Item 1-2, contained a mixture of DNA from four or more individuals.

The BCA scientist then determined whether Garland could be excluded from the sample by comparing markers in his DNA to markers in the samples. She concluded that Garland could not be excluded from either sample. She could not—and did not—state whether Garland’s DNA was part of either sample. Finally, she calculated what percentage of the population could be excluded as contributors to each sample. She concluded that, based on the DNA markers present, 92 percent of the general population could be excluded from Item 1-1 and 16.7 percent of the general population could be excluded from Item 1-2.

After the case was submitted and the jury began deliberations, the jury asked to review two video exhibits. The jury viewed the videos in open court in the presence of the judge, the prosecutor, the defense attorney, and Garland. The videos were played from the prosecutor’s laptop and were projected onto the courtroom wall. During the viewing, the prosecutor responded to three questions about the videos from the jury. First, the jurors asked to stop one of the videos at a particular point and "get the time frame ... [t]he time stamp." The prosecutor responded that the time was "14:18:26." Second, as the video was stopped at the same point, a juror asked, "This is Central, right?" and the prosecutor responded, "Yeah." And third, when viewing the second video, a juror asked, "What is the time stamp on that?" to which the prosecutor responded, "14:12." Following the second question, the district court reminded the jury that the prosecutor "can't answer questions." Defense counsel did not object to any of the prosecutor’s statements.

The jury found Garland guilty of first-degree murder and second-degree murder and not guilty of the gang-related charges. Garland received a sentence of life without the possibility of release.

ANALYSIS

On appeal, Garland makes four principal arguments. First, he argues that the district court erred by not holding an evidentiary hearing to assess the admissibility of the State’s expert opinion regarding the DNA evidence. Second, he contends that the district court abused its discretion by denying his motion to exclude the State’s expert opinion under Minnesota Rule of Evidence 702. Specifically, he argues that the State’s expert opinion involved a novel scientific theory and...

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