State v. Hayes, A11–1314.

Decision Date27 February 2013
Docket NumberNo. A11–1314.,A11–1314.
Citation826 N.W.2d 799
PartiesSTATE of Minnesota, Respondent, v. Christopher James HAYES, Appellant.
CourtMinnesota Supreme Court

OPINION TEXT STARTS HERE

Syllabus by the Court

1. To commit the criminal offense of drive-by shooting, a person must, while in or having just exited a motor vehicle, recklessly discharge a firearm at or toward another motor vehicle or a building. Minn.Stat. § 609.66, subd. 1e(a) (2012).

2. An individual who discharges a firearm at or toward an occupied building, an occupied motor vehicle, or a person is eligible for an enhanced sentence, Minn.Stat. § 609.66, subd. 1e(b) (2012), but only if the individual has committed the criminal offense of drive-by shooting, as defined in Minn.Stat. § 609.66, subd. 1e(a).

3. The record contains insufficient evidence to support the jury's verdict that the appellant was guilty of the offense of first-degree felony murder while committing a drive-by shooting because there is no evidence in the record that the appellant recklessly fired at or toward another motor vehicle or a building while committing the homicide.

4. The district court did not commit plain error by admitting testimony that a witness was threatened and attacked for being a “snitch.”

Lori Swanson, Attorney General, Saint Paul, MN; and Michael O. Freeman, Hennepin County Attorney, Lee W. Barry, Assistant County Attorney, Minneapolis, MN, for respondent.

David W. Merchant, Chief Appellate Public Defender, Suzanne M. Senecal–Hill, Assistant State Public Defender, Saint Paul, MN, for appellant.

OPINION

STRAS, Justice.

A jury found appellant Christopher James Hayes guilty of first-degree felony murder while committing a drive-by shooting and second-degree intentional murder. The district court convicted Hayes of first-degree felony murder and sentenced him to life imprisonment with the possibility of release. Hayes challenges his conviction on two grounds. First, he argues that the record contains insufficient evidence to sustain his conviction. Second, he contends that the court committed reversible error when it admitted testimony at trial that a witness was threatened and attacked for being a “snitch.” We conclude that the evidence was insufficient to prove that Hayes committed a drive-by shooting, but reject Hayes's evidentiary challenge. We therefore reverse Hayes's conviction of first-degree felony murder and remand to the district court with instructions to enter a judgment of conviction and impose sentence on the second-degree intentional murder count.

I.

The State filed a criminal complaint charging Hayes with one count of second-degree intentional murder for the death of Christopher DeRonde. A grand jury subsequently indicted Hayes on two additional counts: first-degree premeditated murder and first-degree felony murder while committing a drive-by shooting. The charges against Hayes arose from a shooting in Minneapolis on September 17, 2010.

At approximately 11:15 a.m. on September 17, T.S. was visiting a house on Colfax Avenue North. A short time later, T.S. noticed a red car approach the intersection of 30th Avenue North and Colfax Avenue North. She saw three men inside the car: the driver, a front seat passenger, and a back seat passenger who sat directly behind the front seat passenger. The windows of the red car were not tinted and the front seat passenger looked directly at T.S. Thus, T.S. observed details about the front seat passenger's appearance—including his facial hair, complexion, size, and clothing. During a photographic lineup at the police station after the shooting and at Hayes's trial, T.S. identified the front seat passenger as Hayes. T.S. was unable to identify the car's driver.

T.S. watched Hayes grab the shirt of the back seat passenger and point a dark silver gun at him. Hayes then glanced at T.S., who turned around and started walking away from the car. As T.S. walked away, she heard a loud “popping” sound consistent with a gunshot. After hearing the “popping” sound, T.S. glanced back toward the intersection and saw the back seat passenger exit the car, run across the street while holding his chest, and eventually collapse on the sidewalk on the northeast side of the intersection. The car then drove away.

A short time later, Minneapolis police arrived at the scene of the shooting, where officers found a body—later identified as Christopher DeRonde—near the northeast side of the intersection. DeRonde was dead by the time the police arrived. The police later interviewed T.S., who described what she saw and heard before, during, and after the shooting. Two other witnesses also heard a gunshot, but neither saw the shooting occur.

Although the police did not find any spent casings at the scene, an autopsy conducted by the Hennepin County medical examiner determined that DeRonde died as the result of a single gunshot wound. The characteristics of the entry wound revealed that the shooter fired the gun from no more than three or four feet away from DeRonde. The medical examiner testified at Hayes's trial that the bullet's trajectory through DeRonde's body was consistent with the theory that DeRonde was “leaning over” to get out of the car when the shooter fired at DeRonde.

Four days after the shooting, Minneapolis Police Sergeant Ann Kjos learned that police officers had stopped a red Dodge Intrepid that matched the car depicted in surveillance video footage from the date and location of the murder. At the time of the stop, the car's driver was Michael Funches, Jr. and Hayes was in the passenger seat. The police seized the car and obtained a warrant to search it. The car did not contain any spent casings, bullet holes, or blood, but the police learned that Funches's girlfriend owned the car. In a subsequent interview, Funches's girlfriend told Sergeant Kjos that Funches had used the car to drive her to and from work and lunch on September 17, the date of the murder. Two days after the interview with Funches's girlfriend, Sergeant Kjos questioned Funches. Funches explained that he drove the car to several locations on the morning of September 17 before taking his girlfriend to lunch, and that Hayes had accompanied him for part of the morning. Sergeant Kjos then showed Funches a photograph of DeRonde.Funches told Sergeant Kjos that he and Hayes had purchased marijuana from DeRonde in the past, but that the last time he had seen DeRonde was several days before September 17.

The next day, the police arrested Hayes and Funches. Sergeant Kjos once again interviewed Funches. This time, Funches provided a different account of the events from the date of the murder. Funches explained that Hayes wanted to purchase marijuana that morning. The two drove around the neighborhood until they eventually picked up DeRonde, who sat in the back seat of the car. As Funches drove, DeRonde handed Hayes a bag of marijuana. Hayes refused to pay for the marijuana, however, because he was dissatisfied with its quality. Once Funches stopped the car, Hayes locked the car doors, which prevented DeRonde from leaving. Hayes then pulled a gun from beneath his clothing and pointed it at DeRonde. Funches told Hayes to let DeRonde go, but Hayes refused to do so. DeRonde eventually opened the car door on his own and began to leave, at which point Hayes shot DeRonde. Funches then drove away.

Funches testified against Hayes at the grand jury proceedings and the jury trial that followed. At trial, Funches's testimony was consistent with the facts contained in his second statement to the police. The jury found Hayes not guilty of first-degree premeditated murder, guilty of first-degree felony murder while committing a drive-by shooting, and guilty of second-degree intentional murder. The district court convicted Hayes of first-degree felony murder while committing a drive-by shooting and sentenced him to life imprisonment with the possibility of release. The court did not adjudicate Hayes's guilt or sentence him on the count of second-degree intentional murder.

II.

The first question presented by this case is whether the State presented sufficient evidence to support Hayes's conviction of first-degree felony murder while committing a drive-by shooting. SeeMinn.Stat. §§ 609.185(a)(3), 609.66, subd. 1e (2012). Hayes's argument on appeal focuses on whether his conduct in shooting DeRonde was sufficient to constitute the offense of drive-by shooting—the predicate felony to his conviction of first-degree felony murder. More specifically, Hayes argues that he cannot be guilty of drive-by shooting because he did not fire his gun at or toward another motor vehicle or a building. Whether Hayes's conduct in this case meets the definition of a drive-by shooting presents a question of statutory interpretation that we review de novo. See State v. Leathers, 799 N.W.2d 606, 608 (Minn.2011).

A.

To evaluate Hayes's argument, we must examine and interpret the statute defining the offense of drive-by shooting, which states as follows:

(a) Whoever, while in or having just exited from a motor vehicle, recklessly discharges a firearm at or toward another motor vehicle or a building is guilty of a felony and may be sentenced to imprisonment for not more than three years or to payment of a fine of not more than $6,000, or both.

(b) Any person who violates this subdivision by firing at or toward a person, or an occupied building or motor vehicle, may be sentenced to imprisonment for not more than ten years or to payment of a fine of not more than $20,000, or both.

Minn.Stat. § 609.66, subd. 1e. When interpreting a statute, we “give words and phrases their plain and ordinary meaning.”

Premier Bank v. Becker Dev., LLC, 785 N.W.2d 753, 759 (Minn.2010) (citing Minn.Stat. § 645.08 (2012)). “If a statute is unambiguous, then we must apply the statute's plain meaning.” Larson v. State, 790 N.W.2d 700, 703 (Minn.2010). If, on the other hand, a statute is susceptible to more than one reasonable interpretation, then the statute is...

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