State v. Hill, No. A13–1803.

CourtSupreme Court of Minnesota (US)
Writing for the CourtGILDEA, Chief Justice.
Citation871 N.W.2d 900
Parties STATE of Minnesota, Respondent, v. Richard Ellis HILL, Appellant.
Docket NumberNo. A13–1803.
Decision Date09 December 2015

871 N.W.2d 900

STATE of Minnesota, Respondent,
v.
Richard Ellis HILL, Appellant.

No. A13–1803.

Supreme Court of Minnesota.

Dec. 9, 2015.


Lori Swanson, Attorney General, Saint Paul, MN; and James C. Backstrom, Dakota County Attorney, G. Paul Beaumaster, Assistant Dakota County Attorney, Hastings, MN, for respondent.

Cathryn Middlebrook, Chief Appellate Public Defender, Charles F. Clippert, Special Assistant State Public Defender, Saint Paul, MN, for appellant.

OPINION

GILDEA, Chief Justice.

This case presents the question of whether we should adopt a rebuttable presumption of contamination for controlled substances that the St. Paul Police Crime Lab ("Crime Lab") handled and that the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension ("BCA") later tested. The State charged appellant Richard Ellis Hill with aiding and abetting first-degree sale of a mixture of a controlled substance of ten grams or more, in violation of Minn.Stat. § 155.021, subd. 1(1) (2014), in connection with the sale of methamphetamine. Hill waived his right to a jury and submitted his case to the court. During the court trial, Hill objected to the admission of the BCA results that confirmed that the substance was methamphetamine. Hill argued the BCA test results were unreliable because the contents of the bags might have been contaminated while the bags were in the custody of the Crime Lab, which was investigated for deficiencies in its quality-assurance controls. Applying a chain-of-custody analysis, the district court rejected Hill's contamination argument. Hill was subsequently convicted of the charged offense. The court of appeals affirmed, State v. Hill, No. A13–1803, 2014 WL 6608809, at *5 (Minn.App. Nov. 24, 2014), and we granted review.

On appeal, Hill argues that we should adopt a rebuttable presumption of contamination for controlled substances handled by the Crime Lab based on either the right to substantive due process or our inherent judicial authority. Because such a presumption is not necessary to vindicate a defendant's right to substantive due process or to ensure the fair administration of

871 N.W.2d 903

justice, we decline to adopt such a presumption and affirm.

This case arises from a controlled buy the Dakota County Drug Task Force ("Task Force") conducted through the use of a confidential informant. Hill was arrested after the transaction, and following that arrest, the Task Force retrieved two bags of suspected methamphetamine that had been sold to the confidential informant. The Task Force marked these two bags for identification as Items 9A and 9B.1

The Task Force transported each seized item in its own sealed evidence bag back to the Task Force's office. There, a Task Force evidence technician subjected a portion of the contents of each bag of suspected methamphetamine to a preliminary narcotics identification kit ("NIK") test. The contents of each bag tested positive for the presence of methamphetamine. The remainder of the substances that were not NIK-tested were transferred to a new bag that was then sealed, heat sealed, initialed, and placed back into the Task Force evidence bag along with the bags that had originally held the substances. The evidence technician then brought the evidence bag to the secure property room.

Later that same day, Items 9A and 9B were retrieved and transferred to the Crime Lab for corroborative testing. The criminalist who performed the testing determined that collectively, Items 9A and 9B had a net weight of 12.13 grams. The criminalist then tested the substances by removing a "small piece" from each and placing the small subsample into a vial that was then run through the Crime Lab's gas chromatograph-mass spectrometer. The criminalist sealed the untested substance remaining from each item into a new evidence bag, and the bags were returned to the Task Force property room.

The record reflects that the Task Force subsequently retrieved Items 9A and 9B from the Task Force property room in response to the county attorney's request for further testing. The Task Force transported the items to the BCA, an institution "accredited"2 by the American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors Laboratory Accreditation Board ("ASCLD"). No changes were noted to the condition of

871 N.W.2d 904

the items or their seals at that time. A BCA criminalist thereafter removed the evidence from the BCA's drug vault and performed an analysis of the items. Hill does not challenge the BCA's handling or testing of the items, and the record reflects that the BCA's handling procedure was standardized, mostly in writing, and sanctioned by the ASCLD as part of the BCA's accreditation process.

Following the prescribed BCA testing procedure, the BCA criminalist obtained gas chromatograph-mass spectrometer test results that confirmed the presence of methamphetamine in both Items 9A and 9B. BCA testing further produced a negative result for the presence of "other controlled substances, such as heroin or cocaine or other common street drugs[.]" The BCA criminalist obtained a net weight of 7.207 grams for Item 9A and a net weight of 4.818 grams for Item 9B. Collectively, the net weight of Items 9A and 9B, "[c]ontaining methamphetamine," was 12.025 grams.

The State charged Hill with various felony drug offenses. Hill waived his right to a jury trial and submitted his case to the court. The State did not offer the tests from the Crime Lab but relied on the BCA test results. Over Hill's foundational reliability objections, the district court admitted the BCA's test results. The district court first applied a chain-of-custody analysis to the Crime Lab's handling of the controlled substances that were not subject to testing at the Crime Lab. Concluding that the untested substances were not likely contaminated while at the Crime Lab, the court applied the second prong of the Frye–Mack test to the BCA's testing procedure3 and determined the results to be foundationally reliable. The district court convicted Hill of aiding and abetting the first-degree sale of a mixture of a controlled substance of ten grams or more, in violation of Minn.Stat. § 155.021, subd. 1(1).

On appeal, Hill argued the district court erroneously applied the chain-of-custody standard in addition to the second prong of the Frye–Mack test in admitting the BCA test results of the controlled substances. The court of appeals affirmed Hill's conviction. Hill, 2014 WL 6608809, at *5. The court held that "the district court correctly concluded that both the second prong of Frye–Mack and the chain-of-custody standard apply," and that the district court properly applied the chain-of-custody standard. Id. at *2. We granted Hill's petition for review.

On appeal to our court, Hill argues in his brief that because the evidence was processed through the Crime Lab, the evidence was not reliable and should not have

871 N.W.2d 905

been admitted. The State responds that the district court properly applied both a chain-of-custody analysis and the Frye–Mack foundational reliability standard prior to admission of the evidence. The district court analyzed the Crime Lab's handling of the controlled substances that were not subjected to testing at the Crime Lab under a chain-of-custody standard. See State v. Johnson, 307 Minn. 501, 505, 239 N.W.2d 239, 242 (1976) (noting that admissibility of evidence requiring chain-of-custody authentication is not contingent upon negating "all possibility of tampering or substitution, but rather only that it is reasonably probable that tampering or substitution did not occur"). And the court applied the foundational reliability standard from Frye–Mack to the testing the BCA performed. See State v. Bailey, 677 N.W.2d 380, 397–98 (Minn.2004) (citing Goeb v. Tharaldson, 615 N.W.2d 800, 816 (Minn.2000) ) (noting that to satisfy foundational reliability under Frye–Mack , the proponent of the evidence must show that the generally reliable methodology "produced reliable results in the specific case"). Hill confirmed at oral argument that he is not asking for a new trial because the district court improperly applied either the chain-of-custody or foundational reliability standard, and our review of the record demonstrates that the district court properly applied both standards. Hill asks instead that we adopt a new standard that would presume that all evidence processed through the Crime Lab is contaminated and inadmissible unless the State can prove the absence of contamination. We turn to that question now.

I.

We turn first to Hill's argument that a rebuttable presumption of contamination for controlled substances handled by the Crime Lab is necessary to vindicate his right to substantive due process.4 Whether the absence of such a presumption violated Hill's right to due process is a constitutional question that we review de novo. State v. Netland, 762 N.W.2d 202, 207 (Minn.2009).

The United States and Minnesota Constitutions each "guarantee a criminal defendant the right to due process." State v. Beecroft, 813 N.W.2d 814, 836 (Minn.2012) (plurality opinion); accord U.S. Const.amend. XIV, § 1 ; Minn. Const. art. I, § 7 ; see also State v. Krause, 817 N.W.2d 136, 144 (Minn.2012) (noting that the protections of due process provided under the Minnesota Constitution are "identical" to those...

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17 practice notes
  • State v. Harvey, A18-0205
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Minnesota (US)
    • August 28, 2019
    ...questions that the prosecutor asked Juror 18. As a result, he has forfeited appellate review of such an argument. State v. Hill , 871 N.W.2d 900, 903 n.1 (Minn. 2015) ("We generally do not consider issues that were not raised in the district court."). Nevertheless, we take this opportunity ......
  • State v. Rey, A16-0198
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Minnesota (US)
    • January 3, 2018
    ...a law or government action violates substantive due process is a constitutional question, which we review de novo. State v. Hill , 871 N.W.2d 900, 905 (Minn. 2015). The Due Process Clauses of the United States and Minnesota Constitutions prohibit the government from " ‘certain arbitrary, wr......
  • Gustafson v. Comm'r of Human Servs., No. A15–1943.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Minnesota
    • July 25, 2016
    ...due process because guideposts for responsible decision-making in this unchartered area are scarce and open-ended.” State v. Hill, 871 N.W.2d 900, 905–06 (Minn.2015) (quotation omitted). Gustafson does not contend that a fundamental right is at stake and does not cite caselaw suggesting tha......
  • State v. Rey, A16-0198
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Minnesota
    • January 9, 2017
    ...against "arbitrary, wrongful government actions regardless of the fairness of the procedures used to implement them." State v. Hill , 871 N.W.2d 900, 905–06 (Minn. 2015) (quotation and citation omitted). "This protection limits what the government may do in both its legislative and its exec......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
17 cases
  • State v. Harvey, A18-0205
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Minnesota (US)
    • August 28, 2019
    ...questions that the prosecutor asked Juror 18. As a result, he has forfeited appellate review of such an argument. State v. Hill , 871 N.W.2d 900, 903 n.1 (Minn. 2015) ("We generally do not consider issues that were not raised in the district court."). Nevertheless, we take this opportunity ......
  • State v. Rey, A16-0198
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Minnesota (US)
    • January 3, 2018
    ...a law or government action violates substantive due process is a constitutional question, which we review de novo. State v. Hill , 871 N.W.2d 900, 905 (Minn. 2015). The Due Process Clauses of the United States and Minnesota Constitutions prohibit the government from " ‘certain arbitrary, wr......
  • Gustafson v. Comm'r of Human Servs., No. A15–1943.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Minnesota
    • July 25, 2016
    ...due process because guideposts for responsible decision-making in this unchartered area are scarce and open-ended.” State v. Hill, 871 N.W.2d 900, 905–06 (Minn.2015) (quotation omitted). Gustafson does not contend that a fundamental right is at stake and does not cite caselaw suggesting tha......
  • State v. Rey, A16-0198
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Minnesota
    • January 9, 2017
    ...against "arbitrary, wrongful government actions regardless of the fairness of the procedures used to implement them." State v. Hill , 871 N.W.2d 900, 905–06 (Minn. 2015) (quotation and citation omitted). "This protection limits what the government may do in both its legislative and its exec......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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