State v. Mutcherson

Decision Date01 June 2021
Docket NumberA20-0644
PartiesState of Minnesota, Respondent, v. Robert Lamar Mutcherson, Appellant.
CourtMinnesota Court of Appeals

This opinion is nonprecedential except as provided by Minn. R. Civ. App. P. 136.01, subd. 1(c).

Affirmed

Smith, Tracy M., Judge

Stearns County District Court

File No. 73-CR-19-2037

Keith Ellison, Attorney General, Karen B. McGillic, Assistant Attorney General, St. Paul, Minnesota; and

Janelle Kendall, Stearns County Attorney, St. Cloud, Minnesota (for respondent)

Cathryn Middlebrook, Chief Appellate Public Defender, Jenna Yauch-Erickson, Assistant Public Defender, St. Paul, Minnesota (for appellant)

Considered and decided by Smith, Tracy M., Presiding Judge; Ross, Judge; and Connolly, Judge.

NONPRECEDENTIAL OPINION

SMITH, TRACY M., Judge

In this direct appeal from the final judgments of conviction of first-degree controlled-substance crime, unlawful possession of a firearm, and threats of violence, appellant Robert Lamar Mutcherson argues that the district court committed reversible error by denying his motion for a mistrial after a police officer impermissibly testified that he knew Mutcherson from another investigation. Mutcherson also raises several additional issues in his pro se supplemental brief. We affirm.

FACTS

The following facts were established at the jury trial in this case. A.M. lived in an apartment in St. Cloud with two other people. She first met Mutcherson in 2018, and the two became romantically involved. Around February 2019, Mutcherson, who at the time was homeless and unemployed, began staying with A.M. and keeping personal belongings at her apartment.

One morning in March 2019, Mutcherson and A.M. argued by text message after A.M. became suspicious that he was seeing another woman. Mutcherson swore at A.M., called her names, and threatened that his sister was going to beat her up. A.M. became scared. She told Mutcherson that she wanted him to get his belongings and get out of her apartment.

A.M. told her roommate that she was afraid of Mutcherson and asked the roommate to meet Mutcherson when he arrived at the apartment to get his belongings. When Mutcherson arrived that day, A.M. hid in another roommate's bedroom. Mutcherson did not return his key to A.M.'s roommate. Mutcherson went to A.M.'s bedroom, where he texted A.M. pictures of her wallet and passport and threatened to burn them. A.M. texted a friend, who was not in the apartment, about what was happening.

A.M. then went into her bedroom and confronted Mutcherson, who was lying down. A.M. told him that a friend was coming over to help her move out and that Mutchersonneeded to remove his belongings. Mutcherson pulled back the bedsheets to reveal a gun and told her, "If you keep pushing me, I will shoot you and the people that are coming." A.M. was afraid.

A.M. went into the living room and communicated with her friend by phone and text, telling her friend that Mutcherson had a gun. The friend called the police. Meanwhile, Mutcherson went to the living room where A.M. was. He had the gun in his waistband and was carrying a plastic Armor All wipes container, which he set on the coffee table in front of him.

The police arrived, and A.M. gave them permission to enter the apartment. As officers entered the apartment, Mutcherson removed the gun from his waistband and pushed it into the couch. Officers told Mutcherson to put his hands up. As he was standing up, the couch cushion lifted and the officers saw the gun slide to the back of the couch behind where Mutcherson was sitting. A.M. later testified that this was the same gun that Mutcherson threatened her with in her room. The Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) also confirmed that, while there was a mixture of DNA on the gun, there was a major male profile that matched Mutcherson's DNA on the gun.

Officers handcuffed Mutcherson. When the officers began searching him, Mutcherson pulled something out of his pants pocket and tried to conceal it in his waistband. When officers grabbed his hand to seize the object, Mutcherson began to struggle. Once able to subdue Mutcherson and force his hand open, officers discovered a clear plastic bag containing a white powder. Officers later confirmed the powder was 9.5 grams of cocaine. Mutcherson testified at trial that he possessed the cocaine for personaluse. Officers transported Mutcherson to the Stearns County jail, where it was noted that he had two cell phones—one smart phone and one flip phone.

After Mutcherson's arrest, A.M. and her roommates consented to a search of the apartment. A.M. brought officers over to the couch area, where the Armor All wipes container was. She told officers that she had seen Mutcherson with the container the day before and that he often stored things in it. She showed officers how to open it. Inside the container, officers found a plastic bag containing a larger amount of what turned out to be cocaine weighing 24.3 grams. A.M., her roommates, and a friend present denied using cocaine and denied that the cocaine or the container belonged to them.

A.M. also directed officers to the places in her bedroom where Mutcherson stored his belongings. There, officers discovered a clear plastic bag containing an unidentified white powder that tested negative for cocaine and a black bag containing $7,680 in cash. Mutcherson later testified that the money was his, but he denied it was from drug sales.1 Finally, A.M.'s roommate told officers that Mutcherson had visitors to the apartment but that they would only stay for ten minutes or less.

The state charged Mutcherson with first-degree possession of cocaine with intent to sell in violation of Minn. Stat. § 152.021, subd. 1(1) (2018), possession of a firearm by an ineligible person in violation of Minn. Stat. § 624.713, subd. 1(2) (2018), and felony threats of violence in violation of Minn. Stat. § 609.713, subd. 1 (2018). The jury foundMutcherson guilty of all counts,2 and the judge sentenced Mutcherson to 126 months in prison for the drug conviction and concurrent prison sentences on the other counts.

Mutcherson appeals.

DECISION
I. The district court did not abuse its discretion by denying Mutcherson's motion for a mistrial.

Mutcherson's motion for a mistrial arose after the state's expert witness made an impermissible comment during cross-examination. The district court sustained defense counsel's objection and instructed the jury to disregard the remark. It denied the defense request for a mistrial.

To decide whether to grant a mistrial, a district court must determine whether there is a reasonable probability that the trial's outcome would be different if the event prompting the motion had not occurred. State v. Manthey, 711 N.W.2d 498, 506 (Minn. 2006). A "district court is in the best position to evaluate the prejudicial impact, if any, of an event occurring during the trial." State v. Bahtuoh, 840 N.W.2d 804, 819 (Minn. 2013). We therefore review the denial of a motion for a mistrial for an abuse of discretion. See State v. Griffin, 887 N.W.2d 257, 262 (Minn. 2016). A district court abuses its discretion if its "decision is based on an erroneous view of the law or against logic and facts in the record." Andersen v. State, 940 N.W.2d 172, 177 (Minn. 2020) (quotation omitted).

A. The Mistrial Motion and the District Court's Ruling

Before trial in this case, the state proffered expert testimony from an investigator with the Central Minnesota Violent Offender Task Force regarding drug trafficking. The state sought to introduce the investigator's testimony concerning "the quantity of drugs typically found in sales as opposed to personal use" in order to prove that Mutcherson intended to sell the cocaine in his possession. The district court ruled that the investigator could testify as an expert on the quantities and characteristics of controlled substances that are indicative of sales rather than possession but could not vouch for other witnesses or testify about the ultimate issue of Mutcherson's intent.

On the morning of trial, Mutcherson's counsel informed the district court that the investigator and the task force were involved in another matter involving Mutcherson, "which potentially raises issues of bias." The prosecutor acknowledged that in August 2019 the Violent Offender Task Force had conducted surveillance of Mutcherson during a controlled buy, which resulted in a charge against him. But the prosecutor explained that the investigator would not be "testifying to anything that happened then." The district court reaffirmed that the investigator could testify as an expert witness regarding drug trafficking and observed that defense counsel could cross-examine the investigator concerning any potential bias.

At trial, the investigator on direct examination provided his expert testimony regarding the typical amount a personal user of cocaine would purchase and other background information about cocaine sales. On cross-examination, Mutcherson's counsel began by asking the investigator, "So you don't know mister—if Mr. Mutcherson is a user,do you?" The investigator responded, "I don't personally know Mr. Mutcherson, but our task force has investigated Mr. Mutcherson." Mutcherson's counsel immediately objected to the answer. The district court sustained the objection, telling the jury to "disregard the last part of that answer." After a bench conference, defense counsel asked just two more questions of the investigator—regarding the street value of cocaine—and the prosecution conducted no redirect examination.

Once the district court excused the jury for the day, Mutcherson moved for a mistrial, arguing that the investigator's testimony was "highly prejudicial." The district court denied the motion, stating, in part:

I will state that [defense counsel] is correct in the sense that the witness's answer probably was more than the direct question asked by [defense counsel]. But I also say that it was beyond the scope of direct. . . .
. . . .
. . . I do
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