State v. Paige

Decision Date20 July 2022
Docket NumberA20-1228
Citation977 N.W.2d 829
Parties STATE of Minnesota, Respondent, v. William Deshawn PAIGE, Appellant.
CourtMinnesota Supreme Court

Keith Ellison, Attorney General, Peter Magnuson, Assistant Attorney General, Saint Paul, Minnesota; and Mark S. Rubin, Saint Louis County Attorney, for respondent.

Cathryn Middlebrook, Chief Appellate Public Defender, Jenna Yauch-Erickson, Assistant State Public Defender, Saint Paul, Minnesota, for appellant.

OPINION

McKEIG, Justice.

This case requires us to answer a question of first impression: Do trial delays caused by the judicial orders issued in response to the COVID-19 global pandemic weigh against the State in evaluating whether a defendant's constitutional right to a speedy trial has been violated? Appellant William Deshawn Paige demanded a speedy trial in February 2020. The district court found good cause to continue the trial, citing the statewide orders issued in response to the COVID-19 global pandemic. The trial was held in June of 2020, 105 days after Paige made his first speedy-trial demand. Paige was found guilty and received a presumptive sentence. On appeal, Paige claimed his constitutional right to a speedy trial had been violated, arguing in part that the trial delays caused by the statewide orders should weigh against the State. The court of appeals affirmed his conviction. Because the trial delays caused by the statewide orders do not weigh against the State and a careful balancing of the relevant factors shows that the State brought Paige to trial quickly enough so as not to endanger the values protected by the constitutional right to a speedy trial, we affirm.

FACTS

On January 21, 2020, respondent State of Minnesota charged William Deshawn Paige with one count of threats of violence in violation of Minnesota Statutes section 609.713, subd. 1 (2020). The complaint alleged that Paige verbally and physically threatened an apartment maintenance worker with a knife. At the time of the alleged offense, Paige was on intensive pretrial release. A pretrial release evaluation was completed that assigned Paige an extremely high score of 129.1 Based on these facts, the district court concluded that Paige was not a good candidate for pretrial release or intensive pretrial release, and set his bail at $60,000.

On February 18, 2020, Paige waived his right to counsel and elected to proceed pro se, asked for release pending trial, and made a speedy-trial demand. The district court accepted Paige's waiver of his right to counsel, noted it would try to appoint advisory counsel, denied his request for release, and scheduled a jury trial for March 31 in response to the speedy-trial demand. On February 25, 2020, the State amended the complaint and added a charge of second-degree assault under Minn. Stat. § 609.222, subd. 1 (2020). On March 3, 2020, Paige moved to dismiss the charges against him for lack of probable cause.

At the same time the district court was addressing pretrial issues in Paige's case, a new virus was rapidly spreading across the globe. In January 2020, the same month that Paige was charged, the World Health Organization labelled the novel coronavirus, otherwise known as COVID-19, a "public health emergency of international concern." Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General, World Health Org., WHO Director-General's Statement on IHR Emergency Committee on Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCov) (Jan. 30, 2020), https://www.who.int/director-general/speeches/detail/who-director-general-s-statement-on-ihr-emergency-committee-on-novel-coronavirus-(2019-ncov) [opinion attachment]. On March 11, 2020, nearly a week after Paige filed his motion to dismiss, the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic, citing over 100,000 cases in over 110 countries and territories worldwide. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General, World Health Org., WHO Director-General's Opening Remarks at the Media Briefing on COVID-19 (March 11, 2020), https://www.who.int/director-general/speeches/detail/who-director-general-s-opening-remarks-at-the-media-briefing-on-covid-19---11-march-2020 [opinion attachment]. Two days following the pandemic declaration by the World Health Organization, on March 13, 2020, Governor Tim Walz issued Emergency Executive Order No. 20-01, which declared a peacetime emergency due to the spread of COVID-19. Emerg. Exec. Order No. 20-01, Declaring a Peacetime Emergency & Coordinating Minnesota's Strategy to Protect Minnesotans from COVID-19 (Mar. 13, 2020). That same day, the Chief Justice issued an Order which generally suspended trials but omitted cases subject to a speedy-trial demand from the general suspension. See Continuing Operations of the Courts of the State of Minnesota Under a Statewide Peacetime Declaration of Emergency, No. ADM20-8001, Order at 2 (Minn. filed Mar. 13, 2020).2

Exactly one week later, on March 20, 2020, when the district court denied Paige's motion to dismiss for lack of probable cause, the number of COVID-19 cases worldwide had risen to more than 200,000, with nearly 10,000 deaths, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General, World Health Org., WHO Director-General's Opening Remarks at the Media Briefing on COVID-19 (March 20, 2020), https://www.who.int/director-general/speeches/detail/who-director-general-s-opening-remarks-at-the-media-briefing-on-covid-19---20-march-2020 [opinion attachment], and the Chief Justice ordered that "[o]ther than for jury trials currently on-going, no new jury trials shall commence before April 22, 2020, or until further order of this court, whichever occurs first," Continuing Operations of the Courts of the State of Minnesota Under a Statewide Peacetime Declaration of Emergency, No. ADM20-8001, Order at 3 (Minn. filed Mar. 20, 2020). The Chief Justice's March 20 Order, unlike the March 13 Order, contained no exception for cases subject to speedy-trial demands.

At a pretrial hearing on March 26, 2020, Paige reiterated his speedy-trial demand, but offered to waive that demand if the district court would release him without monetary conditions pending trial. The district court stated that "given the unique circumstances today and by Order of the Minnesota Supreme Court, we're not going to have a trial within that time. And I'll find for good cause to extend those deadlines." The court noted that no jury trials were permitted before April 22, 2020, and therefore rescheduled Paige's trial for April 28, 2020. The district court also did not modify the conditions of Paige's release.

By Paige's next pretrial hearing on April 9, 2020, the number of COVID-19 cases worldwide had risen to more than 1.3 million, with almost 80,000 deaths. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General, World Health Org., WHO Director-General's Opening Remarks at the Mission Briefing on COVID-19 (April 9, 2020), WHO Director-General's opening remarks at the Mission briefing on COVID-19 - 9 April 2020 [opinion attachment]. During the hearing, Paige argued that his constitutional right to a speedy trial had been violated and again requested a reduction in his bail. On April 27, 2020, the court issued an order denying Paige's request for a bail reduction. The court also denied Paige's speedy-trial argument, stating:

WHEREAS, the Judicial Council has adopted recommendations that no jury trials should commence prior to June 1, 2020. It is not believed that jury trials can be conducted using remote means. There are significant concerns regarding the ability of the court to follow the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) recommendations for social distancing during a trial in the courtroom. It would be difficult if not impossible to space individuals, including court staff, parties, witnesses and jurors, 6 feet apart during a trial. Felony jury trials will always require groups in excess of 10 people to gather in one space. Also we do not have Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) such as masks and gloves available for jurors, court staff or parties. We anticipate it will be difficult to get a sufficient number of jurors willing and able to perform jury service given the recommendations that high risk people stay home, and in light of the ongoing public health risk from the pandemic, especially without the ability of the Court to guarantee that we can do it safely in accordance with CDC and MDH guidelines. The Court system is in the process of planning how to safely conduct jury trials in June....
WHEREAS, whether the 60 days was up on April 19 or May 19, the global COVID-19 pandemic and the Minnesota Statewide Declaration of a Peacetime Emergency is good cause to continue the trial outside of the 60 day period so the Court can ensure that the trial can be conducted safely under the guidelines as recommended by the CDC and MDH. A trial setting in June is not far outside of the 60 day period.
WHEREAS, the continuation of the jury trial being necessary and unavoidable, the Court finds that the delay of the trial does not constitute a violation of Defendant's constitutional rights ...

(Emphasis added.) Based on this analysis, the court continued petitioner's April 28, 2020, jury trial to June 2, 2020. The court also scheduled a pretrial hearing for May 14, 2020.

On June 2, 2020, the district court held a court trial.3 The apartment maintenance worker, a 911 Dispatcher, three officers, an investigator, and a forensic scientist testified at trial consistent with the facts alleged in the complaint. The State also submitted into evidence footage from body cameras worn by two of the officers. The testimony and evidence showed that Paige was bleeding from the hand when officers arrived. Paige told the officers that the knife belonged to the maintenance worker, he never possessed the knife, and that he injured his hand trying to open the door to get his phone from the maintenance worker. DNA testing of the knife revealed "a mixture of four or more individuals," including a "major male DNA profile"...

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