State v. Wierson, 091619 MNCA, A18-1281
|Opinion Judge:||COCHRAN, JUDGE.|
|Party Name:||State of Minnesota, Respondent, v. Troy Michael Wierson, Appellant.|
|Attorney:||Keith Ellison, Attorney General, and James C. Backstrom, Dakota County Attorney, Heather Pipenhagen, Assistant County Attorney, (for respondent) Cathryn Middlebrook, Chief Appellate Public Defender, Anders J. Erickson, Assistant Public Defender, (for appellant)|
|Judge Panel:||Considered and decided by Johnson, Presiding Judge; Cochran, Judge; and Kirk, Judge.|
|Case Date:||September 16, 2019|
|Court:||Court of Appeals of Minnesota|
This opinion will be unpublished and may not be cited except as provided by Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2018).
Dakota County District Court File No. 19HA-CR-15-2478
Keith Ellison, Attorney General, and James C. Backstrom, Dakota County Attorney, Heather Pipenhagen, Assistant County Attorney, (for respondent)
Cathryn Middlebrook, Chief Appellate Public Defender, Anders J. Erickson, Assistant Public Defender, (for appellant)
Considered and decided by Johnson, Presiding Judge; Cochran, Judge; and Kirk, Judge. [*]
Appellant Troy Michael Wierson challenges his convictions of first-degree possession of a controlled substance, endangering a child, conspiracy to sell a controlled substance in the first degree, and aiding and abetting the sale of a controlled substance in the first degree. Wierson argues that there was insufficient evidence to support the convictions and that the district court committed reversible error by answering the jury's questions during deliberations without providing notice to the parties and without the defendant being present. In a pro se supplemental brief, Wierson also argues that the district court erred by not dismissing a juror for cause. Because we conclude that the evidence was sufficient to support Wierson's conviction of first-degree possession of a controlled substance, that the judge's error in answering the jury's questions was harmless, and that Wierson's pro se argument is without merit, we affirm Wierson's conviction for first-degree possession of a controlled substance. Because we conclude that the evidence was insufficient to support Wierson's convictions for the other charges, we reverse Wierson's remaining convictions and remand for resentencing.
We begin by reviewing the evidence presented during Wierson's trial. In late June of 2015, the Dakota County Drug Task Force (DCDTF) received an anonymous tip regarding Wierson and a residence in Hastings. As a result of that tip, an investigator collected the garbage that was outside the residence. The garbage contained two pieces of tubular glass and some baggies that, in the investigator's experience, were consistent with methamphetamine use. A field test of one of the pieces of glass produced a positive result for methamphetamine.
Approximately one week later, investigators executed a search warrant at that residence. When officers entered the residence, they found Wierson's wife, N.W., coming out of a bedroom. Officers also found a seven-year-old boy in a different bedroom. An officer testified at trial that the boy was N.W.'s biological son or stepson, and that he had a different last name than both N.W. and Wierson. During the search of the residence, officers found more than 25 grams of methamphetamine in a tool chest in the garage. The tool chest also contained other items associated with drug use and/or sale, such as a digital scale and small baggies.
Attached to the front of the tool chest were photographs of Wierson with a small child. Officers also found a traffic citation, along with a man's watch, on the tool chest. The citation had been issued to Wierson on June 18, 2015 (roughly two weeks before the search) and listed the residence as Wierson's address. The tool chest also contained N.W.'s insurance card. In the living room of the residence, officers observed a photograph of Wierson, N.W., and two children hanging on the wall.
While officers were executing the search warrant, an officer obtained Wierson's phone number and called him. The officer informed Wierson that he was with the DCDTF, that he was executing a search warrant at Wierson's home, and asked Wierson to come to the residence to speak with him. Wierson responded "I'm not coming home."
Following the search of the residence, the state charged Wierson with possession of a controlled substance in the first degree. The state later amended the complaint to add charges of child endangerment, conspiracy to sell a controlled substance in the first degree, and aiding and abetting the sale of a controlled substance in the first degree. The case proceeded to a jury trial.
During deliberations, the jury wrote out four questions for the district court regarding the evidence at the trial. The court records include a document containing the questions from the jury. The questions were: 1. Are we able to see the warrant?
2. Can we consider the fact that the wife was convicted?-Or do we stop at knowing she was arrested?
3. Can we get a 2015 calendar?
4. Can we see details of citation?
At the bottom of the document, the district court wrote, "All of the evidence in this case has been provided and no further information will be provided." The record does not contain any further information about how the district court's response was prepared or provided to the jury.
The jury found Wierson guilty on all counts. The district court sentenced Wierson to 128 months for conspiracy to sell a controlled substance in the first degree, and to 365 days for child endangerment. This appeal follows.
Wierson argues that the evidence was insufficient to support his convictions and that the district court committed prejudicial error in answering the jury's questions without notifying the parties and without the defendant present. In a pro se supplemental brief, Wierson further argues that the district court erred in deciding not to dismiss a juror for cause. We address each issue in turn.
I. There was sufficient evidence to support Wierson's conviction for first-degree possession of a controlled substance but insufficient evidence to support his other convictions.
In reviewing whether a conviction was supported by sufficient evidence, this court conducts "a painstaking analysis of the record to determine whether the evidence, when viewed in the light most favorable to the conviction, was sufficient." State v. Ortega, 813 N.W.2d 86, 100 (Minn. 2012) (quotation omitted). We assume that "the jury believed the state's witnesses and disbelieved any evidence to the contrary." State v. Caldwell, 803 N.W.2d 373, 384 (Minn. 2011) (quotation omitted). "[W]e will not disturb the verdict if the jury, acting with due regard for the presumption of innocence and the requirement of proof beyond a reasonable doubt, could reasonably conclude that the defendant was guilty of the charged offense." Ortega, 813 N.W.2d at 100.
In cases such as this one, where the conviction is based on circumstantial evidence, this court conducts a two-step analysis. State v. Harris, 895 N.W.2d 592, 601 (Minn. 2017). First, we identify the circumstances proved at trial, disregarding evidence that is not consistent with the jury's verdict...
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