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Appeals court upholds Crow Wing County conviction

A man, convicted of marijuana position, challenged his conviction in Crow Wing County contending the court erred by denying his motion to strike a juror he contended wasn’t a county resident.

This week, the Minnesota Court of Appeals said it was not left with a firm conviction a mistake was made and the defense had a remedy it did not use at the time.

Robert Hutchins was challenging his conviction of fifth-degree possession of marijuana. In September of 2009, officers from the Lakes Area Drug Investigative Division were monitoring land near Crosslake, where marijuana plants were growing. Officers found the plants were gone on Sept. 26, 2009, and followed foot trails to a nearby fish house.

“They heard music coming from the fish house and also the sound of breaking branches, which one officer testified was consistent with processing marijuana plants into a form that can be smoked,” the court of appeals recounted in the case facts.

Officers determined the fish house was on property Hutchins owned and later that day they went to his house. The court reported Hutchins agreed to show them the trails to the fish house.

“As they approached the fish house, the officers detected a strong odor of marijuana coming from the fish house. Hutchins admitted that there was marijuana inside the fish house, and gave the officers consent to enter.

“... Hutchins admitted stealing the marijuana from the patch growing near his property and bringing it back to his fish house. The state charged Hutchins with fifth-degree possession of a controlled substance.”

A jury trial was conducted in March 2011. During jury selection, defense counsel moved to strike one of the jurors for not being a county resident. The juror listed himself as a Crow Wing County resident. He also listed a Minneapolis post office box address but said he had a Crow Wing County homestead and winterized lake home while he retained an apartment in Bloomington, where he worked. The juror said he was at his lake home twice a month. The district court determined the juror could be part of the jury pool. Defense counsel objected but did not allege the juror was biased against Hutchins.

Hutchins contended because the juror was not a county resident where the crime was committed it violated his state constitutional right to a speedy and public trial by an impartial jury of the county or district where the crime was committed.

The appellate court said two key residency factors — physical presence and intent to reside — are split in this case and while it may have been most prudent for the district court to excuse the juror, the appeals court was not left with a “definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been made.”

“Based upon our deferential standard of review, therefore, we conclude that the district court did not clearly err in determining that (the juror) was a resident of Crow Wing County, or in denying Hutchins’s motion to strike (the juror) from the jury,” the appeals court ruled.

And the court noted the defense had not shown prejudice and had the option of striking the juror with a peremptory challenge but chose not to do so.

Denton (Denny) Newman Jr.
I've worked at the Brainerd Dispatch with various duties since Dec. 7, 1983. Starting off as an Ad Designer and currently Director of Audience Development. The Dispatch has been an interesting and challenging place to work. I'm fortunate to have made many friends, both co-workers and customers.
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