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Supreme Court Digest: March 31, 2021

admin//March 31, 2021//

Supreme Court Digest: March 31, 2021

admin//March 31, 2021//

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At issue here was whether Minn. Stat. § 345.75, which governs the abandonment of tangible personal property, abrogated by implication the common law in this area. The Supreme Court held that (1) Minn. Stat. § 345.7 does not abrogate the common law of abandonment as to tangible personal property; and (2) the Court of Appeals did not err when it reversed the District Court’s decision regarding abandonment because, under both common law and Minn. Stat. § 345.75, respondent did not abandon her dog. Affirmed in part, reversed in part.

A19-0907 Zephier v. Agate (Court of Appeals)




Illegal Firearm Possession

Public Place

Minn. Stat. § 624.7142, subd. 1(4), prohibits a person who is under the influence of alcohol from carrying a pistol in a public place.  At issue here was whether a driver of a motor vehicle is in a public place for the purpose of that statute when the vehicle is on a public highway.  The District Court determined that the interior of a private motor vehicle is not a public place when it is not regularly held open to the public and, accordingly, dismissed the count charging appellant with a violation of Minn. Stat. § 624.7142, subd. 1(4).  The Court of Appeals reversed, concluding that the proper subject of analysis is the highway on which appellant was driving, and reinstated the charge.

The Supreme Court held that a driver of a motor vehicle on a public highway is in a “public place” for the purpose of Minn. Stat. § 624.7142. Affirmed.

A19-1921 State v. Serbus (Court of Appeals)



Depraved Mind

This case presented the issue of whether defendant established that the instruction given at his trial for third-degree murder, to which he did not object, materially misstated well-established law and, if so, affected his substantial rights.  A grand jury indicted defendant on charges of third-degree depraved mind murder under Minn. Stat. § 609.195(a). This statute prohibits a person from “perpetrating an act eminently dangerous to others and evincing a depraved mind, without regard to human life.”  The indictment alleged that after consuming enough alcohol to raise his alcohol concentration to twice the legal limit, defendant drove his snowmobile at nearly 60 miles per hour across a populated frozen lake, hitting and fatally injuring an 8 year-old boy.  Defendant pleaded not guilty and a jury trial ensued. When instructing the jury, the District Court used the model jury instruction for third-degree depraved mind murder.  The model instruction tells the jurors, among other things, that the underlying act must be “committed in a reckless or wanton manner with the knowledge that someone may be killed.”  Defendant did not object to this instruction, and the jury found him guilty as charged.  He appealed, and the Court of Appeals affirmed.

The Supreme Court held that (1) the mental-state element of third-degree depraved mind murder, § 609.195(a), is met when the attending circumstances show that the defendant was indifferent to the loss of life that his eminently dangerous act could cause; and (2) the defendant has not met his heavy burden of showing that the erroneous unobjected-to jury instruction affected his substantial rights. Affirmed.

A19-0708 State v. Coleman (Court of Appeals)


Right to Counsel

Critical Stages

This case presented an issue of first impression.  At appellant’s first court appearance on criminal sexual conduct charges, the State made a discovery motion under Minn. R. Crim. P. 9.02 to take photographs of transitory scratch marks on appellant’s arms.  The question here was whether, under the circumstances presented, the discovery motion was a “critical stage” of the criminal proceeding that entitled appellant to have counsel present.

The Supreme Court held that an otherwise-valid discovery motion made by the State at the defendant’s first court appearance to obtain transitory evidence from the defendant’s body in a non-invasive manner pursuant to Minn. R. Crim. P. 9.02, subd. 2, is not a critical stage of a criminal proceeding that requires the presence of defense counsel when the risk of counsel’s absence jeopardizing the defendant’s right to a fair trial is minimal. Affirmed.

A19-0157 State v. Zaldivar-Proenza (Court of Appeals)




Attorney Discipline


Nicholas Bradley Schutz was disbarred.

A21-0046 In re Schutz



Workers’ Compensation Court of Appeals


In this action that involved a preemption challenge to Minnesota’s medical cannabis law, relators’ motion to quash the intervention of the Attorney General was granted on the grounds that the intervention was untimely, and the Attorney General’s brief was accepted as a brief of an amicus.

A20-1551 Musta v. Mendota Heights Dental Ctr.


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