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Univ. of South Carolina School of Law

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Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Open And Shut: Supreme Court Of Minnesota Finds Defendant's Statement During Omnibus Hearing Covered By Rule 410

Similar to its federal counterpart, Minnesota Rule of Evidence 410 provides that

Evidence of a plea of guilty, later withdrawn, or a plea of nolo contendere, or of an offer to plead guilty or nolo contendere to the crime charged or any other crime or of statements made in connection with any of the foregoing pleas or offers, is not admissible in any civil, criminal, or administrative action, case, or proceeding whether offered for or against the person who made the plea or offer.

In its recent opinion in State v. Brown, 2011 WL 13753 (Minn. 2011), the Supreme Court of Minnesota had to resolve a question of first impression: whether Rule 410 applies to statements made by a defendant in connection with plea discussions, or in connection with offers of settlement made by the State, when the statements by the defendant are made in open court and in response to questions posed by the district court. And, according to the court, the answer is "yes."

In Brown, Adolphus Brown was convicted of attempted second-degree murder and possession of a pistol without a permit. Before trial, the prosecution offered Brown a plea bargain under which they would ask the judge to impose a sentence of 130(.5) months in exchange for Brown's guilty plea. Later, during a pre-trial omnibus hearing, the judge interrogated Brown regarding the plea bargain, and Brown claimed that he had a permit for the subject pistol. Later during the hearing, the prosecution withdrew the plea bargain.

Thereafter, at trial, Brown admitted on direct examination that he did not have a permit for the pistol he used to shoot the victim. The prosecution pursued the issue on cross-examination, and Brown repeated his admission that he did not have a permit for the pistol. When the prosecution continued to press Brown on the permit issue by asking, "And you recall being in court one other time," Brown's counsel interrupted with an objection but did not state the ground for the objection.

It is unclear from the record precisely how the court dealt with the objection, but it is clear that the prosecution later resumed cross-examination on the permit issue. The prosecution asked Brown about his statement during the omnibus hearing that he had a permit to carry the pistol, and Brown admitted making the statement and testified that he thought he did have a permit

After he was convicted, Brown appealed, claiming that his statements to the judge at the omnibus hearing should have been inadmissible under Minnesota Rule of Evidence 410. The Supreme Court of Minnesota agreed, finding that an

“offer to plead guilty” includes a promise by a defendant to plead guilty in the future, when conditioned on an act or return promise given by the State in exchange for the defendant's promise to plead guilty. But a promise by a defendant to plead guilty also could be the return promise on which the State conditions a promise to do or refrain from doing some specified act in the future. It is our view that an "offer to plead guilty" by a defendant could be, and often is, specifically the return promise sought by the State promising to do or refrain from doing some specified act in the future during plea negotiations. Therefore, we decline to so closely parse the definition of "offer to plead guilty" that we exclude from Rule 410 a return promise by a defendant to plead guilty, when this return promise is the very thing sought by the State in exchange for the State's promise to act or refrain from acting. In this case, the State's promised sentencing recommendation, described in open court, was a promise either conditioned on, or made in exchange for, an offer to plead guilty by Brown.

Having reached this conclusion, the Minnesota Supremes then found that Brown's statement during the omnibus hearing was made in connection with this "offer to plead guilty" and thus protected by Minnesota Rule of Evidence 410.

-CM

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/evidenceprof/2011/02/410-open-court-state-v-brown-nw2d-2011-wl-13753minn2011.html

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