Court of Appeals rules on Jackson County criminal sexual conduct case
ST. PAUL — Joseph "Joey" Maine of Windom, sentenced to 144 months in prison last year after being found guilty of first- and second-degree criminal sexual conduct, pleaded his case Monday to the Minnesota Court of Appeals.
Maine was convicted in a jury trial after a 3-year-old in his care reported that Maine had performed a sexual act on the child.
Maine and his legal team asked for reversal of the convictions on the following grounds:
1. The prosecution failed to present sufficient evidence to corroborate the accusation of the 3-year-old victim, who did not testify during the jury trial.
2. The district court excluded from evidence a statement made by the victim during a forensic interview denying that anyone had touched his genital area.
3. The district court abused its discretion by denying Maine's motion for a new trial because a deliberating juror was biased and exposed other jurors to extrajudicial information about appellant’s character and family reputation.
4. The interests of justice warrant a new trial.
5. The district court violated Maine's right to a public trial when it questioned 18 potential jurors privately during jury selection.
6. The district court erred by entering convictions for both first- and second-degree criminal sexual conduct because both charges were based on the same incident with the same victim.
Sufficiency of evidence
The 3-year-old victim in the case initially made the statement to a family member that Maine had performed oral sex on them, which prompted the investigation and Maine's arrest. According to Minnesota law, “the testimony of a victim need not be corroborated" in criminal sexual conduct cases, However, Maine argued that because the victim did not testify at the trial, there was insufficient evidence to support the child's claim.
The Court of Appeals disagreed, noting that Maine's DNA was found on the victim's genitals, adding credence to the accusation. The judges also cited the testimony of the victim's family member, who reported behavioral changes in the victim following the incident that were consistent with having been sexually assaulted.
Exclusion of interview footage
Maine pointed to video footage of the victim denying that anyone touched their genitals, which was not presented as evidence during the trial. He argued that because this footage was excluded, he was unable to present a complete defense.
In its decision, the Court of Appeals quoted the relevant exchange between the victim and the forensic interviewer, in which the victim responds "Mmm-uh" when asked if someone touched them inappropriately. Because the victim's answer was so vague, it's not accurate to say that the victim denied having been touched, the court said.
Legal precedent, the court explained, has established that it would only be appropriate to reverse the court's decision in this case if the excluded evidence was "not harmless beyond a reasonable doubt" — meaning that the if the evidence had been submitted to the jury, the verdict might have been different. The court argued that including that particular video segment wouldn't have changed the outcome of the trial.
In his appeal, Maine argued that he should been granted a new trial, because one of the jurors presented information to other jurors that painted him in a bad light.
Following the trial, Maine applied for and was granted a Schwartz hearing to determine whether or not juror misconduct had occurred. During the Schwartz hearing, one juror reported that another juror had talked about seeing Maine around town reading — which therefore meant that Maine was smart — and that the juror had known Maine's mother in high school, so therefore Maine didn't come from a good family. The district court determined at the Schwartz hearing that Maine failed to prove that the jury was biased.
The Court of Appeals agreed with the district court's ruling, stating that there was no evidence that the statements allegedly made by the juror showed or created bias.
Maine demanded a new trial in the interest of justice. The Court of Appeals denied the request on the grounds that there's not sufficient doubt as to Maine's guilt in the case, and he failed to prove the need for a new trial based on juror bias.
Right to a public trial
During jury selection, 18 out of the 42 potential jurors were questioned in private, Maine said, and attorneys did not provide a case-specific reason why excluding the public was necessary. While both the U.S. and Minnesota Constitutions guarantee a defendant the right to a public trial, the Court of Appeals noted, that right is not absolute. Also, Maine did not object to the private questioning in the moment it was happening, the court said.
On this point of argument, the Court of Appeals returned the case back to the Fifth Judicial District Court to consider Maine's claim.
Two convictions for one action
Maine asked that his conviction of second-degree criminal sexual conduct be reversed and, in this case, the Court of Appeals agreed with him.
Minnesota law states: “Upon prosecution for a crime, the actor may be convicted of either the crime charged or an included offense, but not both.” An included offense is defined as “a crime necessarily proved if the crime charged were proved.” If a jury convicts a defendant of more than one charge for the same act, a judge is supposed to only sentence the defendant for one of the charges.
In Maine's case, the court said, if he is guilty of first-degree criminal sexual conduct, he is necessarily also guilty of second-degree criminal sexual conduct, making the second-degree charge an included offense. The Court of Appeals reversed the district court's conviction of guilty on this charge and returned the case to the Fifth Judicial District Court with instructions to make the appropriate change.