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Gerald Hanson was found guilty by a jury of first- and second-degree controlled substance crime and possession of drug paraphernalia. The cout of appeals reversed, concluding that the evidence was legally insufficient to support Hanson's conviction of first-degree controlled substance crime. At issue on review was whether the evidence that Hansons possessed small, unused bags, when coupled with the remaining evidence as a whole, formed a completed chain that led directly to Hanson's guilt of possessing more than ten grams of methamphetamine with intent to sell as to exclude beyond a reasonable doubt any rational inference other than guilt. On review, the Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeals, concluding that the evidence presented, when viewed as a whole, was sufficient to support Hanson's first-degree controlled substance crime conviction.Receive FREE Daily Opinion Summaries by Email
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN SUPREME COURT
Court of Appeals
State of Minnesota,
Filed: July 27, 2011
Office of Appellate Courts
Gerald Alan Hanson,
Lori Swanson, Attorney General, John B. Galus, Assistant Attorney General, St. Paul,
Richard R. Maes, Lyon County Attorney, Marshall, Minnesota, for appellant.
David W. Merchant, Chief Appellate Public Defender, Rochelle R. Winn, Assistant State
Public Defender, St. Paul, Minnesota, for respondent.
The evidence was legally sufficient to support appellant‟s conviction for firstdegree controlled substance crime in violation of Minn. Stat. § 152.021, subd. 1(1)
Respondent Gerald Alan Hanson was charged with controlled substance crime in
the first degree in violation of Minn. Stat. § 152.021, subd. 1(1) (2010) (possession of ten
or more grams of a mixture containing methamphetamine with intent to sell); controlled
substance crime in the second degree in violation of Minn. Stat. § 152.022, subd. 2(1)
(2010) (possession of six or more grams of a mixture containing methamphetamine);
felon in possession of a firearm in violation of Minn. Stat. § 624.713, subd. 1(2) (2010);
and possession of drug paraphernalia in violation of Minn. Stat. § 152.092 (2010). The
State dismissed the felon-in-possession charge at an omnibus hearing, and a jury
subsequently found Hanson guilty of the remaining charges. Hanson was sentenced to
110 months in prison on his conviction for the first-degree controlled substance crime.
The court of appeals reversed, concluding that the evidence was legally insufficient to
support Hanson‟s conviction of possession of methamphetamine with intent to sell. State
v. Hanson, 790 N.W.2d 198, 204 (Minn. App. 2010). We granted the State‟s petition for
review and now reverse.
On January 7, 2009, two Lyon County law enforcement officers went to Hanson‟s
residence in search of J.G., for whom they had an arrest warrant. Hanson answered the
door and told the officers that J.G. was not in the house, but agreed to let them look
through the house to see if J.G. was there. While looking for J.G., one of the officers saw
a bag of “crystal-like material” on top of a dresser in an open closet in one of the
bedrooms. The officer also saw two glass pipes and a glass bowl next to the bag. Based
on his experience in law enforcement, the officer believed that the bag and glass bowl
contained methamphetamine and that the glass pipes were used to smoke
methamphetamine. The officer called Hanson into the bedroom and asked him what the
substance in the bag was. Hanson first stated that the substance was riboflavin, then
garbage, then rat poison, giving a 10- to 15-second pause between each changed answer.
Hanson later stated that the substance in the bag had been left by one of J.G.‟s friends and
that it had been there for over a month.
An investigator was called to field test the substance and confirmed that the
substance in the bag was methamphetamine. As a result, Hanson was placed under arrest
and transported to the Lyon County Jail. During booking, a small digital scale was seized
from Hanson‟s person.
A search warrant for Hanson‟s home was obtained, and during the subsequent
search, 23 items were seized. Among the items seized were a plastic bag containing a
white crystal-like powder, three glass pipes, and a glass bowl found on top of a dresser; a
bag containing a white substance, a purple plastic plate with white residue, a plastic bowl
and plastic spoon, about 100 small, unused plastic bags, approximately two inches wide
and three inches deep in size,1 and a razor blade found in a drawer inside that same
The unused plastic bags were received as part of Exhibit 18 at trial. The Exhibit
Record describes Exhibit 18 as “[m]ultiple empty small baggies and razor blade,” and the
investigator who participated in the search of Hanson‟s home testified that there were
“numerous plastic baggies.” In its brief and at oral argument to our court, the State
clarified that Exhibit 18 consisted of “approximately 100 small, plastic baggies,
approximately two inches wide and three inches deep.” This point was not disputed by
dresser; plastic bags with white residue, several pipes, a propane torch attachment, a onepound propane tank, and butane fuel found in the living room; and a glass pipe and a bag
filled with what was believed to be a cutting agent in the bathroom. The total number of
pipes found was eight.
At trial, an employee of the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension testified
that the plastic bag found on the dresser in Hanson‟s home contained 2.4 grams of
methamphetamine, the glass bowl on the dresser contained 1.3 grams of
methamphetamine, the bag found inside the dresser drawer contained 8.9 grams of
methamphetamine, and that the bag containing what was believed to be a cutting agent
held 23.6 grams of an unidentified substance.
The officers who arrested Hanson testified that the plastic bag containing the white
crystal-like powder found on top of Hanson‟s dresser was of the sort commonly used to
hold methamphetamine, that the pipes on top of Hanson‟s dresser were of the type used
to smoke methamphetamine, and that the digital scale found on Hanson‟s person was of
the type frequently used in narcotics transactions.
There was testimony from the
investigator who field-tested the substance in Hanson‟s home that the small, unused
plastic bags, razor blade, bowl, spoon, and plate were all items that could be used in the
preparation of controlled substances for distribution. The State also presented expert
testimony from a law enforcement officer from the Brown-Lyon-Redwood Drug and
Gang Task Force that the items seized from Hanson‟s home “indicate or [are] indicative
of a person who was selling methamphetamine.” In particular, the expert testified that
methamphetamine is sold in amounts between half a gram to a pound and that the most
common quantity that is sold is an “eight-ball,” or 3.5 grams. The expert also testified
that the purple plastic plate with the white substance on it could have been used to mix
methamphetamine with a cutting agent, that the unused bags are of the type used to
package narcotics, that the razor blade could be used to “cut” methamphetamine, and that
the bowl and spoon found in Hanson‟s dresser drawer could be used to mix narcotics.
After the jury found Hanson guilty of all three charges, the district court sentenced
Hanson to 110 months for the first-degree controlled substance crime. The court of
appeals reversed Hanson‟s first-degree controlled substance crime conviction, concluding
that “the evidence supports the reasonable inference that Hanson possessed the
methamphetamine only for personal use” and therefore a reasonable doubt existed as to
whether Hanson possessed methamphetamine with an intent to sell.
N.W.2d at 204.
In assessing the sufficiency of the evidence, “we view the evidence in a light most
favorable to the verdict to determine „whether the facts in the record and the legitimate
inferences drawn from them would permit the jury to reasonably conclude that the
defendant was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of the offense of which he was
convicted.‟ ” Davis v. State, 595 N.W.2d 520, 525 (Minn. 1999) (quoting State v. Moore,
481 N.W.2d 355, 360 (Minn. 1992)). We will not disturb the jury‟s verdict “if the jury,
acting with due regard for the presumption of innocence and for the necessity of
overcoming it by proof beyond a reasonable doubt, could reasonably conclude that [a]
defendant was proven guilty of the offense charged.” Bernhardt v. State, 684 N.W.2d
465, 476-77 (Minn. 2004) (alteration in original) (citation omitted) (internal quotation
When assessing the sufficiency of circumstantial evidence, our review warrants
closer scrutiny. State v. Bias, 419 N.W.2d 480, 484 (Minn. 1988); see State v. Al-Naseer,
788 N.W.2d 469, 473-74 (Minn. 2010); State v. Andersen, 784 N.W.2d 320, 329-30
(Minn. 2010); State v. Stein, 776 N.W.2d 709, 714 (Minn. 2010) (plurality opinion).
When reviewing the sufficiency of circumstantial evidence, we first identify the
circumstances proved. Al-Naseer, 788 N.W.2d at 473; Andersen, 784 N.W.2d at 329.
Consistent with our standard of review, we defer to the jury‟s acceptance of the proof of
these circumstances as well as to the jury‟s rejection of evidence in the record that
conflicted with the circumstances proved by the State. Al-Naseer, 788 N.W.2d at 473;
Andersen, 784 N.W.2d at 329. We recognize that “[j]uries are generally „in the best
position to weigh the credibility of the evidence and thus determine which witnesses to
believe and how much weight to give their testimony.‟ ” Andersen, 784 N.W.2d at 329
(quoting State v. Hughes, 749 N.W.2d 307, 312 (Minn. 2008)); see Al-Naseer, 788
N.W.2d at 473 (“We recognize that the trier of fact is in the best position to determine
credibility and weigh the evidence.”).
Our second step is to “examine independently the reasonableness of all inferences
that might be drawn from the circumstances proved,” including inferences consistent with
a hypothesis other than guilt. Andersen, 784 N.W.2d at 329 (quoting Stein, 776 N.W.2d
at 716); accord Al-Naseer, 788 N.W.2d at 473-74. In contrast to the deference given
when identifying the circumstances proved, “we give no deference to the fact finder‟s
choice between reasonable inferences.”
Andersen, 784 N.W.2d at 329-30 (internal
quotation marks omitted) (quoting Stein, 776 N.W.2d at 716); accord Al-Naseer, 788
N.W.2d at 474. Circumstantial evidence must form a complete chain that, as a whole,
leads so directly to the guilt of the defendant as to exclude beyond a reasonable doubt any
reasonable inference other than guilt. Al-Naseer, 788 N.W.2d at 473. Therefore, “[i]n
assessing the inferences drawn from the circumstances proved, the inquiry is not simply
whether the inferences leading to guilt are reasonable. Although that must be true in
order to convict, it must also be true that there are no other reasonable, rational inferences
that are inconsistent with guilt.” Andersen, 784 N.W.2d at 330 (internal quotation marks
omitted) (quoting Stein, 776 N.W.2d at 716); accord Al-Naseer, 788 N.W.2d at 474.
This is because “if any one or more circumstances found proved are inconsistent with
guilt, or consistent with innocence, then a reasonable doubt as to guilt arises.” Al-Naseer,
788 N.W.2d at 474 (internal quotation marks omitted) (quoting Andersen, 784 N.W.2d at
338 (Meyer, J., concurring)).
But “[w]e will not overturn a conviction based on
circumstantial evidence on the basis of mere conjecture.” Andersen, 784 N.W.2d at 330
(alteration in original) (internal quotation marks omitted) (quoting State v. Lahue, 585
N.W.2d 785, 789 (Minn. 1998)); accord Al-Naseer, 788 N.W.2d at 473. The State does
not have the burden of removing all doubt, but it must remove all reasonable doubt.
Andersen, 784 N.W.2d at 330 (citing Hughes, 749 N.W.2d at 313); accord Al-Naseer,
788 N.W.2d at 473.
In order to prove that Hanson was guilty of controlled substance crime in the first
degree, the State had to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that “on one or more occasions
within a 90-day period [Hanson] unlawfully [sold] one or more mixtures of a total weight
of ten grams or more containing . . . methamphetamine.” Minn. Stat. § 152.021, subd.
1(1). The term “sell” means “(1) to sell, give away, barter, deliver, exchange, distribute
or dispose of to another, or to manufacture; or . . . (3) to possess with intent to perform an
act listed in clause (1).” Minn. Stat. § 152.01, subd. 15a (2010). Evidence tending to
show an intent to sell or distribute “includes evidence as to the large quantity of drugs
possessed, evidence as to the manner of packaging, and other evidence.” State v. White,
332 N.W.2d 910, 912 (Minn. 1983) (concluding that there was sufficient evidence that
defendant possessed marijuana with intent to sell when police found over 100 pounds of
marijuana on his farm).
Here, the State proved the following circumstances:
Hanson possessed 12.6 grams of methamphetamine in or on top of the
dresser in his bedroom closet consisting of 2.4 grams found in a bag on top of the
dresser, 1.3 grams in a glass bowl on top of the dresser, and 8.9 grams in a bag in
the top right dresser drawer;
In a drawer of that same dresser, there was a purple plate with a white
powdery substance on it, a bowl with a crystalline substance on it, a spoon suitable
for use in mixing drugs, a razor blade, and approximately 100 unused plastic bags,
approximately two inches wide and three inches deep;
In the bathroom, Hanson had a bag containing 23.6 grams of a white
powdery substance believed to be a cutting agent, along with a methamphetamine
In the living room, Hanson had several more methamphetamine pipes, the
tip of a propane torch, a one-pound propane tank, and a can of butane fuel, along
with additional plastic bags containing a white residue; and
Hanson had on his person a digital scale of the type frequently used in
The State also proved that the plastic bag containing the white crystal-like powder
found on top of Hanson‟s dresser was of the sort commonly used to hold
methamphetamine, that the eight pipes Hanson possessed were of the sort used to smoke
methamphetamine, that the approximately 100 small, unused bags found were of a type
used in the distribution of methamphetamine, that possession of each of these items was
consistent with and indicative of a person selling methamphetamine, and that Hanson
made contradictory statements about the white powdery substance found in the bag on
top of his dresser.
Our review of the circumstances proved satisfies us that the evidence presented,
when viewed as a whole, as our circumstantial evidence standard requires us to do, is
sufficient to support Hanson‟s first-degree controlled substance crime conviction.
Although it is true that the circumstances proved include circumstances from which,
when viewed in isolation, it can be reasonably inferred that Hanson possessed the
methamphetamine solely for personal use, there are also circumstances proved from
which the only reasonable inference to be drawn is that the methamphetamine was
possessed for purposes of sale. In particular, the only reasonable inference to be drawn
from Hanson‟s possession of the approximately 100 small, unused plastic bags of a type
used for the packaging of methamphetamine for distribution and sale is that Hanson
possessed methamphetamine with an intent to sell. There is nothing in the record from
which it can be inferred that the possession of these bags served some separate purpose
other than as packaging for the distribution and sale of methamphetamine. In addition,
the unused bags were found in the same dresser drawer as the razor blade, plastic bowl,
plastic spoon, and plastic plate—all items that could be used in the preparation of
controlled substances for distribution. These items were also found in the same drawer as
the bag containing 8.9 grams of methamphetamine. In that the unused bags were found
in close proximity to other items used in the sale and distribution of methamphetamine,
as well as a sizeable quantity of methamphetamine, we conclude that the only reasonable
inference to be drawn from the circumstances proved is that Hanson possessed the 12.6
grams of methamphetamine with the intent to sell.
It can also be reasonably inferred from the number of methamphetamine pipes
possessed by Hanson that Hanson shared methamphetamine with others. And given that
the statutory definition of “sell” includes “to sell, give away, barter, deliver, exchange,
distribute or dispose of to another” as well as “to possess with intent to perform” any of
those acts, Minn. Stat. § 152.01, subd. 15a, we are satisfied that there was sufficient
evidence that Hanson possessed methamphetamine with the intent to sell.
We conclude that the evidence that Hanson possessed the approximately 100
small, unused bags, when coupled with the remaining evidence as a whole, forms a
complete chain that leads so directly to Hanson‟s guilt of possessing more than 10 grams
of methamphetamine with the intent to sell as to exclude beyond a reasonable doubt any
rational inference other than guilt. Therefore, we reverse the court of appeals.