Court of Appeals orders new trial in Swift County case
BENSON -- A Benson man was denied a fair trial and is entitled to a new trial on two counts of third-degree controlled substance violations, the Minnesota Court of Appeals decided in an opinion released Monday.
BENSON - A Benson man was denied a fair trial and is entitled to a new trial on two counts of third-degree controlled substance violations, the Minnesota Court of Appeals decided in an opinion released Monday.
The Court of Appeals found that Swift County prosecutor Danielle Olson had violated her obligation to turn over evidence to the defense in the trial of Charles Jacob Whitcup Jr., 44, of Benson.
A Swift County jury had returned two guilty verdicts following a May 16, 2014, trial.
During the trial, the prosecutor introduced a number of letters that Whitcup had sent to his girlfriend while he was in jail.
The girlfriend had testified that she had only infrequently heard from Whitcup.
The letters introduced during the trial were used to impeach her credibility regarding that claim.
The defense had not been informed about the letters until their introduction at the trial, according to the Court of Appeals.
The prosecution argued that the defendant knew of the letters.
The district court concluded that Whitcup was not prejudiced by the introduction of the letters, even though it represented a violation of the discovery process, because the evidence against him for the alleged crimes was strong.
In the Court of Appeals decision, Judge Lawrence Stauber Jr. cited law stating “even the strongest evidence of guilt does not eliminate a defendant’s right to a fair trial. The role of the prosecutor and (district) court is not simply to convict the guilty(;) they are also responsible for providing a procedurally fair trial.’’
Wrote the justice: “The prosecutor’s actions here were not the result of an inadvertent mistake in the heat of trial, but were part of a deliberate and knowing plan to withhold requested discovery materials in order to gain the advantage of surprise.”
The court reversed the convictions and remanded the matter to district court for a new trial. Judge Stauber was joined by Justices Randolph Peterson and Roger Klaphake in the decision.