Court of Appeals upholds theft conviction in Sunburg neighbors' dispute

A jury convicted a Sunburg man of misdemeanor theft after he allegedly took firewood without permission. The Court of Appeals affirmed the conviction.


WILLMAR — A Minnesota Court of Appeals decision released Monday affirms a misdemeanor theft conviction against a Sunburg man charged for allegedly filling his trailer with firewood from a neighbor's property without permission to do so.

A Kandiyohi County jury returned a guilty verdict after a Feb. 19, 2019, trial on the charge against James Allen Buck, 65, of Sunburg.

According to the court file, two neighbors in Sunburg cut down three trees along their property line. The defendant lives near the two. He asked the first neighbor if he could take some of the wood. She told him no, and said she could not speak for the second neighbor.

Buck did not speak to the second neighbor about taking any wood, according to the court file.

Buck and his son drove a trailer to the second neighbor’s property in broad daylight and loaded it with wood, drove the trailer home, and used some of the wood. Law enforcement officers came to his house and subsequently informed him that the second neighbor would consider the matter settled if he paid him $100 for wood that had been burned and returned the remaining wood.


Buck refused to do so and eventually burned all of the wood. Kandiyohi County charged him with theft and the case went to trial.

During deliberations at Buck’s trial, the jury sent a note to the judge asking: “If a person doesn’t ‘know’ he has no right to take wood at the time he is taking it but finds out later he has no right, does that mean he meets the element — this element?”

The judge told the jury that this was at the heart of the question it was to decide. The judge reiterated the intent element of the law which states: “to know requires only that the actor believes that a specified fact exists.”

The Court of Appeals noted that Buck did not object to the question and response at the trial, and that the court did not err in its answer to the jury.

The Court of Appeals also rejected two other challenges raised by the defendant in his appeal. He said the taking of the wood in broad daylight was “inconsistent with theft.” The court noted the action occurred during the work day.

The defendant had also argued that he talked to the husband of the first neighbor before being told by his wife that he could not take the wood from them. The Court of Appeals pointed out that she plainly stated he could not take the wood.

An amended sentence orders Buck to serve 90 days in jail, but stays 30 days. He can avoid serving the remaining 60 days if he complies with probation requirements and makes $100 in restitution. If he does not comply, he must serve 30 days in jail beginning Sept. 1 and another 30 days in jail beginning Jan. 1, 2021.


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