Court orders new trial for Swift County defendant
BENSON -- A woman convicted by a Swift County jury on charges of child endangerment and fifth-degree possession of marijuana is entitled to a new trial on the child endangerment charge, the Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled Monday.
BENSON - A woman convicted by a Swift County jury on charges of child endangerment and fifth-degree possession of marijuana is entitled to a new trial on the child endangerment charge, the Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled Monday.
The court reversed the conviction for gross misdemeanor child endangerment by ruling that jury instructions given by the court were in error.
The court also vacated the sentence on the felony marijuana possession conviction and ordered resentencing, ruling that the court had failed to exercise its discretion when it refused to stay adjudication of the conviction.
Under a stay of adjudication, no conviction for that charge appears on a defendant's criminal record after successful completion of probation.
After a two-day trial, a Swift County jury had returned guilty verdicts to two of three charges against Brittany Tiara Johnson, 25, on Aug. 30, 2016. The jury acquitted her on a charge of fourth-degree drug sale in a school area.
The charges followed a Dec. 21, 2015, search by a drug task force of the apartment she shared with Dennis Hamilton and their 2-year-old daughter adjacent to the high school football field in Benson.
Hamilton pleaded guilty to a fourth-degree sale charge. The District Court entered a stay of adjudication for the fourth-degree sale charge and dismissed charges of fifth-degree sale of marijuana and child endangerment against him.
Hamilton testified on Johnson's behalf during her trial. He stated that he sold drugs out of the apartment and that Johnson had no knowledge the marijuana was there nor did she know he sold drugs there, according to the court's decision.
The instructions to the jury did not specify what drug possession crimes the state must prove were violated in the presence of a child to constitute child endangerment. The fifth degree-possession charge on which she was convicted is not included in the statute that defines it.
Johnson had asked for a stay of adjudication at her sentencing, but presiding Judge Rodney Hanson told her he could not do so without the approval of the prosecution. The Court of Appeals ruled that he had the discretion to do so without the prosecution's approval.