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Court of appeals rules no new trial in burglary case

Matthew Raymond Smoot Photo Credit / DOC

A 38-year-old man convicted for burglary last year in Cass County had his request for a new trial denied by the Minnesota Court of Appeals.

Matthew Raymond Smoot, who was sentenced to 54 months for second-degree burglary and for receiving stolen property, challenged the Cass County District Court's decision on his conviction, arguing he is entitled a new trial based on the district court's "erroneous accomplice-liability jury instruction." He also argued his third-degree burglary and receiving stolen property charges should be reversed to a lesser offense.

Smoot was placed at the Minnesota Correctional Facility in Lino Lakes on June 27, 2017, and is anticipated to be released in March 2020, according to the Minnesota Department of Corrections website.

The case was considered and decided by Minnesota Court of Appeals Presiding Judge Lucinda E. Jesson, Chief Judge Edward J. Cleary and Judge Jill Flaskamp Halbrooks. Cass County Attorney Benjamin Lindstrom represented the state and Chief Appellate Public Defender Cathryn Middlebrook and Anders J. Erickson, assistant public defender in St. Paul, represented Smoot.

The case stems from a break-in at a seasonal cabin reported March 10, 2017, and a theft of a Farmall tractor, truck and various other items in Cass County. Smoot admitted to breaking into the cabin with another accomplice and the truck and tractor were stored at his mother's property.

In his appeal, Smoot argued he was entitled to a new trial because the district court's accomplice-liability jury instruction "omitted the requirement that the state prove (Smoot) had the requisite intent to be liable for aiding and abetting."

According to the unpublished court of appeals document, Smoot was not entitled to a new trial because the error did not affect his substantial rights. It stated Smoot knew his alleged accomplices were going to commit a crime and he intended to go along with the crime. Smoot contested the state's evidence he intentionally aided the accomplice in the crime through his own testimony and his mother's testimony, but the state evidence showing Smoot acted as a principal to the burglary was strong, the state appeals stated.

The document stated, "The jury's verdicts were based on the state's primary theory that (Smoot) was liable as a principal (and that he) has not met the heavy burden of establishing that there is a reasonable likelihood that giving the erroneous instruction had a significant effect on the verdicts."

The court of appeals stated while the evidence was sufficient to support all five of Smoot's convictions, the district court erred by formally adjudicating guilt on both the burglary convictions and to the the motor-vehicle-theft count relating to the theft of the tractor as well as the receiving the stolen property—the tractor. The district court imposed a sentence only on the second-degree burglary and the receiving stolen property conviction.

The appeals court stated Smoot cannot be convicted of both stealing the tractor and receiving it as stolen property.

The court of appeals decision means Smoot will continue to be guilty on all five convictions. A new warrant of commitment vacating the formal adjudications of guilt on the third-degree burglary conviction and the receiving stolen property conviction will be issued. Smoot will be resentenced on the second-degree burglary conviction and the motor vehicle theft conviction involving the tractor.

Smoot has a criminal history prior to his burglary charges with Cass County. In Crow Wing County, he was convicted of second-degree murder in the killing of 16-year-old Joseph "Joey" Jordan in a car crash in 2005. He received 166 months in prison and he has served his sentence.