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State v. Smith

Supreme Court of North Dakota

May 27, 2015

State of North Dakota, Plaintiff and Appellee
v.
Alexander James Smith, Defendant and Appellant

Appeal from the District Court of Burleigh County, South Central Judicial District, the Honorable Bruce B. Haskell, Judge.

Julie A. Lawyer, Burleigh County Assistant State's Attorney, Bismarck, N.D., for plaintiff and appellee; on brief.

Kent M. Morrow, Bismarck, N.D., for defendant and appellant; on brief.

Carol Ronning Kapsner, Lisa Fair McEvers, Daniel J. Crothers, Dale V. Sandstrom, Gerald W. VandeWalle, C.J. Opinion of the Court by Kapsner, Justice.

OPINION

Page 260

Carol Ronning Kapsner, Justice.

[¶1] Alexander Smith appeals from a criminal judgment entered after a jury found him guilty of possession of cocaine with intent to deliver. We conclude that the district court's denial of Smith's motion to strike the mandatory minimum sentence did not amount to obvious error and that sufficient evidence supports his conviction. We affirm.

I

[¶2] In October 2013, Bismarck police officers were dispatched to an apartment building for a complaint of an odor of marijuana. After an officer determined the apartment from which the burnt marijuana odor was emanating, the officers knocked on the door, and Smith answered. When Smith refused to consent to a search of his residence, the officers obtained a search warrant.

[¶3] Based on evidence found during the subsequent search of the apartment, Smith was charged with one count of possession of a controlled substance (cocaine) with intent to deliver, a class A felony (count 1); one count of possession of drug paraphernalia, a class C felony (count 3); and two counts of possession of a controlled substance (amphetamine and methylphenidate), both class C felonies (counts 4 and 5). The State charged the first count for possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver as a third or subsequent offense, which required imposing a 20-year mandatory minimum sentence, because Smith had been previously

Page 261

convicted of delivery of marijuana and of delivery of marijuana within 1,000 feet of a school in February 2011.

[¶4] In January 2014, Smith moved the district court to strike the mandatory minimum sentence, which the court denied. On April 3, 2014, the court held a jury trial. During an in-chambers conference before the trial, Smith indicated he would plead guilty to counts 3, 4, and 5, and a jury trial was held on the first count for possession of cocaine with intent to deliver. While the jury was deliberating, the court accepted Smith's guilty pleas to counts 4 and 5, but Smith indicated he did not want to plead guilty to count 3. The jury returned a verdict finding Smith guilty of the first count, and the court ordered a pre-sentence investigation. On April 8, 2014, Smith again moved the court to strike the mandatory sentence.

[¶5] On June 13, 2014, the district court held a sentencing hearing and also entered an order denying Smith's April 2014 motion to strike. The court thereafter entered a criminal judgment against Smith for convictions based on the jury's guilty verdict for possession of cocaine with intent to deliver, and based on his guilty pleas to one count of possession of drug paraphernalia and two counts of possession of a controlled substance. The court sentenced Smith to 20 years in prison on the first count and to five years on each of the remaining three counts, with all counts running concurrently.

II

[¶6] Smith raises only two issues on appeal. He argues that the district court clearly erred when it failed to grant his motion to strike the mandatory sentence and that there was not sufficient evidence to convict Smith ...


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