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State v. Finneman

Supreme Court of North Dakota

August 28, 2018

State of North Dakota, Plaintiff and Appellee
v.
Jesseaca Finneman, Defendant and Appellant

          Appeal from the District Court of Williams County, Northwest Judicial District, the Honorable Paul W. Jacobson, Judge.

          Nathan K. Madden, Williams County Assistant State's Attorney, Williston, ND 58802, for plaintiff and appellee.

          Russell J. Myhre, Valley City, ND 58072, for defendant and appellant.

          OPINION

          CROTHERS, JUSTICE.

         [¶ 1] Jesseaca Finneman appeals from criminal judgments entered after a jury found her guilty of: (1) possession of more than 500 grams of marijuana with intent to deliver; (2) unlawful possession of hashish; and (3) two counts of unlawful possession of drug paraphernalia. Finneman argues she is entitled to a new trial because the jury verdict form for the charge of possession of more than 500 grams of marijuana with intent to deliver was confusing and misapplied the law. We reverse Finneman's conviction for possession with intent to deliver.

         I

         [¶ 2] Law enforcement officers executed a search warrant for a residence shared by Finneman and her roommate and seized illegal drugs, drug paraphernalia and cash in their residence. The State separately charged Finneman and her roommate with: (1) possession of more than 500 grams of marijuana with intent to deliver; (2) possession of THC oil; (3) possession of hashish; and (4) two counts of possession of drug paraphernalia. On motion by the State, the prosecutions against each defendant were consolidated for a jury trial, and the charge for possession of THC oil against each defendant was dismissed before the case was submitted to the jury.

         [¶ 3] At trial Finneman testified that she possessed all of the drugs and paraphernalia for her personal use, that she was not a drug dealer and that she did not intend to deliver or sell the marijuana to other persons. Finneman also testified her roommate was not involved with the drugs or paraphernalia and the cash was to pay rent for their residence. Finneman claimed she was not guilty of possession of marijuana with intent to deliver and requested a jury instruction on the lesser included offense of possession of marijuana. During discussions about final jury instructions the district court granted Finneman's request to provide the jury with a lesser included instruction on possession of marijuana for the greater charge of possession of more than 500 grams of marijuana with intent to deliver. The jury verdict form in Finneman's case included a black box preventing the jury from explicitly entering a not guilty verdict for possession with intent to deliver and provided:

         [¶ 4] As relevant to the charge of possession of more than 500 grams of marijuana with intent to deliver and the lesser included offense of possession of marijuana, a jury instruction entitled "forms of verdict" provided:

"You will receive a one page verdict form which will have all of the charges for a defendant listed, each with a blank to check either 'guilty' or 'not guilty.'
"You will return the form of verdict with the blank checked for either 'guilty' or 'not guilty' for each charge. There will be one form to cover all of the charges for each Defendant.
"The Possession of Controlled Substance with Intent to Deliver, Marijuana, Charge for Defendant Finneman will be handled differently. For this charge, you will be required to address the verdict in stages. It is imperative that you understand the sequence of analysis, and that you follow it precisely. Depending on your findings on one step, you may or may not proceed to the next step.
"For this verdict, you must first consider the Possession of Controlled Substance With Intent to Deliver, Marijuana charge as brought by the State. If you find Defendant Finneman 'Guilty' of that charge, you will check the appropriate verdict line, and you will not even consider the next steps, as your duties on that charge will be completed.
"However, if you find Defendant Finneman 'Not Guilty' of the offense of Possession of Controlled Substance with Intent to Deliver, you will note that there is no proposed 'Not Guilty' verdict line. This is because in the event of a 'Not Guilty' finding as to the Possession With Intent to Deliver charge, you will then, and only then, be required to consider whether the Defendant is 'Guilty' or ...

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