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State v. Norton

Supreme Court of North Dakota

July 11, 2019

State of North Dakota, Plaintiff and Appellee
v.
Spencer Brent Norton, Defendant and Appellant

          Appeal from the District Court of Burleigh County, South Central Judicial District, the Honorable James S. Hill, Judge.

          Julie A. Lawyer, State's Attorney, Bismarck, ND, for plaintiff and appellee.

          Russell J. Myhre, Enderlin, ND, for defendant and appellant.

          OPINION

          JENSEN, JUSTICE.

         [¶1] Spencer Norton appeals from a district court's criminal judgment entered following a jury verdict finding him guilty of terrorizing. Norton contends the offense of terrorizing requires threats directed toward identified individuals and the evidence was insufficient to sustain a verdict of guilty. We affirm.

         I.

         [¶2] In November 2017, Norton was detained in the Burleigh Morton County Detention Center following Norton being charged with arson. While detained, Norton communicated with his girlfriend through phone conversations and video visits. Norton was aware that both the video visits and the phone conversations were being recorded by law enforcement.

         [¶3] During the phone conversations and the video visits, Norton made multiple threatening statements directed toward law enforcement and other individuals associated with his arson case. Norton also made threats that referenced the family members of law enforcement. Norton was charged with terrorizing as the result of his threats.

         [¶4] Norton filed a motion to dismiss the terrorizing charge, arguing the State did not meet the burden to show a prima facie case because the State failed to specifically identify the individuals who were allegedly threatened. The district court denied the motion. Norton waived his right to a preliminary hearing, the case proceeded to a jury trial, and Norton was found guilty of terrorizing. On appeal, Norton argues the evidence presented at trial was insufficient to sustain the guilty verdict, the court erred in denying his pretrial motion to dismiss, erred in denying his request for a jury instruction requiring the State to identify the human being against whom a t h r e a t was made, and erred by denying his motion to acquit.

         II.

         [¶5] Norton challenges the denial of his motion to dismiss. Norton argues his statements were too general and lack sufficient specificity for a jury to determine he made the statements with the intent to place another human being in fear for that human being's or another's safety.

         [¶6] The offense of terrorizing is defined in N.D.C.C. § 12.1-17-04(1). Section 12.1-17-04(1), N.D.C.C., provides as follows:

A person is guilty of a class C felony if, with intent to place another human being in fear for that human being's or another's safety or . . . in reckless disregard of the risk of causing such terror, disruption, or inconvenience, the person . . . [t]hreatens to commit any crime of violence or act dangerous to human life[.]

         [¶7] Norton characterizes his statements as a broad commentary on law enforcement and asserts his statements lacked the level of specificity, with regard to the potential target(s) of the threats necessary for a conviction. Norton directed threats at the law enforcement personnel involved in his criminal cases, as well as their families. While many of Norton's statements did not include the name of the law enforcement personnel, he made clear references to officers working on his arson case. Norton stated, "these piece of [expletive] [expletive] know they ain't got no case. And they better mark it on their books because when I get out of this [expletive] jail, I'm coming for all of them." Norton also stated, "All them [expletive] [expletive] police that came to the preliminary hearing, sitting there like a bunch of [expletive], y'all are all flagged and tagged too." Norton did reference the prosecuting attorney by name and indicated the prosecutor was "flagged and tagged." With regard to the families of law enforcement, Norton stated, "I'm [expletive] with you and I'm gonna [expletive] ...


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