From MN Bench Book - Trial Procedures & Practices for Judges
THE DEFENDANT HAS THE RIGHT TO STIPULATE TO AN ELEMENT OF THE OFFENSE HE OR SHE IS CHARGED WITH IN ORDER TO KEEP THE JURY FROM KNOWING OF THE ELEMENT.
A STIPULATION INVOLVING AN ELEMENT OF AN OFFENSE PENDING AGAINST THE DEFENDANT IN THE CURRENT TRIAL SHOULD BE VIEWED BY THE TRIAL COURT AS A PLEA OF GUILTY TO THAT ELEMENT.
SUCH STIPULATION REQUIRES:
- A STATEMENT FROM THE DEFENDANT ON THE RECORD THAT THEY ARE AWARE THEY ARE GIVING UP ALL TRIAL RIGHTS RELATED TO THE PROOF OF THAT ELEMENT, AND
- A FACTUAL ADMISSION FROM THE DEFENDANT OF THAT ELEMENT
- ONCE A DEFENDANT STIPULATES TO AN ELEMENT, JURY INSTRUCTIONS SHOULD BE MODIFIED SO THAT NO REFERENCE TO THE ELEMENT IS CONTAINED IN ANY OF THE INSTRUCTIONS
The limited right to stipulate In certain circumstances, a defendant will offer to stipulate to an element (of a crime he or she is charged with), that the prosecution would normally have to prove. The defendant must personally agree to the proposed stipulation on the record orally or in writing. The defendant should acknowledge on the record that they are giving up the right to have the state prove this element to the jury. The defendant orally waives that right. They must also factually admit to the element. The trial judge should handle this waiver or stipulation of an element as if the defendant were pleading guilty to that element.
Even if a defendant offers to stipulate to an element, the state is not precluded from presenting evidence related to that element if it asserts that it needs to prove facts underlying that element to prove some other aspect of it’s case. However, the court must recognize that "[c]ases may arise where unduly prejudicial evidence, which is without relevance beyond the defendant's judicial admission, should not be received."
When an element of a crime is a previous conviction, the defendant will almost always be able to stipulate to that previous conviction, and the state will be barred from presenting evidence related to that previous conviction. “Since the jury will not know that a prior conviction is an element of the offense, there is no risk that the jury will wrongfully conclude that the element has not been proven.” Care must be taken to craft jury instructions, both at the beginning of the trial and at the conclusion before deliberations, so that the conviction-element that is stipulated to is not inadvertently communicated to the jury through an instruction. 
INSTRUCTION FOR FELON WITH HANDGUN CHARGE WHERE DEFENDANT STIPULATED TO FELONY CONVICTION
(This instruction was drafted by Judge Robert Small, Hennepin County District Court Judge)
The statutes of Minnesota provide that whoever knowingly possesses a firearm and is prohibited by law from possessing such firearm is guilty of a crime.
There are three elements of this crime that the State must prove. They are:
First, the defendant knowingly possessed a firearm or consciously exercised dominion and control over it.
The law recognizes several kinds of possession. A person may have actual possession or constructive possession. A person who knowingly has direct physical control over a thing, at a given time, is then in actual possession of it. A person who, although not in actual possession, has both the power and intention to exercise dominion and control over a thing is then in constructive possession of it.
To prove constructive possession of a firearm, the State must prove that: (1) the firearm was found in a place under the defendant’s exclusive control to which other people did not normally have access, or (2) that the firearm was found in a place to which others had access, that there is a strong probability, inferable from the evidence, that the defendant was, at the time, consciously exercising dominion and control over it.
Second, the defendant, at the time he possessed the firearm, was ineligible to do so.. The defendant and the state have agreed that the defendant was inelgibile to possess a firearm. You may consider this agreement as you review this element.
Third, the defendant’s act took place on May 23, 2009 in Hennepin County.
If you find that each of these elements has been proven beyond a reasonable doubt, the defendant is guilty. If you find that any element has not been proven beyond a reasonable doubt, the defendant is not guilty.
- State v. Berkelman, 355 N.W.2d 394, 397 n. 2 (Minn. 1984)State v. Davidson, 351 N.W.2d 8, 11 (Minn. 1984).
- State v. Hinton, 702 N.W.2d 278, 280 (Minn. Ct. App. 2005); State v. Wright, 679 N.W.2d 186, 191 (Minn. Ct. App. 2004). See Minn. Stat. § 481.08.
- See U.S. CONST. amend. VI (right to a jury trial); Minn. Const. art. I, § 6 (same); see also MINN. R. CRIM. P. 26.01, subd. 1(1) (same).
- State v. Wright, 679 N.W.2d 186, 191 (Minn. Ct. App. 2004). See also Hedberg v. State, No. A05-1233, 2006 WL 1460722, *4-*5 (Minn. Ct. App. May 30, 2006) (unpublished); State v. Yahola, No. A04-1392, 2005 WL 1950120, *1 (Minn. App. Aug 16, 2005) (unpublished). It should be noted that in most cases where the trial court has failed to have the defendant personally put their stipulation on the record, the convictions have still been affirmed because the appellate courts have deemed the error to be harmless. See e.g., State v. Wright, 679 N.W.2d 186, 191-92 (Minn. Ct. App. 2004). They state that they can not conceive of a situation where a defendant would not benefit from keeping the stipulated element from the jury.
- State v. Wiley, 295 Minn. 411, 421, 205 N.W.2d 667, 675 (1973) (when defendant stipulated to the quantity of marijuana being enough for a conviction, the state was not precluded presenting evidence of the marijuana because the amount seized was relevant to defendant’s claim that he was framed).
- State v. Wiley, 295 Minn. 411, 421, 205 N.W.2d 667, 675 (1973). The reason for this rule is that “a defendant should not be able to unilaterally control the issue of the need for relevant evidence by offering to stipulate, ‘particularly where the evidence sought to be excluded would bear in any way upon any other issues not covered by the stipulation.’” State v. Berkelman, 355 N.W.2d 394, 396 (Minn. 1984) (citing 2 D. LOUISELL & C. MUELLER, FEDERAL EVIDENCE § 126, at 27 (1978)).
- See Old Chief v. U.S., 519 U.S. 172 (1997); State v. Davidson, 351 N.W.2d 8 (Minn. 1984) (trial court erred by not accepting a stipulation that the defendant was a felon when that was an element of the charge); State v. Berkelman, 355 N.W.2d 394 (Minn. 1984) (trial court erred in not accepting a stipulation from the defendant that he had been previously convicted of DWI, which was an element of the charged offense).
- State v. Berkelman, 355 N.W.2d 394, 397 n. 2 (Minn. 1984).
- State v. White, Minn.App.,2007; Because appellant stipulated to having committed a prior crime of violence, the trial court erred by reading the criminal complaint to the jury venire without altering the reference to this prior conviction. State v. Jones, A08-1235 (Minn. Ct. App 2009)Trial Court referenced element (felon) that defendant had stipulated to, court gave defendant the option of either mistrial or a curative instruction. Defendant choose curative instruction and claimed court should have sua sponte declared a mistrial. Defendant waive right to have mistrial declared when he choose curative instruction.
- State v. Davidson, 351 N.W.2d 8, 11 (Minn. 1984)