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State v. Helmenstein

    Brief Fact Summary. The Defendant, Helmenstein (Defendant), was prosecuted on a charge of burglary of a grocery store in Hannover. After trial, the court found the Defendant guilty of the offense as charged. This action is an appeal from the judgment of conviction and from an order denying the Defendant’s motion for a new trial.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. A conviction may not be had upon the testimony of an accomplice unless his testimony is corroborated by such other evidence as tends to connect the defendant with the commission of the offense and the corroboration is not sufficient if it merely shows the commission of the offense or the circumstances thereof.

    Facts. On the night of the alleged burglary, two groups of young people had been driving around in the area of Center, North Dakota. At some point in the evening, these two groups met at the park in Center, where all of the young people consumed alcohol. Later, members of these two groups got into the Defendant’s vehicle in order to ride around. After awhile, one of the riders suggested that the group go to the neighboring city of Hannover to break into a store that was located there. Upon arrival at the store, the Defendant and three other passengers, broke into the store and returned with beer, cigarettes, candy and bananas. At trial, five of the young people testified against the Defendant. One of the riders, Glen Zahn (Zahn), testified that he had objections to the burglary and that he fell asleep in the vehicle while the crime was being committed.

    Issue. Can the conviction against the Defendant be sustained where all of the witnesses who testified against him were accomplices to the crime charged?

    Held. Since Zahn was held to be an accomplice, there is no evidence in this case, other than that of persons who are also accomplices, connecting the Defendant with the commission of the offense with which he is charged. As a result, the evidence against the Defendant is insufficient to sustain the judgment of conviction.

    Discussion. The court in this case was very quick to assign the label of accomplice to each and every young person who rode along to the burglary. This is an interesting conclusion given the quite different roles that these accomplices played in the actual burglary. While two others actually proceeded into the store with the Defendant, Zahn was also labeled an accomplice despite being asleep during the commission of the crime. The decision in this case revolved around the discussion among the riders to conceal the burglary to anyone who would later question them. So, Zahn was found to be an accomplice largely due to his role after the crime had been committed.


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