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State v. Lewis

January 30, 2003

STATE OF MINNESOTA, PETITIONER, APPELLANT,
v.
ERWIN LANELL LEWIS, RESPONDENT.



Considered and decided by the court en banc without oral argument.

SYLLABUS BY THE COURT

1. The rule announced in State v. Misquadace, 644 N.W.2d 65 (Minn. 2002), that an upward departure in a criminal sentence cannot be based solely on a plea agreement, applies to a case that was on direct appeal at the time Misquadace was decided.

2. If the district court, on remand under Misquadace, finds that the sentence agreed upon in a plea bargain must be materially reduced, it may reconsider the entire plea agreement.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hanson, Justice

Took no part, Anderson, Russell A., J.

Affirmed in part, reversed in part and remanded.

OPINION

Respondent Erwin L. Lewis ("Lewis") was charged with one count of first-degree criminal sexual conduct. Lewis entered into a plea agreement in which he pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of second-degree criminal sexual conduct in exchange for a stayed 86-month sentence and 25 years of probation, an upward durational departure of more than four times the presumptive sentence. The court of appeals affirmed Lewis' conviction but remanded to the district court for resentencing consistent with this court's holding in State v. Misquadace, which was expressly made applicable to "pending" cases. We affirm the court of appeals' conclusion that Lewis' case was "pending" at the time of our decision in Misquadace but reverse the court of appeals' decision to limit the remand to only the sentencing component of the plea agreement.

On May 31, 2000, Lewis' niece by marriage accused him of sexually assaulting her during a family gathering in December 1995. She was twelve years old at the time of the assault. After an investigation, the Beltrami County Attorney charged Lewis with first-degree criminal sexual conduct. On June 20, 2001, Lewis agreed to plead guilty to an amended charge of second-degree criminal sexual conduct in exchange for a stayed 86-month sentence and probation for 25 years. Under the 2001 Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines, the presumptive stayed sentence for a second-degree criminal sexual conduct conviction is 21 months.*fn1 Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines IV. Lewis later moved the district court to withdraw his guilty plea, arguing that he was innocent but had entered the plea because he lacked the financial resources and family support to endure a jury trial. The court denied Lewis' motion because he failed to present any evidence that his plea was involuntary. On July 27, 2001, the court sentenced Lewis in accordance with the plea agreement to 86 months stayed and probation for 25 years. The court gave no reasons to support the upward durational departure except the plea agreement itself.

Lewis filed a notice of appeal on October 17, 2001. At that time, this court was in the process of reviewing the court of appeals' decision in State v. Misquadace, 629 N.W.2d 487 (Minn. App. 2001), rev. granted (Minn. Sept. 25, 2001). In Misquadace, the defendant agreed to plead guilty to four offenses under a plea agreement that contemplated four separate sentences, each containing some type of departure from the sentencing guidelines. 629 N.W.2d at 488-89. At his sentencing hearing, Misquadace attempted to withdraw his guilty plea, but the district court denied his motion and sentenced him in accordance with the plea agreement. Id.; State v. Misquadace, 644 N.W.2d 65, 67 (Minn. 2002).

Misquadace appealed and argued that the district court failed to identify any substantial or compelling reasons for departing from the sentencing guidelines on two of his sentences. Misquadace, 629 N.W.2d at 489. The court of appeals reversed and remanded, holding that the district court does not have the discretion to depart from the sentencing guidelines solely because the defendant agrees to do so in a plea agreement. Id. at 492. Additionally, the court of appeals required that the district court, on remand, "disclose the substantial and compelling circumstances that support the departure." Id. We granted review and affirmed the court of appeals, holding that all departures from the sentencing guidelines must be supported by something more substantial and compelling than the plea agreement alone. Misquadace, 644 N.W.2d at 72. We applied this new rule of law to Misquadace's case and stated that it would apply to all "pending and future cases." Id.

Following Misquadace's lead, Lewis argued on appeal that the district court erred by imposing a sentence of more than four times the presumptive sentence based solely on his plea agreement. State v. Lewis, No. C7-01-1788, 2002 WL 1275790, at *1 (Minn. App. June 11, 2002). Citing our decision in Misquadace, the court of appeals affirmed Lewis' conviction but remanded the sentencing component of the plea agreement to the district court for resentencing pursuant to the sentencing guidelines. Lewis, 2002 WL 1275790, at *2. The court of appeals concluded that the rule pronounced in Misquadace applied to Lewis' appeal because it was a "pending" case at the time of the Misquadace opinion. Lewis, 2002 WL 1275790, at *4.

The state appealed, arguing that the rule in Misquadace does not apply to Lewis' case because it was not "pending" at the time of the Misquadace opinion. The state argued alternatively that even if Misquadace applies, the court of appeals erred in remanding only the sentencing component of the plea agreement, which would allow Lewis to retain the benefit of a reduced charge while avoiding the burden of the agreed sentence. The state suggests that if the district court determines there are no independent grounds to support the sentence, it should be permitted to reconsider the entire plea agreement and, if it concludes that the reduced ...


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