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State v. Geller

July 24, 2003



No departure from the presumptive guidelines sentence is permitted absent a statement of the reasons for a sentencing departure placed on the record by the court at the time of sentencing.

Reversed and remanded.

Heard, considered, and decided by the court en banc.

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


Appellant Jason Patrick Geller pled guilty to first-degree burglary in violation of Minn. Stat. §á609.582, subd. 1(b) (2002), and fleeing a peace officer in a motor vehicle in violation of Minn. Stat. §á609.487, subd. 3 (2002). Geller was sentenced to the presumptive guidelines sentence of an executed term of 48 months on the burglary conviction. For the fleeing conviction, the district court sentenced Geller to a consecutive 24-month executed prison term,*fn1 which is an upward durational departure from the sentencing guidelines. The presumptive sentence for the fleeing-a-peace-officer charge is one year and one day stayed.

The district court did not state on the record at the time of sentencing the reasons for departure as required by the sentencing guidelines and this court's decision in Williams v. State, 361 N.W.2d 840 (Minn. 1985). Geller appealed to the court of appeals to have the sentence on the fleeing conviction reduced to the presumptive guidelines sentence because of the district court's failure to provide reasons for the departure. The court of appeals held that the sentencing court erred when it departed from the presumptive sentence without stating on the record at the time of sentencing the reasons supporting the departure. On remand, the court of appeals ordered the sentencing court to "either state the reasons on the record for the departure or impose the presumptive sentence for the fleeing offense." We granted Geller's petition for review in which he argues that the court of appeals' remand permitting the sentencing court to place its departure reasons on the record after the fact was impermissible. We agree and therefore reverse the court of appeals and remand to the sentencing court for imposition of the presumptive guidelines sentence.

On September 25, 2001, the Beltrami County Sheriff's Department received a report of a residential burglary from which the burglars fled in a Chevrolet Beretta. The Beretta was subsequently spotted by the police and a high-speed chase ensued at speeds that at times exceeded 100 miles per hour and that covered a distance of approximately 50 miles. During the chase, a bag of marijuana and three long guns were thrown from the car. The chase ended when the Beretta flipped onto its side. The guns, and a safe found in the car, had been taken from the burglarized home. Geller was driving the car, and his friend, Randy Stebe, was a passenger.

At the time of the offense, Geller was 16 years old. After being certified for trial as an adult, Geller pled guilty to both the burglary and fleeing charges in exchange for the prosecutor's agreement to recommend that Geller receive concurrent, rather than consecutive, sentences. At the plea hearing, Geller attempted to minimize Stebe's involvement in the offenses. He did this not knowing that Stebe had already pled guilty for his involvement. The district court accepted the plea and, noting his displeasure with Geller's attitude and conduct during the plea colloquy, informed the parties that he was considering a departure from the presumptive sentences.

The district court gave the parties the opportunity to brief the departure issue. The prosecutor, while continuing to recommend concurrent sentences, argued for an upward durational departure for each conviction. The district court imposed the presumptive sentence for the burglary conviction and a consecutive 24-month executed sentence for the fleeing conviction, which is double the presumptive sentence.

We review a sentencing court's departure from the sentencing guidelines for abuse of discretion. State v. McIntosh, 641 N.W.2d 3, 8 (Minn. 2002). For sentencing departures, the guidelines require the sentencing court to "provide written reasons which specify the substantial and compelling nature of the circumstances, and which demonstrate why the sentence selected in the departure is more appropriate, reasonable, or equitable than the presumptive sentence." Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines II.D; accord McIntosh, 641 N.W.2d at 8 (requiring substantial and compelling circumstances to justify departure). For felony convictions, the "court shall state, on the record, findings of fact as to the reasons for departure." Minn. R. Crim. P. 27.03, subd. 4(C). The rule also requires the filing of a departure report with the guidelines commission. Id. Concerned that trial courts were not complying with the guidelines departure report requirement, this court in Williams indicated that:

[I]n order to ensure future compliance *á*á* with the sentencing guidelines requirements, we prospectively adopt, effective the date this opinion is filed, the following general rules:

1. If no reasons for departure are stated on the record at the time of sentencing, no departure will be allowed.

2. If reasons supporting the departure are stated, this court will examine the record to determine if the ...

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