Minnesota Statutes § 152.025, subdivision 3(b) (2002), requires that a mandatory minimum six-month jail term be imposed and served when an offender has a previous qualifying controlled substance conviction.
Heard, considered, and decided by the court en banc.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Page, Justice
Concurring, Gilbert, J., Anderson, Paul H., J., and Hanson, J.
Office of Appellate Courts
In this appeal by the state, we are asked to decide whether a defendant convicted under Minn. Stat. § 152.025 (2002), who has a previous qualifying controlled substance conviction, must serve a mandatory minimum sentence. In this case, respondent Amber Lynn Bluhm pleaded guilty to fifth-degree controlled substance crime. At her sentencing hearing, the district court stayed imposition of sentence, placed her on three years' probation, and required her to serve six months in jail. On appeal, the court of appeals held that Minn. Stat. § 152.025, subd. 3(b) (2002), does not require a mandatory minimum period of incarceration. We reverse.
On December 9, 2000, Bluhm, age 18, was arrested for marijuana and methamphetamine possession and eventually charged with first-degree possession of methamphetamine with intent to sell, in violation of Minn. Stat. § 152.021, subds. 1(1) and 3(b) (2002), and fifth-degree possession of marijuana with intent to sell in violation of Minn. Stat. § 152.025, subds. 1(1) and 3(b) (2002). Bluhm had previously received a stay of adjudication for a fifth-degree controlled substance offense. In April 2002, Bluhm pleaded guilty to an amended charge of controlled substance crime in the fifth degree, possession of methamphetamine, in violation of Minn. Stat. § 152.025, subds. 2(1) and 3(b) (2002). In exchange for the plea, the state agreed to dismiss the other charges and recommend a six-month cap on jail time.
Between the time of the offense and the guilty plea, Bluhm successfully entered and completed a chemical dependency program and was regularly attending narcotics anonymous meetings. In May 2002, Bluhm returned to high school and completed her high school education before sentencing. The presentence investigation report recommended that Bluhm receive a stayed imposition of sentence and be placed on probation with one of the conditions being that she serve six months on electronic home monitoring. In a supplemental report, it was suggested that the court had no alternative but to sentence Bluhm to serve six months in jail because she had a previous fifth-degree controlled substance crime conviction and, therefore, a mandatory minimum sentence of six months had to be served. See Minn. Stat. § 152.025, subd. 3(b).
At her sentencing hearing on September 9, 2002, the district court stayed imposition of sentence and placed Bluhm on probation for three years. As part of her probation, the district court ordered Bluhm to serve six months in the county jail. The court stated that "six months [was] probably an appropriate sentence," but that it would have considered the mitigating factors Bluhm presented if Minn. Stat. § 152.025, subd. 3(b), afforded the court the discretion to do so. The district court stayed Bluhm's sentence pending appeal. On appeal, the court of appeals reversed and remanded for resentencing, holding that section 152.025, subdivision 3(b), did not mandate that Bluhm actually serve a minimum of six months in jail. State v. Bluhm, 663 N.W.2d 24, 30 (Minn. App. 2003).
Whether Minn. Stat. § 152.025, subd. 3(b), requires a mandatory minimum term of incarceration is a question of statutory construction which this court reviews de novo. See State v. Murphy, 545 N.W.2d 909, 914 (Minn. 1996) (per curiam). The object of statutory construction is to ascertain the legislature's intent. Minn. Stat. § 645.16 (2002). "When the words of a law in their application to an existing situation are clear and free from all ambiguity, the letter of the law shall not be disregarded under the pretext of pursuing the spirit." Id. In other words, when the legislature's intent is clear from plain and unambiguous statutory language, this court "does not engage in any further construction and instead looks to the plain meaning of the statutory language." State v. Wukawitz, 662 N.W.2d 517, 525 (Minn. 2003).
"The power to fix the limits of punishment for criminal acts lies with the legislature. However, the imposition of a sentence in a particular case within those limits is a judicial function." State v. Misquadace, 644 N.W.2d 65, 68 (Minn. 2002) (internal citations omitted). "The legislature may authorize the court to exercise broad discretion in the imposition of sentences by providing for the fixing of sentences within prescribed minimum and maximum years. Or the legislature may restrict the exercise of judicial discretion in sentencing, such as by providing for mandatory sentences." State v. Olson, 325 N.W.2d 13, 18 (Minn. 1982). "'When it cannot be said with certainty that the legislature intended to authorize the imposition of a minimum term or an extended term in a particular situation, the presumption must be that the legislature did not intend to do so.'" State v. Ronquist, 600 N.W.2d 444, 446 (Minn. 1999) (quoting State v. Simmons, 258 N.W.2d 908, 910 (Minn. 1977)).
Resolution of the question presented requires us to examine three statutes. The first is section 152.025, ...