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Hutchinson v. State

May 13, 2004



Our holding in State v. Misquadace, 644 N.W.2d 65 (Minn. 2002), was not based on an interpretation or clarification of Minn. Stat. § 244.09, but rather established a new rule of law and, therefore, our holding does not apply to appellant's conviction because the conviction was final before Misquadace was decided.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Meyer, Justice.


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


In this case we are asked to decide whether, under Fiore v. White, 531 U.S. 225 (2001) (per curiam), our holding in State v. Misquadace, 644 N.W.2d 65 (Minn. 2002), which we expressly applied to pending and future cases, should instead apply from the effective date of an amendment to Minn. Stat. § 244.09 in 1997.

William Hutchinson, the appellant, was charged with third-degree criminal sexual conduct and terroristic threats in connection with an incident involving his girlfriend, who had obtained an order for protection against him. The complaint alleged that on December 11, 2000, he ordered her to drive around Minneapolis, threatened her, forced her to have oral sex, and smashed the stereo and mirror of her car. Hutchinson entered a negotiated plea of guilty to an amended charge of first-degree criminal damage to property in exchange for dismissal of the original charges, and he agreed to a 48-month executed sentence. The agreed-to sentence is a dispositional and durational departure from the presumptive 17-month stayed sentence for an offender with Hutchinson's criminal history. The district court accepted the plea agreement and, without articulating any additional reasons for departure, imposed the 48-month prison term on April 10, 2001. Hutchinson did not take a direct appeal.

In May 2002, this court decided State v. Misquadace, and held that a plea agreement standing alone is not a sufficient basis to depart from the sentencing guidelines. Misquadace, 644 N.W.2d at 72. The following month, Hutchinson filed a petition for post-conviction relief in which he claimed that the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment entitled him to the benefit of our decision in Misquadace and that he be resentenced. Hutchinson argued that the interests of justice entitled him to a modification of his sentence. The district court denied relief, and the court of appeals affirmed. We granted review on the limited issue whether, under Fiore v. White, our decision in Misquadace represents a clarification of Minn. Stat. § 244.09, as amended in 1997, so as to require that it be prospectively applied from the effective date of the amendment.

In Misquadace we stated:

[B]ecause this holding establishes a new rule of law, retroactive application is not required. Given the purposes to be served, the extent of reliance by the parties and courts on previous standards, and the effect of retroactivity on the administration of justice, prospective application is appropriate. * * * We limit application of the ruling to this case and to pending and future cases.

Misquadace, 644 N.W.2d at 72 (internal citation omitted). We subsequently held that the rule announced in Misquadace applied to a case that was on direct appeal at the time Misquadace was decided. State v. Lewis, 656 N.W.2d 535, 538 (Minn. 2003). We reasoned that an appeal suspends a judgment and deprives it of finality, and that the lack of finality continues until the appeal is dismissed or decided. Id. at 537-38. In Lewis, we quoted with approval the Supreme Court's definition of "final," for purposes of retroactivity, as "'a case in which a judgment of conviction has been rendered, the availability of appeal exhausted, and the time for a petition for certiorari elapsed or * * * finally denied.'" Id. at 538 n.2 (ellipsis in original) (quoting Griffith v. Kentucky, 479 U.S. 314, 321 n.6 (1987)). Under the approach in Lewis, there is no dispute that Hutchinson's conviction was final long before Misquadace was decided and that if Misquadace established a new rule of law that rule does not apply in Hutchinson's case.

Hutchinson argues (notwithstanding our express statement in Misquadace that we were establishing a new rule of law) that we merely clarified the intent of the legislature, as expressed in the 1997 statutory amendment, and that because that statute was in effect at the time his conviction became final, under Fiore it applies to him as a matter of due process. The state's position is that the Misquadace decision was based not on an interpretation of the statute, but on the general principles underlying the sentencing guidelines.

Fiore involved a Pennsylvania statute that criminalized the operation of a hazardous waste facility without a permit. 531 U.S. at 226. Fiore was convicted under the statute even though he possessed a permit, on the ground that he had deviated so dramatically from its terms that he nonetheless violated the statute. Id. at 226-27. After Fiore's conviction became final, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court interpreted the statute for the first time to make clear that Fiore's conduct was not within its scope. Id. at 226. The Pennsylvania courts declined to grant Fiore post-conviction relief, and on federal habeas corpus review the United States Supreme Court granted certiorari to consider "when, or whether, the Federal Due Process Clause requires a State to apply a new interpretation of a state criminal statute retroactively to cases on collateral review." Id. Because the Court was uncertain whether the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's decision represented a new rule of law, it certified the question to the state supreme court. Id. at 226, 228. The Pennsylvania court replied that its ruling "merely clarified the plain language of the statute" and constituted the proper statement of law at the time Fiore's conviction became final. Id. at 228. The Supreme Court ruled that the response to the certified question "made clear that retroactivity is not an issue" and also made clear that Fiore did not violate the statute and that his conviction violated due process. Id. at 226, 229. See also Bunkley v. Florida, 538 U.S. 835 (2003) (per curiam) (holding that state supreme court's determination that change it announced in definition of statutory term had evolved over time supported not applying the decision retroactively, but remanding for determination of due process question whether definitional change had evolved when defendant's conviction became final).

If we determine that State v. Misquadace announced a new rule of law and did not merely serve to clarify the 1997 sentencing statute, then Hutchinson's conviction will stand. We begin with an examination of the relevant statutory and case ...

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