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State v. Thompson

September 7, 2006

STATE OF MINNESOTA, APPELLANT,
v.
MARGARET THOMPSON, RESPONDENT.



SYLLABUS BY THE COURT

Defendant waived her right to have a jury trial on sentencing factors and consented to a court determination of those factors.

It is an abuse of discretion for a sentencing court to use the underlying conduct from one conviction to support an upward departure for a separate conviction.

It is an abuse of discretion for a sentencing court to use the elements of an offense as aggravating factors to enhance the sentence for the same offense.

The sentencing court's reliance on findings that defendant's offenses involved a high degree of sophistication and planning and that defendant used a position of trust, confidence, or fiduciary relationship to establish that defendant committed a major economic offense was not an abuse of discretion.

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

Dissenting, Hanson and Meyer, JJ.

Took no part, Gildea, J.

Reversed.

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

OPINION

Respondent Margaret Louise Thompson pleaded guilty to nine counts of theft by swindle over $35,000. The district court sentenced Thompson to an executed term of 114 months in prison.*fn1 One hundred and fourteen months is a double durational upward departure from the presumptive sentence under Minnesota's Sentencing Guidelines. Thompson challenged her sentence on appeal, arguing the upward sentencing departure violated her right to a jury trial on sentencing enhancement factors as required under Blakely v. Washington, 542 U.S. 296 (2004). The court of appeals agreed and reversed Thompson's sentence. We granted the state's petition for further review. Because we conclude that Thompson voluntarily and knowingly waived her right to have a jury make findings on sentencing enhancement factors supporting the upward departure based on proof beyond a reasonable doubt, we reverse the court of appeals.

Thompson worked at Rueben Lindh Family Center, a nonprofit public service agency, for eight years and became its finance manager. On August 7, 2003, Rueben Lindh terminated Thompson's employment for embezzling over $600,000. On February 3, 2004, the state filed a complaint against Thompson, charging her with nine counts of "theft by swindle aggregated over $35,000" in violation of Minn. Stat. § 609.52, subds. 2(4), 3(1), (5) (2002). Each count alleged that Thompson had "obtained property or services in the aggregated value in excess of Thirty-Five Thousand Dollars ($35,000) from [Rueben Lindh] by swindling the company using artifice, trick, device or other means."

According to the complaint, Thompson stole the money by manipulating terminated employees' payroll accounts and by obtaining fraudulent health care expense reimbursements. The complaint also contained detailed descriptions of Thompson's schemes and a chart itemizing specific transactions related to each count charged.

On April 14, 2004, as a result of an agreement reached between Thompson and the state, Thompson submitted a petition to enter a plea of guilty. The petition stated that Thompson had entered into a "straight plea" with no agreement on sentencing. In the petition, Thompson acknowledged that she had been informed by her attorney and understood, among other things, "[t]hat the maximum penalty the court could impose for this crime * * * is imprisonment for 20 years and/or a fine of $100,000 (per count)." Thompson further acknowledged that she understood that she had the right to either a jury trial or a court trial and that at such a trial she had the right to confront the witnesses against her, the right to subpoena witnesses on her behalf, the right to testify or to refuse to testify as she so chose, and the right to request the suppression of certain evidence. With that knowledge, she indicated that she was waiving her right to a trial.

At the plea hearing, Thompson pleaded guilty to each of the counts in the complaint. In doing so, she again acknowledged, after inquiry by counsel and by the district court, that she had been informed of her rights, that she understood those rights, and that she was voluntarily waiving her right to a jury trial and pleading guilty to each of the counts charged.

With respect to the factual basis for her plea, Thompson admitted that she had been employed as the finance manager at Rueben Lindh, that she had control over the employee payroll, and that during the relevant time period she "us[ed] payroll accounts for discharged employees and process[ed] payroll checks under those employee accounts but funnel[ed] the money into [her] own bank accounts," as well as "over[paid] [her]self cafeteria plan benefits." She further acknowledged that she had reviewed each allegation in the complaint, including the chart itemizing the specific transactions and amounts detailed in each count of the complaint, and that the chart correctly reflected her thefts related to counts 1 through 8. With respect to count 9, Thompson stated that she disagreed with the total amount of the thefts alleged, but acknowledged that the amount she took exceeded the $35,000 statutory amount required for conviction on that count. Thompson also explained to the court how she took the money and admitted that she took the money with the intent to defraud Rueben Lindh by using a swindle.

At the conclusion of the plea hearing, the prosecutor informed the district court that the state would be seeking an upward sentencing departure to 114 months. Counsel for Thompson indicated that Thompson would oppose an upward departure. Thompson's sentencing hearing took place on June 25, 2004, the day after the United States Supreme Court issued its decision in Blakely, 542 U.S. 296. At the start of the hearing, the following exchange occurred:

THE COURT: The first issue is a legal issue with respect to the Supreme Court decision -- United States Supreme Court decision that was issued yesterday, Blakely [v.] Washington, and there the Supreme Court declared unconstitutional a sentence -- a determinant [sic] sentencing system where there was an upward departure where the defendant had not acknowledged or put in a factual basis or waived jury trial rights essentially. It's hard to summarize that decision in one sentence, but essentially what the Supreme Court decision written by Justice Scalia said is that defendants, if they wish to have a jury trial right on the question of whether there is proof beyond a reasonable doubt for a factual basis or a state's request or -- in the Blakely case or the Court's request -- Court's decision for an upward departure, they are entitled -- defendant is entitled to have that matter decided by a jury. We have discussed this matter quite extensively in chambers this afternoon.

[Counsel], do you wish to address that question?

[COUNSEL FOR THOMPSON]: Yes, I do, Your Honor. Following our discussion in chambers, I had an opportunity to discuss the Blakely decision with Ms. Thompson. Quite frankly, I think it's a somewhat complicated concept to explain in [a] simple manner[] to -- fashion to a lay person, but Ms. Thompson has -- I believe that I have been able to do so, and Ms. Thompson has indicated to me that she does not wish to have a jury finding as to the elements that we discussed that she has already admitted to as part of her guilty plea and that, to the extent she needs to waive that right in this proceeding, she is willing to do so.

THE COURT: Ms. Thompson, do you have any questions about this particular issue that you ...


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