Court of Appeals Office of Appellate Courts
Lori Swanson, Attorney General, Matthew Frank, Assistant Attorney General, Saint Paul, Minnesota; and Jennifer Fischer, Kandiyohi County Attorney, Willmar, Minnesota, for respondent.
John E. Mack, Mack & Daby, P.A., New London, Minnesota, for appellant.
Caroline S. Palmer, Saint Paul, Minnesota, for amicus curiae Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault.
1. A sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of release, imposed pursuant to Minn. Stat. § 609.3455, subd. 2 (2012), for aggravated criminal sexual conduct, was not cruel or unusual punishment and did not violate the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution or Article I, Section 5, of the Minnesota Constitution.
2. Because the act of removing a victim 209 feet into a confined and isolated alleyway was criminally-significant conduct, the district court did not err in finding that the act was a "heinous element" under Minn. Stat. § 609.3455, subd. 1(d)(8) (2012).
3. The district court did not violate the defendant's rights when it relied upon testimony from the guilt phase of the proceeding in finding a "heinous element" under Minn. Stat. § 609.3455, subd. 1(d)(8), as an aggravating sentencing factor.
The principal issue in this case is whether Minn. Stat. § 609.3455 (2012), as applied to appellant Jose Santoya Juarez, imposes "cruel and unusual" punishment in violation of the federal constitution, or "cruel or unusual" punishment in violation of the state constitution. A grand jury indicted Juarez for attempted first-degree criminal sexual conduct, second-degree criminal sexual conduct, kidnapping, and third-degree assault. Juarez waived his right to a jury trial and, following a court trial, was found guilty on all four counts. The State sought to enhance Juarez's sentence pursuant to Minn. Stat. § 609.3455, subd. 2(a), which provides for mandatory life imprisonment without the possibility of release for certain aggravated sex crimes. Juarez waived his right to a jury trial on the sentencing enhancement, and the district court found beyond a reasonable doubt that Juarez met the requirements of section 609.3455, subdivision 2, because he had a qualifying prior sex offense conviction and his present conviction for second-degree criminal sexual conduct included a "heinous element." The district court therefore entered judgment of conviction and imposed a sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of release on the charge of second-degree criminal sexual conduct. The court of appeals affirmed. Because we conclude that a sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of release is not cruel or unusual punishment for Juarez's aggravated criminal sexual conduct and because Juarez's other claims lack merit, we affirm.
On July 27, 2010, S.M. was at the Eagles Club bar in Willmar, Minnesota, with several friends. While at the bar, S.M. received unwanted sexual attention from Juarez. Juarez was intoxicated at the time and, by his own admission, had consumed at least 16 beers. Despite S.M.'s objections, Juarez touched her legs and breasts, and also attempted to touch her genital area. Someone complained to the bartender, Juarez was asked to leave, and eventually he did.
Shortly thereafter, S.M. left the bar to smoke a cigarette. When she went outside, Juarez came up behind her, grabbed her by the arm, and dragged her 209 feet across a parking lot and then to the back end of a narrow alley between two buildings. The alley was only 22 inches wide and was littered with garbage and debris. As Juarez forced S.M. into the alley, he grabbed her head and struck it against the cement wall two or three times, causing her to lose consciousness briefly. He called S.M. sexually derogatory names, told her that he knew she wanted to have sex with him, and said that she was "going to get it either way." S.M. screamed for help, but Juarez told her to stop screaming or he would make her stop. Juarez grabbed her breasts and genital area, ripped her shirt, and attempted to remove her pants. Eventually, he climbed on top of S.M. and pinned her arms with his knees. Juarez tried to force his penis into her mouth, but he was interrupted when S.M.'s friends arrived on the scene and threw Juarez off her. Juarez fled, but police captured him a short time later, and he was positively identified as the assailant by S.M. and two of her friends.
A Kandiyohi County grand jury returned a four-count indictment against Juarez, charging him with attempted first-degree criminal sexual conduct, second-degree criminal sexual conduct, kidnapping, and third-degree assault. The indictment for criminal sexual conduct in the second degree included an allegation that Juarez was subject to the enhanced sentencing provision of Minn. Stat. § 609.3455, subd. 2(a)(2), which requires a court to sentence an offender convicted of certain types of first- or second-degree criminal sexual conduct to life imprisonment without the possibility of release if the offender has a previous qualifying sex offense conviction "and the fact finder determines that a heinous element exists." Minn. Stat. § 609.3455, subd. 2(a)(2). The indictment alleged that the statutory prerequisites were met because Juarez had "removed [S.M.] from one place to another, did not release her in a safe place, and had a prior conviction" for third-degree criminal sexual conduct.
Juarez waived his right to a jury trial and the district court conducted a two-day bench trial after which it issued findings of fact, conclusions of law, and an order finding Juarez guilty on all four counts. The court found, among other things:
Defendant removed [S.M.] from just outside the back door of the Eagles Club and took her against her will to the north end of the alley . . . a distance of 209 feet. . . . Defendant grabbed her right arm and wrist from behind and dragged her to the alley, forced her into the alley and eventually to the north end of the alley. She tried to resist . . . She did not consent to going with him to this alley.
After the court found Juarez guilty, the State reiterated its intent to seek a mandatory life sentence pursuant to Minn. Stat. § 609.3455, subd. 2. Juarez waived his right to a jury trial on the sentencing enhancement. The court held an evidentiary hearing during which the State introduced evidence that Juarez had a previous conviction for third-degree criminal sexual conduct in 1997 based on an incident in which he engaged in forcible, nonconsensual intercourse with his brother's girlfriend. The State did not, however, ...