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State v. Miller

Court of Appeals of Minnesota

February 10, 2014

State of Minnesota, Respondent,
v.
Aaron Ronald Miller, Appellant.

Clay County District Court File No. 14-CR-12-248 Lori Swanson, Attorney General, St. Paul, Minnesota; and

Brian Melton, Clay County Attorney, Heidi M. F. Davies, Assistant County Attorney, Moorhead, Minnesota (for respondent)

Cathryn Middlebrook, Chief Appellate Public Defender, Jennifer L. Lauermann, Assistant Public Defender, St. Paul, Minnesota (for appellant)

Considered and decided by Halbrooks, Presiding Judge; Peterson, Judge; and Ross, Judge.

SYLLABUS

1. When the district court finds that multiple assailants acted together and that their separate but indivisible conduct inflicted various injuries on their assault victim, it does not abuse its discretion by holding the defendants jointly and severally liable for restitution.

2. The district court acts within its discretion by sua sponte ordering a rehearing on restitution and compelling the state to produce new witnesses necessary for the district court to make adequate findings to vindicate the victim's statutory right to restitution.

OPINION

ROSS, Judge

Aaron Miller and Jeremy Sandberg severely beat and seriously injured Steven Montplaisir during a fight after a party. The district court found that Miller and Sandberg caused Montplaisir's injuries but it could not identify which injuries either defendant inflicted. It awarded restitution of $12, 250 to Montplaisir and his insurer, holding Miller and Sandberg jointly and severally responsible for payment. In this appeal from that decision, we hold that the district court did not abuse its discretion by imposing joint and several liability because the state proved that both assailants directly caused Montplaisir's injuries under circumstances that prevent the victim or the district court from identifying the assailant who inflicted any particular wound. We also detect no partiality in the district court's sua sponte ordering of a new restitution hearing after the state's efforts left the court unable to find facts to address the victim's restitution right. But we reverse in part and remand for the district court to make new findings on Miller's ability to pay the restitution in 90 days after it previously acknowledged that he needed a year.

FACTS

Aaron Miller and Jeremy Sandberg fought Steven Montplaisir in October 2011 at a bonfire party hosted by mutual friends. Montplaisir met Miller and Sandberg for the first time that evening. A squabble ensued after Montplaisir accused Sandberg of sexual improprieties and mistreatment involving a woman related to neither of them. The squabble simmered and calmed until the only remaining partiers were Miller, Sandberg, Montplaisir, Miller's girlfriend, and one of the party's hosts.

Montplaisir got into his pickup truck to leave, but Miller's pickup was blocking his exit. Miller approached and took Montplaisir's keys, demanding that he apologize to Sandberg. Someone then hit Montplaisir. He fell unconscious, awoke, and then gained the upper hand. He pinned Sandberg to the ground. Miller joined the fracas, placing Montplaisir in a choke hold. The three fought longer, until Montplaisir was beaten so badly that the host did not immediately recognize him. Miller and Sandberg were also injured substantially.

Montplaisir went to the hospital the next day and was diagnosed with cuts, a cracked rib, and a collapsed lung. A shoeprint was visible on his head. Clay County Sheriff's Deputy Scott Steffes interviewed Montplaisir in the hospital and Sandberg and Miller in their homes. Their statements were mostly consistent. The state charged Miller and Sandberg with third-degree assault. Montplaisir filed a claim for $4, 169 in restitution. BlueCross BlueShield of North Dakota, Montplaisir's insurer, also filed a restitution claim to recoup $8, 180 in medical expenses.

Miller pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct. He admitted to splitting a knuckle while "throw[ing] one punch" and, perhaps, "accidentally hit[ting Montplaisir's] tooth." The district court accepted his plea and stayed his sentence provided that he pay fines and restitution. It then issued an undetermined joint-and-several-restitution order against Miller and Sandberg and scheduled a hearing to settle the amount. Miller's counsel noted that Miller was unemployed and requested that he have one year to pay ...


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