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State v. Rodriguez

Court of Appeals of Minnesota

January 9, 2017

State of Minnesota, Respondent,
v.
Joel Patrick Rodriguez, Appellant.

         Clay County District Court File No. 14-CR-15-2253

         Reversed and remanded.

          Lori Swanson, Attorney General, St. Paul, Minnesota; and Brian J. Melton, Clay County Attorney, Moorhead, Minnesota (for respondent)

          Cathryn Middlebrook, Chief Appellate Public Defender, Erik Irving Withall, Assistant Public Defender, St. Paul, Minnesota (for appellant)

          Considered and decided by Larkin, Presiding Judge; Hooten, Judge; and Klaphake, Judge. [*]

         SYLLABUS

         A criminal defendant has a constitutional right to be present at a restitution hearing because such hearing is a critical stage of the sentencing process.

          OPINION

          HOOTEN, Judge

         Appellant challenges the district court's imposition of restitution, arguing that he had the right to be present at the contested restitution hearing and that the district court violated this right by determining that his attorney's failure to arrange his appearance constituted a waiver. Because the district court erred in finding that appellant waived his right to be present and the state has not proven that the error was harmless, we reverse and remand for further proceedings.

         FACTS

         On June 25, 2015, appellant Joel Patrick Rodriguez fled from police while driving a motor vehicle in Clay County, Minnesota. In an effort to stop Rodriguez's vehicle, a law enforcement officer conducted a precision immobilization technique (PIT) maneuver in which his squad car made contact with Rodriguez's vehicle. The maneuver caused Rodriguez's vehicle to spin, enabling law enforcement to stop the vehicle. Rodriguez was subsequently detained and arrested. The Clay County Sheriff's Office claims that in performing the PIT maneuver, the officer's squad car was damaged.

         Rodriguez pleaded guilty to fleeing a peace officer in a motor vehicle, and the district court sentenced him to 22 months in prison. The district court also ordered him to pay restitution in the amount of $908.99 to the Clay County Sheriff's Office for the cost of repairs made to the damaged squad car. Rodriguez moved for a contested restitution hearing, alleging that the Clay County Sheriff's Office does not qualify as a "victim" as defined in Minn. Stat. § 611A.01(b) (2014). The district court set a hearing for January 15, 2016, and provided notice of the hearing to Rodriguez's attorney.

         At the January 15 hearing, Rodriguez did not appear, and the state requested that the district court proceed with the hearing despite his absence. Rodriguez's attorney, who was present at the hearing, argued that the district court should not continue with the hearing because Rodriguez was incarcerated and counsel had no way to secure Rodriguez's presence. The district court determined that Rodriguez had waived his appearance and moved forward with the hearing. The district court reasoned that Rodriguez, through his attorney, had ample notice of the hearing and could have either arranged to appear or requested a continuance. The state called the officer who conducted the PIT maneuver as its only witness. The officer testified about the incident and the damage to the squad car. Rodriguez's attorney did not provide any evidence but stated that he was unsure what evidence, if any, Rodriguez would have wanted to present.

         The district court issued an order requiring Rodriguez to pay $908.00 in restitution to the Clay County Sheriff's Office. The district court reiterated its conclusion that Rodriguez waived his right to be present because Rodriguez had 45 days' notice of the hearing but failed to ...


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