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Rushton v. State

Supreme Court of Minnesota

January 25, 2017

Eugene Lee Rushton, Appellant,
v.
State of Minnesota, Respondent.

         Court of Appeals Office of Appellate Courts

          Cathryn Middlebrook, Chief Appellate Public Defender, Kathryn J. Lockwood, Assistant Public Defender, Saint Paul, Minnesota, for appellant.

          Lori Swanson, Attorney General, Saint Paul, Minnesota; and Brian J. Melton, Clay County Attorney, Pamela Harris, Assistant County Attorney, Moorhead, Minnesota, for respondent.

         SYLLABUS

         The phrase "minimum term of imprisonment, " as used in Minnesota Statutes § 609.3455, subd. 5 (2016), means any sentence within the presumptive range of the sentencing guidelines unless there are identifiable, substantial, and compelling circumstances that support a departure, or an applicable mandatory minimum sentence, whichever is greater.

         Affirmed.

          OPINION

          CHUTICH, Justice.

         This case presents the question of whether the phrase "minimum term of imprisonment, " as used in Minnesota Statutes § 609.3455, subd. 5 (2016), means two-thirds of a presumptive guidelines sentence. Appellant Eugene Lee Rushton pleaded guilty to one count of first-degree criminal sexual conduct, and, after a previous appeal, ultimately received a sentence of life with the possibility of release, along with a specified 216-month minimum term of imprisonment. Following an unsuccessful motion to correct his sentence, Rushton now contends on appeal that "minimum term of imprisonment, " as used in this statute, refers to two-thirds of a presumptive guidelines sentence. He therefore claims that his minimum term of imprisonment should be reduced from 216 months to 144 months. Because we conclude that the phrase "minimum term of imprisonment" in subdivision 5 does not mean two-thirds of a presumptive guidelines sentence, we affirm.

         I.

         In 2011, a grand jury indicted Rushton for two counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct and two counts of second-degree criminal sexual conduct. As a part of a plea agreement, Rushton pleaded guilty to one count of first-degree criminal sexual conduct, and the other counts were dismissed. See Minn. Stat. § 609.342, subd. 1(b) (2016) ("A person who engages in sexual penetration with another person, or in sexual contact with a person under 13 years of age . . . is guilty of criminal sexual conduct in the first degree if . . . (b) the complainant is at least 13 years of age but less than 16 years of age and the actor is more than 48 months older than the complainant and in a position of authority over the complainant.").

         Rushton is a repeat sexual offender who has been previously convicted of similar conduct. In 1992, Rushton was convicted of second-degree criminal sexual conduct in Clay County in a case involving a female victim under the age of 16. In 1999, Rushton was convicted of fourth-degree criminal sexual conduct in Norman County. Because of these two convictions, Rushton was subject to a mandatory life sentence with the possibility of release for his current offense. Minn. Stat. § 609.3455, subd. 4(a)(1) (2016).

         Under the relevant sentencing provision, a district court is required to "specify a minimum term of imprisonment" that "must be served before the offender may be considered for supervised release." Minn. Stat. § 609.3455, subd. 5. The phrase "minimum term of imprisonment" refers to the amount of time that "the offender must serve before being considered for release." Minn. Sent. Guidelines cmt. 2.C.08. As part of the plea agreement, the parties agreed that Rushton would serve 25 years (300 months) of his mandatory life sentence before being eligible for supervised release. Rushton understood that a possibility of supervised release existed only after 25 years, and if he received supervised release, the State could pursue civil commitment. The district court accordingly sentenced Rushton to life with the possibility of release after Rushton had served 300 months.

         Rushton appealed his sentence. The court of appeals affirmed Rushton's sentence of life with the possibility of release. State v. Rushton, 820 N.W.2d 287, 291 (Minn.App. 2012). It reversed the 300-month minimum term of imprisonment, however, and remanded to the district court to specify a minimum term of imprisonment that fell within the presumptive range applicable to Rushton-153 to 216 months. Id. at 290-91. On remand, the district court specified a minimum term of imprisonment of 216 months.

         Rushton did not appeal, but he later moved to correct his sentence under Minnesota Rule of Criminal Procedure 27.03, subdivision 9. He contended that the phrase "minimum term of imprisonment, " as used in subdivision 5, refers to two-thirds of a presumptive guidelines sentence. See Minn. Stat. § 244.101, subd. 1(1) (2016); Minn. Sent. Guidelines 1.B.7. The postconviction court denied Rushton's motion, Rushton appealed, and the court of appeals affirmed Rushton's 216-month minimum term of imprisonment. Rushton v. State, No. A15-0584, 2016 WL 596305, at *2-3 (Minn.App. Feb. 16, 2016). We granted Rushton's petition for review.

         II.

         This appeal requires that we interpret the meaning of the phrase "minimum term of imprisonment" as used in Minnesota Statutes § 609.3455, subd. 5. We review questions of statutory interpretation de novo. State v. Loge, 608 N.W.2d 152, 155 (Minn. 2000). "Our first step in interpreting a statute is to examine the statutory language to determine whether the words of the law are clear and free from all ambiguity." Staab v. Diocese of St. Cloud, 813 N.W.2d 68, 72 (Minn. 2012). We must give the statute's words and phrases their plain and ordinary meaning. State v. Koenig, 666 N.W.2d 366, 372 (Minn. 2003). The plain language of the statute controls when the meaning of the statute is unambiguous. Minn. Stat. ยง 645.16 (2016). "We interpret a statute 'as a whole so as to harmonize and give effect to all its parts, and where possible, no word, phrase, or sentence will be held ...


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