of Appeals Office of Appellate Courts
Cathryn Middlebrook, Chief Appellate Public Defender, Kathryn
J. Lockwood, Assistant Public Defender, Saint Paul,
Minnesota, for appellant.
Swanson, Attorney General, Saint Paul, Minnesota; and Brian
J. Melton, Clay County Attorney, Pamela Harris, Assistant
County Attorney, Moorhead, Minnesota, for respondent.
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.
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.
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
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).
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
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.
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.
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. §
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