of Appeals Office of Appellate Courts
Swanson, Attorney General, Saint Paul, Minnesota; and Michael
O. Freeman, Hennepin County Attorney, Elizabeth A. Scoggin,
Assistant County Attorney, Minneapolis, Minnesota, for
Cathryn Middlebrook, Chief Appellate Public Defender, Andrea
Barts, Assistant State Public Defender, Saint Paul,
Minnesota, for appellant.
Minnesota Rules of Evidence apply to restitution hearings
held under Minn. Stat. § 611A.045');">611A.045, subd. 3(b) (2016),
because they are not listed among the "[m]iscellaneous
proceedings" in Minn. R. Evid. 1101(b)(3).
GILDEA, Chief Justice.
case we are asked to decide whether the Minnesota Rules of
Evidence apply to restitution hearings held under Minn. Stat.
§ 611A.045');">611A.045, subd. 3(b) (2016). The district court overruled
objections to documents the State offered during the
restitution hearing, concluding that the Rules of Evidence
did not apply. The court of appeals affirmed in relevant
part, concluding that because restitution is part of a
defendant's sentence and Minn. R. Evid. 1101 exempts
sentencing from the Rules of Evidence, the rules do not apply
to restitution hearings. Because we conclude that Minn. R.
Evid. 1101 requires application of the Minnesota Rules of
Evidence to restitution hearings, we reverse.
crime at issue here occurred after a bank foreclosed on
property that appellant Berry Alan Willis owned. The bank
sold the foreclosed property to P.H., who made several
improvements to the property with the help of her adult son,
J.H. After the sale to P.H., Willis filed a forged quitclaim
deed that purported to transfer the foreclosed property from
P.H. back to Willis. When P.H. and J.H. later attempted to
sell the foreclosed property, Willis's forged quitclaim
deed and continual harassment of potential buyers interfered
with those efforts. Based on the forged quitclaim deed, the
State charged Willis with aggravated forgery, Minn. Stat.
§ 609.625, subd. 3 (2016). Willis pleaded not guilty
and, after a jury trial, the jury found Willis guilty of
Willis's February 2015 sentencing, the district court
imposed a presumptive guideline sentence. The court also told
Willis that it was "reserv[ing] restitution for 90 days
to allow the State and the victims to come forward with a
claim or claims and then [Willis] would have that right to
challenge it through the restitution process set forth by
State made a restitution request and in April 2015, the
district court filed Restitution Findings and a Restitution
Order. In that order, the court ordered Willis to pay $25,
400 to P.H. and J.H. Willis requested a restitution hearing.
restitution hearing, the State presented a letter from
P.H.'s attorney describing the $2, 000 in legal fees P.H.
incurred to clear the title to the foreclosed property. The
district court asked if Willis had any objections to the
letter, and Willis replied, "Yes, I would object to this
exhibit here." The court overruled Willis's
objection and admitted the letter. Later in the hearing, the
State offered a group of e-mails exchanged between J.H. and
several real estate agents that described how Willis had
interfered with the agents' efforts to show the
foreclosed property to prospective buyers. Willis objected to
the admissibility of the e-mails on hearsay grounds. When the
court asked the State to respond to Willis's objection,
the State replied, "the Rules of Evidence . . .
don't strictly apply . . . to a restitution hearing and
[J.H.] is qualified to explain the document." The court
responded, "Okay. On that basis I'll overrule the
objection." Willis made similar objections to five
additional exhibits during the restitution hearing, all of
which were admitted over his objections.
weeks after the restitution hearing, the district court filed
a written order requiring Willis to pay P.H. restitution in
the amount of $10, 742, including the $2, 000 in legal fees
outlined in the letter from P.H.'s
attorney. The order contained findings of fact that
were based on the evidence presented at the restitution
hearing, including the evidence to which Willis objected.
Willis appealed the restitution order.
appeal, Willis challenged the district court's
evidentiary rulings, arguing that the district court erred in
failing to apply the Minnesota Rules of Evidence at the
restitution hearing. The court of appeals affirmed the
district court's evidentiary rulings. The court of
appeals concluded that "the obligation to pay
restitution is a part of a sentence, " and because the
Rules of Evidence do not apply to sentencing proceedings,
"it follows that the evidentiary rules do not apply to
restitution hearings." State v. Willis, 883
N.W.2d 838, 840 (Minn.App. 2016). We granted Willis's
petition for review.
Minnesota Rules of Evidence "apply to all actions and
proceedings in the courts of this state, " except for
those proceedings described in Minn. R. Evid. 1101(b). Minn.
R. Evid. 1101(a). The specific part of paragraph (b) at issue
in this case is clause 3, titled "Miscellaneous
proceedings." Under clause 3, the Rules of Evidence do
not apply to:
Proceedings for extradition or rendition; probable cause
hearings; sentencing, or granting or revoking
probation; issuance of warrants for arrest, criminal
summonses, and search warrants; and proceedings with respect
to release on bail or otherwise.
Minn. R. Evid. 1101(b)(3) (emphasis added).
court of appeals concluded, and the State argues, that
restitution hearings are part of "sentencing" for
purposes of Minn. R. Evid. 1101(b)(3). Willis disagrees. The
parties' competing arguments on the meaning of the word
"sentencing" in Rule 1101(b)(3) present a question
of law subject to de novo review. See State v.
Stone, 784 N.W.2d 367, 370 (Minn. 2010). When
interpreting the Rules of Evidence, we first look at the
plain language of the rule. Id. Words and phrases
are construed according to the rules of grammar and their
common and approved usage. State v. Dahlin, 753
N.W.2d 300, 306 (Minn. 2008). If the plain language of a rule
is unambiguous, we must apply it. State v. Davis,
864 N.W.2d 171, 182 (Minn. 2015). But "if the rule . . .
[is] 'subject to more than one reasonable interpretation,