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State v. Christensen

Court of Appeals of Minnesota

August 7, 2017

State of Minnesota, Respondent,
v.
David Arthur Christensen, Appellant.

         Redwood County District Court File No. 64-CR-14-791

          Lori Swanson, Attorney General, St. Paul, Minnesota; and Steven Collins, Redwood County Attorney, Jenna M. Peterson, Assistant County Attorney, Redwood Falls, Minnesota (for respondent)

          Cathryn Middlebrook, Chief Appellate Public Defender, Suzanne M. Senecal-Hill, Assistant Public Defender, St. Paul, Minnesota (for appellant)

          Considered and decided by Connolly, Presiding Judge; Peterson, Judge; and Smith, Tracy M., Judge.

         SYLLABUS

         Because Minn. Stat. § 611A.01(b) (2016), which identifies the victims of crimes who are entitled to restitution, does not include conservators, a court may not find that a conservator is entitled to restitution.

          OPINION

          CONNOLLY, Judge.

         Appellant was convicted of two counts of financial exploitation of a vulnerable adult. He challenges his conviction and the denial of his motion for a new trial, arguing that the jury's verdicts were inconsistent. He also challenges the district court's order that he pay restitution to the vulnerable adult's conservator, arguing that conservators are not among the entities identified as victims entitled to restitution by Minn. Stat. § 611A.01(b). Because appellant's challenge to his conviction is based on a misreading of the jury's verdicts, we affirm the conviction. However, because we agree that the district court, like this court, has no authority to add to those whom the legislature has identified as victims entitled to restitution, we reverse the restitution order and remand for proceedings consistent with this opinion.

         FACTS

         During most of 2014, appellant David Christensen had control of the financial affairs of his uncle, A.C., a vulnerable adult. Appellant was charged with financial exploitation of a vulnerable adult under Minn. Stat. § 609.2335, subd. 1(1)(ii) (using a vulnerable adult's resources for the benefit of someone other than the vulnerable adult) and (iii) (depriving a vulnerable adult of the vulnerable adult's resources for the benefit of someone else) (2012). In 2015, the district court appointed Lutheran Social Services (L.S.S.) as A.C.'s conservator.[1]

         At the conclusion of appellant's trial, the jurors received eight verdict forms. The forms for charges one through four each asked first if appellant was guilty of violating Minn. Stat. § 609.2335, subd. 1(1)(ii), then, if he was guilty, in what amount: $5, 000 to $35, 000 (charge one); $1, 000 to $5, 000 (charge two); $500 to $1, 000 (charge three); and "not more than $500" (charge four). Charges five through eight asked if appellant was guilty of violating Minn. Stat. § 609.2335, subd. 1(1)(iii) and, if so, in which of those amounts.

         The jury found appellant guilty of charges one through four in the amount of $1, 000 to $5, 000 (charge two) and not guilty of charges five through eight. Appellant moved for a new trial, arguing, among other things, that the jury's verdicts were legally inconsistent. His motion for a new trial was denied. Appellant's sentence was stayed, and he was placed on probation for up to five years. He filed a notice of appeal from the judgment (A16-1029).

         L.S.S., in its capacity as A.C.'s conservator, filed a request for restitution for him. L.S.S. stated that the funds it sought to recover "were used by [appellant] for his own benefit. These funds belonged to [A.C.]-a vulnerable adult." Attached to the request was a list of expenses totaling $10, 229.14 paid by appellant to various entities, including $4, 895.56 to a car dealership.

         At the hearing, appellant argued that L.S.S. was not a "victim" as defined by the restitution statute. After the hearing, A.C.'s guardian notified the district court that A.C. "does not seek to collect monetary restitution from [appellant]." The district court concluded that L.S.S. was allowed to make a restitution claim on A.C.'s behalf and issued a restitution order requiring appellant to pay $4, 895.56.[2] Appellant challenged the restitution order in a second appeal (A16-1372), and this court consolidated the appeals.

         ISSUES

         1. Were the jury's verdicts inconsistent?

         2. Is L.S.S. a "victim" within the meaning of Minn. Stat. ...


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