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State v. Rogers

Supreme Court of Minnesota

March 20, 2019

State of Minnesota, Respondent,
v.
Deronti Rogers, Jr., Appellant.

          Office of Appellate Courts Court of Appeals

          Keith Ellison, Attorney General, Michael Everson, Assistant Attorney General, Saint Paul, Minnesota; and Janelle Kendall, Stearns County Attorney, Saint Cloud, Minnesota, for respondent.

          Cathryn Middlebrook, Chief Appellate Public Defender, John Donovan, Assistant State Public Defender, Saint Paul, Minnesota, for appellant.

         SYLLABUS

         Under the plain language of Minn. Stat. § 609.582, subd. 1(b) (2018), first-degree burglary committed while possessing "any article used or fashioned in a manner to lead the victim to reasonably believe it to be a dangerous weapon" requires that the victim be physically present during the burglary.

         Reversed and remanded.

          OPINION

          GILDEA, Chief Justice.

         Minnesota Statutes section 609.582, subdivision 1(b) (2018) elevates burglary to a first-degree offense if "the burglar possesses, when entering or at any time while in the building, . . . any article used or fashioned in a manner to lead the victim to reasonably believe it to be a dangerous weapon." This case asks us to determine whether the victim must be physically present during the burglary for a conviction under subdivision 1(b). Because we conclude that the victim must be physically present under this subdivision, we reverse the decision of the court of appeals and remand to the district court for resentencing consistent with this opinion.

         FACTS

         On June 14, 2016, appellant Deronti Rogers Jr. burglarized J.T.'s house while J.T. and her children were away from home. A neighbor looking out of her window saw Rogers break open the back door of J.T.'s house and go inside. The neighbor called 911 and watched as Rogers made three trips in and out of the house, leaving with a television or other items each time.

         When the police arrived, they found Rogers walking through an alley behind the house. The two responding officers parked their squad car on the street near the end of the alley and walked toward Rogers. As the officers approached, Rogers dropped an item that one of the officers believed was a gun. The officers yelled at Rogers to get on the ground and arrested him. After the arrest, the officers discovered that the dropped item was a .177-caliber Daisy BB gun. The BB gun had no orange cap or other feature to distinguish it from a real firearm.

         The State subsequently charged Rogers with one count of first-degree burglary under Minn. Stat. § 609.582, subd. 1(b), and one count of second-degree burglary under Minn. Stat. § 609.582, subd. 2(a)(1) (2018). Rogers waived his right to a jury trial, and the case was tried to the court. After trial, the district court convicted Rogers of both counts.

         Only the first-degree burglary conviction is at issue on appeal. A person commits first-degree burglary under Minn. Stat. § 609.582, subd. 1(b), if he or she commits a burglary while possessing "any article used or fashioned in a manner to lead the victim to reasonably believe it to be a dangerous weapon" either "when entering or at any time while in the building." The district court found that Rogers possessed the BB gun at some point while inside the house[1] and determined that the BB gun qualified as an article "fashioned in a manner to lead someone to reasonably believe it to be a dangerous weapon." (Emphasis added). The court therefore found Rogers guilty of first-degree burglary.

         Rogers appealed his first-degree conviction, arguing that subdivision 1(b) requires that the victim be present and reasonably believe the item is a dangerous weapon. See State v. Rogers, 912 N.W.2d 687');">912 N.W.2d 687, 691 (Minn.App. 2018). The court of appeals rejected the argument and held that the statute's plain language "does not require a burglary victim to be present, observe the article fashioned as a dangerous weapon, [or] subjectively conclude that it is a dangerous weapon." Id. at 693. The court of appeals concluded that the statute requires only "that the article's appearance supports an objective belief that it is a dangerous weapon." Id. Accordingly, the court affirmed Rogers's first-degree burglary conviction. Id. at 695.

         We granted Rogers's petition for review.

         ANALYSIS

         In this appeal, the parties disagree over the interpretation of the first-degree burglary statute, in particular, Minn. Stat. § 609.582, subd. 1(b). Statutory interpretation is a question of law that we review de novo. State v. Bakken, 883 N.W.2d 264, 267 (Minn. 2016). Our role in interpreting statutes is to "ascertain and effectuate the intention of the legislature." Minn. Stat. § 645.16 (2018). To do so, we first determine whether the statutory language is ambiguous. State v. Struzyk, 869 N.W.2d 280');">869 N.W.2d 280, 284-85 (Minn. 2015). A statute is ambiguous when it is "susceptible to more than one reasonable interpretation." State v. Henderson, 907 N.W.2d 623, 625 (Minn. 2018). If a statute is not ambiguous, we apply its plain meaning. Larson v. State, 790 N.W.2d 700, 703 (Minn. 2010).

         In determining a statute's plain meaning, "words and phrases are construed according to rules of grammar and according to their common and approved usage." Minn. Stat. § 645.08(1) (2018);[2] see also State v. Garcia-Gutierrez, 844 N.W.2d 519, 521 (Minn. 2014). In addition, the meaning of a word is informed by how it is used in the context of a statute. Henderson, 907 N.W.2d at 626. We consider a statute as a whole" 'to harmonize and give effect to all its parts.'" Id. at 627 (quoting Bakken, 883 N.W.2d at 268). And we presume that "the Legislature intended the entire statute to be effective and certain." Id.

         Minnesota's first-degree burglary statute provides:

Whoever . . . enters a building without consent and commits a crime while in the building . . . commits burglary in the first degree . . . if:
. . .
(b) the burglar possesses, when entering or at any time while in the building, any of the following: a dangerous weapon, any article used or fashioned in a manner to lead the victim to reasonably believe it ...

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