of Appeals Office of Appellate Courts
Ellison, Attorney General, Saint Paul, Minnesota; and
Benjamin T. Lindstrom, Cass County Attorney, Walker,
Minnesota, for respondent.
Cathryn Middlebrook, Chief Appellate Public Defender, Saint
Paul, Minnesota; and Melvin R. Welch, Welch Law Firm,
Minneapolis, Minnesota, for appellant.
appellant allegedly committed domestic assault within 10
years of "the first of any combination of two or more
previous qualified domestic violence-related offense
convictions," the unambiguous language of Minn. Stat.
§ 609.2242, subd. 4 (2018) supported the felony charges
and the district court erred in holding otherwise.
case requires that we decide whether the felony-enhancement
provision in the domestic-assault statute, Minn. Stat. §
609.2242, subd. 4 (2018), is ambiguous. Because it is not and
enhancement was proper in this case, we affirm the decision
of the court of appeals.
underlying facts in this case are not in dispute. On June 22,
2009, appellant John Wesley Defatte broke into the Hubbard
County home of his estranged wife, D.L.D., and assaulted her.
Defatte was charged by the Hubbard County Attorney with five
counts, including third-degree assault causing substantial
bodily harm, Minn. Stat. § 609.223, subd. 1 (2018), and
domestic abuse by violation of an order for protection (OFP),
Minn. Stat. § 518B.01, subd. 14(a) (2018). A jury found
Defatte guilty of three of the five counts, including the
third-degree-assault and OFP charges, and the court convicted
him accordingly. Defatte was sentenced on the assault
conviction, but not on the OFP conviction.
March 11, 2018, police received a call from M.R.D., whom they
referred to as Defatte's wife. She alleged that Defatte
and M.R.D.'s daughter were arguing, that Defatte
"went after [M.R.D.'s daughter] and made a fist at
her," and that Defatte had pushed M.R.D. to the ground
when she "got in between" Defatte and her daughter.
M.R.D.'s daughter gave a statement consistent with her
mother's. M.R.D. subsequently told police that Defatte
had threatened "to burn the house down while [M.R.D. and
her daughter] were sleeping."
was charged by the Cass County Attorney with four offenses,
including domestic assault with intent to cause fear in
another of immediate bodily harm, Minn. Stat. §
609.2242, subd. 1(1) (2018) (Count 3), and domestic assault
while attempting to inflict bodily harm upon another, Minn.
Stat. § 609.2242, subd. 1(2) (Count 4). Because Defatte
allegedly committed these two offenses "within ten years
of the first of any combination of two or more previous
qualified domestic violence-related offense
convictions"-that is, the Hubbard County
convictions-Count 3 and Count 4 were charged as felonies
under Minn. Stat. § 609.2242, subd. 4 (Subdivision 4).
moved to strike Count 3 and Count 4 for lack of probable
cause. He argued that using his Hubbard County convictions to
enhance Counts 3 and 4 to felonies was inconsistent with
Minn. Stat. § 609.035 (2018), which prohibits multiple
punishments for the same course of conduct. The district
court concluded that, to comply with section 609.035,
"only convictions for which [Defatte] has been sentenced
may be used for enhancement of an offense" under
Subdivision 4. Because Defatte had been sentenced on only one
conviction in the Hubbard County case, the district court
reasoned, the felony enhancement was not authorized in the
Cass County case. The district court granted the motion to
State appealed under Minn. R. Crim. P. 28.04, subd. 1(1),
which allows prosecutors to appeal "probable cause
dismissal orders based on questions of law." The court
of appeals, in a published decision, reversed. It concluded
that "[t]o affirm . . . we would have to read an
additional requirement into an otherwise unambiguous
statute," and declined to "add terms or meanings
that are absent from unambiguous statutory language."
State v. Defatte, 921 N.W.2d 556, 562 (Minn.App.
2018). The court rejected Defatte's argument that section
609.035 prohibited enhancement under Subdivision 4 because it
conflated "the ...