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State v. Defatte

Supreme Court of Minnesota

May 22, 2019

State of Minnesota, Respondent,
v.
John Wesley Defatte, Appellant.

         Court of Appeals Office of Appellate Courts

          Keith 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.

         SYLLABUS

         Because 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.

          OPINION

          LILLEHAUG, JUSTICE.

         This 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.

         FACTS

         The 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.

         On 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."

         Defatte 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).

         Defatte 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 strike.

         The 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 ...


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