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Felony-level enhancement based on prior convictions.

Byline: Barbara L. Jones

The state may enhance domestic-assault charges to the felony level based on two prior domestic-violence convictions even if the earlier offenses arose from the same behavioral incident and were not sentenced separately, the Court of Appeals has ruled in State v. Defatte.

The enhancement statute, Minn. Stat. Sec. 609.2242, subd. 4 is not limited to convictions for which the defendant has been sentenced, wrote Judge James Florey for the court.

That statute says any conviction may be used for enhancement, said Cass County Attorney Benjamin Lindstrom. "A conviction is a conviction," he said.

The defendant was charged with two counts of felony domestic assault after an arrest in March 2018. The state used defendant's two prior domestic-violence convictions from December 2010 to enhance the charges. Those convictions arose from the same behavioral incident and did not involve multiple victims and resulted in one sentence.

Under Minn. Stat.609.2242, subd. 4, two prior domestic-violence convictions within 10 years of a current charge may be used to enhance the third charge to a felony carrying a sentence of up to five years in prison.

The Court of Appeals reversed the District Court's pretrial order dismissing felony domestic-assault charges for lack of probable cause. The trial court said the two prior offenses from the same behavioral incident could not be treated as separate convictions for enhancement purposes.

The state argued that the statute provides that "any combination" of prior qualified convictions can be used to raise the charge to a felony. The state contended that the District Court erred because the statute contains no requirement that enhancement be limited to convictions for which the defendant has been sentenced or convictions not arising from a single behavioral incident.

The Court of Appeals agreed. It rejected the respondent's argument that using his two prior domestic-violence related convictions for enhancement purposes violates the spirit of Minn. Stat.609.035, subd. 1, which prohibits multiple punishments for conduct constituting more than one offense. It also rejected the argument that the enhancement violates the spirit of the Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines, which limit the use of prior felony convictions in the calculation of criminal history scores. The respondent argued that conviction of a felony would amount to punishment for both of the prior convictions.

But Florey wrote that the respondent and the District Court judge conflated the concepts of punishment with enhancement. "The problem with respondent's argument and the district court's order is that both attempt to add limitations to the domestic-assault statute that the legislature did not impose," said the court. It noted that the enhancement provision of Minn. Stat.169A.09 expressly limits the court's considerations of prior impaired-driving convictions or losses of license to thos arising out of a separate course of conduct.

"[C]ontrary to the district court's conclusion that using two prior convictions for enhancement purposes would exaggerate the criminality of respondent's conduct, the use of two or more convictions is the specific result contemplated and required by the felony domestic-assault statute," Florey wrote.

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Publication:Minnesota Lawyer
Geographic Code:1U4MN
Date:Nov 27, 2018
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