This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2002).
IN COURT OF APPEALS
State of Minnesota,
Kathryn Lorraine Streiff,
Olmsted County District Court
File No. K9-02-1498
Mike Hatch, Attorney General, Suite 1100, NCL Tower, 445 Minnesota Street, St. Paul, MN 55101, and
James C. Backstrom, Dakota County Attorney, Helen R. Brosnahan, Assistance Dakota County Attorney, Dakota County Judicial Center, 1560 Highway 55, Hastings, MN 55033 (for appellant)
Duane Kennedy, 724 First Avenue Southwest, Durst Building, Suite 3, Rochester MN 55902 (for respondent)
Considered and decided by Shumaker, Presiding Judge, Randall, Judge, and Wright, Judge.
In this appeal, the state argues that the district court clearly erred when it granted respondent’s motion under Minn. R. Crim. P. 15.07 allowing her to plead guilty to a lesser offense. The district court concluded that it would be a “manifest injustice” not to accept respondent’s plea. Because we find that the state has failed to show an abuse of the district court’s discretion, we affirm.
On January 5, 2002, respondent and J.B.S., her husband, were driving home when they had an accident. Witnesses found J.B.S. in a ditch near the accident scene and respondent a short distance up the road. Witnesses found respondent by following tracks that she left in the snow. One of the witnesses stayed with J.B.S. until help arrived because he was having trouble breathing.
When police arrived on the scene, Trooper Bormann took statements from the witnesses and Trooper Willert had respondent submit to a preliminary breath test, which registered an alcohol content of 0.162. Respondent was then read an implied-consent advisory, she contacted her attorney, and she then submitted to a blood test, which showed her alcohol content was 0.17.
Trooper Willert spoke to J.B.S. while he was in the hospital. J.B.S. could not remember the accident, but told Willert that he and his wife had been drinking at a bowling alley the night in question. J.B.S.’s treating physician, Dr. Zeitlow, opined that J.B.S.’s injuries would constitute substantial bodily harm. These injuries included a mild closed head injury, multiple rib fractures, right hemothorax, right pulmonary contusion, and left flank abrasions.
The state obtained release forms for his medical records from J.B.S. on January 7, 2002, while he was still in the hospital and heavily medicated. On May 22, 2002, after discovering that his medical records were being used to prosecute his wife, J.B.S. revoked all releases of medical information he had granted. He sent an equivalent revocation to the hospital and asked for a list of all medications he was taking the day the police obtained the release of his medical records.
On June 6, 2002, J.B.S. wrote another letter to the Dakota County Attorney stating that he was opposed to prosecution, concluding his letter by saying that “[t]he matter has [weighed] heavily on my mind since January and I would only hope that it could be resolved so that our lives could move forward.” This was followed by another letter to the Minnesota Attorney General’s office and American Civil Liberties Union dated October 1, 2002, stating that his medical-record release had been obtained in violation of his rights because he did not understand the release due to the heavy medications he was taking. In the letter, J.B.S. stated “[t]hey say I am the ‘victim’ from the automobile accident we were in, but the only victimization that I feel is from the Mayo Clinic and the State Patrol.”
Appellant was charged with criminal vehicular operation resulting in substantial bodily harm, Minn. Stat. § 609.21, subd. 2a(4) (2002), and criminal vehicular operation leaving the scene of an accident, Minn. Stat. § 609.21, subd. 2a(7) (2002).
The district court granted respondent’s motion under Minn. R. Crim. P. 15.07 to allow her to plead guilty to a lesser offense over the prosecution’s objection. The rule states in relevant part:
Upon motion of the defendant and hearing thereon the court may accept a plea of guilty to a lesser included offense or to an offense of lesser degree, provided the court is satisfied following hearing that the prosecution cannot introduce evidence sufficient to justify the submission of the offense charged to the jury or that it would be a manifest injustice not to accept the plea.
Minn. R. Crim. P. 15.07 (emphasis added). In this case, the court determined that a felony conviction would be a manifest injustice. We review a determination of manifest injustice necessary to support the acceptance of a guilty plea to a lesser offense under an abuse-of-discretion standard. State v. Favre, 428 N.W.2d 828, 831 (Minn. App. 1988).
Here, the court listed seven reasons for its decision: (1) the victim, J.B.S., expressed “in unequivocal terms that he does not want a felony conviction for [respondent]”; (2) “the felony conviction will create a manifest injustice to the victim in this case in that the family will be harmed by virtue of a felony conviction”; (3) the public-policy concerns will be met by obtaining two convictions of lesser offenses; (4) it will lend certainty to these matters from a victim’s perspective; (5) offenses like these are unintended consequences of intentional acts; (6) “the good that will flow from having these convictions exceeds the bad that will result from potential felony convictions being obtained against this particular defendant and the unique relationship she has to the victim”; and (7) respondent has expressed acceptance of responsibility for her conduct.
The state argues that upholding the district court’s decision here will create discrimination based on classes of employment in that white-collar workers will benefit and blue-collar workers will not. We find this argument disingenuous; nothing the district court did is restricted to any class of employment; the court considered several factors, of which loss of employment and the consequent loss of family income was but one. We also reject the state’s contention that the district court’s decision improperly shifts the burden to prosecute to the victim. This argument is also disingenuous; nothing the district court did or that we do shifts any discretion or burden to victims. It simply acknowledges that victims have a limited input by way of suggestion or preference. The final decision on what to prosecute remains with the state, and the final decision on sentencing remains with the judge. See State v. Olson, 325 N.W.2d 13, 18 (Minn. 1982) (holding that imposition of a sentence within legislative guidelines is a purely judicial function).
Here, the district court weighed many factors presented by the accused and the victim. Given the facts of this case, we cannot conclude that the district court erred as a matter of law.
WRIGHT, Judge (dissenting)
I respectfully dissent. The law is clear that the district court has inherent judicial authority to avoid “an injustice resulting from the prosecutor’s clear abuse of discretion in the exercise of the charging function.” State v. Foss, 556 N.W.2d 540, 541 (Minn. 1996) (emphasis original). Rule 15.07 codifies this power, enabling the district court to accept a guilty plea to a lesser-included offense where “it would be a manifest injustice not to accept the plea.” Minn. R. Crim. P. 15.07 (emphasis added). The circumstances of this case, however, do not present a manifest injustice warranting judicial intrusion into the prosecutor’s charging authority.
In analyzing a district court’s application of Rule 15.07, we have determined that “supplanting of a prosecutor’s authority should be done only in limited circumstances.” State v. Gilmartin, 550 N.W.2d 294, 297 (Minn. App. 1996) (citing State v. McAllister, 399 N.W.2d 685, 688 (Minn. App. 1987)); see also Foss, 556 N.W.2d at 540 (“Generally, a prosecutor has broad discretion in the exercise of the charging function and ordinarily, under the separation-of-powers doctrine, a court should not interfere with the prosecutor’s exercise of that discretion.”). We have also held that
[t]he “manifest injustice” provision more properly applies to situations like a dishonored plea bargain, or to prosecutorial decisions based on “an unjustifiable standard such as race, religion, or other arbitrary classification.”
State v. Favre, 428 N.W.2d 828, 831 (Minn. App. 1988) (quoting Wayte v. United States, 470 U.S. 598, 608, 105 S. Ct. 1524, 1531 (1985)).
It is undisputed that this case presents none of the special circumstances contemplated by Foss, Favre,or Gilmartin to justify judicial usurpation of an executive branch function. In addition to the facts recited in the majority opinion, the police reports and other documents before the district court at the time of its ruling established that, after a rollover accident in which respondent fled the scene on foot, leaving her injured husband unattended in a ditch, respondent lied to the state trooper responding to the accident and denied that she was the driver. After being identified as the driver by witnesses who rendered aid to her husband, respondent was arrested and submitted to an Intoxilyzer test that measured her alcohol concentration to be .17. Respondent was charged by complaint with the felony offenses of criminal vehicular operation resulting in substantial bodily harm, in violation of Minn. Stat. § 609.21, subd. 2a(4) (2000), and criminal vehicular operation leaving the scene of an accident, in violation of Minn. Stat. § 609.21, subd. 2a(7) (2000). Pursuant to Minn. R. Crim. P. 15.07, the district court found it would be a manifest injustice not to accept a guilty plea to each of the offenses as a gross misdemeanor.
In reaching this conclusion, the district court did not rely on allegations that the state committed misconduct in obtaining the victim’s consent to release his medical records. There are no allegations that the prosecutor’s charging decisions were improper or that the parties’ inability to reach a negotiated settlement results from the prosecutor’s reliance on an invidious or arbitrary reason. Moreover, the manner in which the offenses are alleged to have been committed is not atypical.
Rather, in finding a “manifest injustice,” the district court relied on factors that are often present in criminal proceedings. The victim’s sentiments that the district court relied on commonly arise in criminal cases where the victim of the offense has some relationship with the alleged perpetrator. Under these circumstances, victims often seek to halt prosecution altogether, become uncooperative witnesses, or seek to reduce the charges because of the negative pecuniary impact of a household member’s conviction. Even if, as the district court concludes, “offenses like this are the unintended consequences of intentional acts,” the Minnesota legislature’s classification of this conduct as a felony offense should not be circumvented by the judiciary based on the relationship between the offender and the victim or the employment status of the offender. It is also noteworthy that neither the unanticipated loss of employment nor deportation, commonly resulting in the separation of family members, has been deemed a “manifest injustice” warranting withdrawal of a guilty plea to a felony offense under Minn. R. Crim P. 15.05. See Kim v. State, 434 N.W.2d 263, 266-67 (Minn. 1989) (loss of employment); Barragan v. State, 583 N.W.2d 571, 572-73 (Minn. 1998) (actual deportation from country); Alanis v. State, 583 N.W.2d 573, 579 (Minn. 1998) (possible deportation from country). And, with the exception of an Alford-Goulette plea, a guilty plea necessarily includes an admission and acceptance of responsibility. Thus, not one of the factors or the combination of them supports the district court’s finding of manifest injustice.
Because it is not a “manifest injustice” to allow the prosecutor to present its case to a jury on the charged offenses, I would reverse the district court’s decision to accept a guilty plea to lesser-included offenses over the objection of the prosecutor.
[This footnote is from the dissenting opinion.]
 The district court’s decision presents significant sentencing implications. Yet the sentencing guidelines preclude the district court from weighing the very same considerations when determining whether there are substantial and compelling reasons to justify a downward departure. See Minn. Sent. Guidelines II.D.1 (stating that “[t]he following factors should not be used as reasons for departing from the presumptive sentences * * * c. Employment factors, including: (1) occupation or impact of sentence on profession or occupation; (2) employment history; (3) employment at time of offense; (4) employment at time of sentencing. d. Social factors, including * * * (2) living arrangements at the time of offense or sentencing * * * (4) marital status.”).