STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
State of Minnesota,
Ryan James Rewitzer,
Filed December 21, 1999
Brown County District Court
File No. K4-97-0625
James R. Olson, Brown County Attorney, 519 Center Street, P.O. Box 428, New Ulm, MN 56073 (for respondent)
John M. Stuart, State Public Defender, Bradford Colbert, Assistant Public Defender, Kassi Erickson, certified student attorney, 875 Summit Avenue, Room 254, St. Paul, MN 55105 (for appellant)
Considered and decided by Lansing, Presiding Judge, Shumaker, Judge, and Foley, Judge.[*]
The district court imposed the statutory mandatory minimum fines on appellant after he pleaded guilty to three drug sale offenses. Later, appellant petitioned for postconviction relief, alleging that the court abused its discretion by imposing excessive fines. The district court denied the petition. We affirm.
In sentencing appellant, the district court considered his prior criminal history, his previous drug sales to children, and his statement that he liked to sell drugs for money. The district court then sentenced appellant to 48 months in prison, and imposed the statutory mandatory minimum fine for each count. He was fined $3,000 for the fifth-degree offense, $75,000 for the third-degree offense, and $150,000 for the second-degree offense. The district court also imposed a surcharge and assessment of 20% of the amount fined, plus an additional $25. Thus, appellant's total fines are approximately $273,625. The court allowed him to make installment payments.
The district court expressly acknowledged that the fines could be reduced. But because of the gravity of the crimes, appellant's drug-dealing history, and his monetary motivation, the court elected to follow the statutory mandate:
Mr. Rewitzer said * * * what he enjoyed the most was selling the drugs for money. He likes the feel of money in his hands, to look at it and count it.
* * * [T]he mandatory fines are the people of Minnesota, through the legislature, telling people like you, Mr. Rewitzer, that you're not going to make money from selling drugs. There are very significant financial penalties that go with this business of selling drugs, and that's going to be your punishment for a lot longer than boot camp or even the prison sentence I impose * * * .
* * * *
I know they're stiff, but as I say that's the will of the people as expressed through the legislature, that's the punishment that should go with this activity.
Approximately one year later, the district court denied appellant's postconviction petition to vacate or reduce the fines. As of December 1998, appellant was paying $70 a month toward his fines.
This court reviews a postconviction proceeding only to determine whether there is sufficient evidence to sustain the postconviction court's findings, and a postconviction court's decision will not be disturbed absent an abuse of discretion.
Scruggs v. State, 484 N.W.2d 21, 25 (Minn. 1992). Only in a "rare" case will a reviewing court reverse a trial court's imposition of a presumptive sentence. State v. Kindem, 313 N.W.2d 6, 7 (Minn. 1981). Mandatory minimum fines are similar to presumptive sentences, in that it is statutorily presumed that at least the minimum fine will be imposed absent circumstances rebutting the presumption. Minn. Stat. § 609.101, subds. 3(a) and 5(b) (1998).
The district court imposed the mandatory minimum fines for each offense under Minn. Stat. § 609.101, subd. 3(a), which states:
Notwithstanding any other law, when a court sentences a person convicted of a controlled substance crime under sections 152.021 to 152.025, it must impose a fine of not less than 30 percent of the maximum fine authorized by law nor more than the maximum fine authorized by law.
Minn. Stat. § 609.101, subd. 5(b) permits a reduction in fines:
If the defendant qualifies for the services of a public defender or the court finds on the record that the convicted person is indigent or that immediate payment of the fine would create undue hardship for the convicted person or that person's immediate family, the court may reduce the amount of the minimum fine to not less than $50.
Although the district court may reduce fines under Minn. Stat. § 609.101, it is not required to do so. "A trial court has broad discretion in imposing a sentence." State v. Wilkinson, 539 N.W.2d 249, 253 (Minn. App. 1995). "[A] sentencing judge need not specifically find that a defendant has the ability to pay a fine before imposing the fine." Perkins v. State, 559 N.W.2d 678, 693 (Minn. 1997).
Here, the district court carefully scrutinized appellant's previous criminal history and his strong financial motivation for selling drugs. The court did not credit appellant's promise to reform, and found that previous judicial leniency had done nothing to rehabilitate him. Appellant had previously sold drugs to children, and during his current drug crimes he was selling drugs at least weekly for profit. Despite these factors, the court chose to impose only 30% of the permitted maximum fines.
Appellant claims that the statutory mandatory minimum fines imposed violate the Excessive Fines Clauses in the Eighth Amendment of the United States Constitution and Article 1, Section 3 of the Minnesota Constitution. "The Excessive Fines Clause protects individuals against abusive penalties imposed by the government." U.S. v. Emerson, 107 F.3d 77, 80 (1st Cir. 1997) (citations omitted).
[T]he touchstone of the constitutional inquiry under the Excessive Fines Clause is the principle of proportionality: The amount of the forfeiture must bear some relationship to the gravity of the offense that it is designed to punish.
U.S. v. Bajakajian, 118 S. Ct. 2028, 2036 (1998) (citations omitted). That is, "if the amount of forfeiture is grossly disproportional to the gravity of the defendant's offense, it is unconstitutional." Id. at 2038.
Appellant attempts to minimize the gravity of his offenses by arguing that the total street value of the drugs sold was less than $200. However, the United States Supreme Court "has recognized the serious threat to individuals and society posed by drug offenses." U.S. v. Certain Real Property & Premises, 954 F.2d 29, 38-39 (2nd Cir. 1992). "Drug use and distribution [is] one of the 'greatest problems' affecting the health and welfare of our population." Id. (citations omitted).
The gravity of appellant's crimes is not determinable solely by the value of the drugs he sold. Appellant's profit motive, his enjoyment in selling drugs for money, his recidivism despite prior judicial intervention, and the regularity of his drug dealing are all factors that increase the severity of his offenses. To punish that severity and to deter repetition of his drug crimes, the court imposed proportionately severe fines. In doing so, the district court did not abuse its discretion.
Additionally, even though appellant cannot pay all the fines at once, his $70 a month obligation poses no immediate hardship. He is young, employed, and has long-term future earning potential. If appellant's future financial prospects become more clearly limited, and the fines consequently become impermissibly onerous, he may seek appropriate judicial relief.
Finally, appellant contends that fines imposed in other drug cases in Minnesota have not been nearly as high as those imposed here. There are so many variables involved in sentencing that we find such information of negligible value in assessing appellant's disproportionality contention.
[*] Retired judge of the Minnesota Court of Appeals, serving by appointment pursuant to Minn. Const. art. VI, § 10.
 "The relevant tests are virtually identical, and no Minnesota case law distinguishes between the protections afforded under each." Worthington Police v. 1988 Chev. Beretta, 516 N.W.2d 581, 583 n.1 (Minn. App. 1994).