Courts Lack Authority to Depart from Mandatory Minimum Sentencing Requirements

In State of Minnesota vs. Sarah DeAnn Rausch, an appellate decision filed May 23, 2011, the Minnesota Court of Appeals reversed and remanded a district court order that resulted in a downward departure for a first-time burglary offender.

Rausch was charged with two counts of burglary, one count of harassment, and one count of assault. Rausch entered into a plea agreement whereby she plead guilty to first-degree burglary of an occupied dwelling under Minn. Stat. § 609.582, subd. 1(a), and the remaining charges were be dismissed. The State agreed to a stay of imposition on the presumption 21-month sentence. Under Minn. Stat. § 609.582, subd. 1(a), “[a] person convicted of committing burglary of an occupied dwelling…must be committed to the commissioner of corrections or county workhouse for not less than six months.” The parties entered into the plea agreement with the understanding that Rausch would argue to the court for a departure from the mandatory minimum 6-month sentence. The court agreed with Rausch’s arguments and departed from the 6-month sentence required by statute and ordered Rausch to 60 days in the workhouse.

The Court of Appeals reversed the district court’s sentencing order finding that Minn. Stat. § 609.582, subd. 1(a) is clear that 6-months must be served in the workhouse for anyone convicted under the statute. In certain instances the district court does have discretion to depart from statutory mandatory minimum sentences; however, as the Court of Appeals found the statute to be clear and unambiguous, reducing Rausch’s sentence was not appropriate in this case.