How much discretion does a Minnesota judge have to ignore minimum mandatory sentence rules? None, the Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled today.
The court today overturned a district court judge who sentenced Sarah DeAnn Rausch to 10 years probation, 15 days in the workhouse, and 45 in alternative service after she pleaded guilty to burglary charges stemming from a fight with her boyfriend.
But prosecutors said Rausch should have been sentenced to at least six months in the workhouse or prison as the Legislature mandates. The Appeals Court agreed, noting “courts have no inherent authority to impose terms or conditions of sentence for criminal acts and… the power to prescribe punishment for such acts rests with the legislature.”
Her attorneys had argued that judges have the discretion to ignore mandatory sentencing guidelines, especially in cases where the charges are the first offense.
But there’s a rub in this case. The same prosecutors who appealed that Rausch should have been sentenced to a minimum sentence, had also told her when it worked out a plea agreement that she could argue for a lighter one.
In a concurring opinion, Judge Jim Randall said this case is not what the Legislature had in mind when it created a minimum sentence for burglary. While he supported the Appeals Court ruling, he criticized prosecutors for bringing serious charges against a woman who “keyed” his car.
“The district court gave a thoughtful and fair sentence properly reflecting the facts of the crime,” he said. “That carefully fashioned sentence reflected all that this case was worth.”
Randall heavily criticized prosecutors for making a plea offer it knew it couldn’t keep and urged Rausch to withdraw her guilty
verdict plea when it goes back to the district court for resentencing.