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STATE of Minnesota, Respondent, v. Edgar Isidro GALVAN-CONTRERAS, Appellant.
In this direct appeal from final judgment of conviction for felony interference with the privacy of a minor, appellant challenges the district court's interpretation of Minnesota Statutes section 609.746, subdivision 1(e)(2). We hold that the statutory language does not require knowledge of age, and we affirm the district court's decision.
On September 20, 2018, appellant Edgar Isidro Galvan-Contreras used his cell phone camera to view a 15-year-old male in an adjacent bathroom stall. On February 12, 2019, respondent State of Minnesota charged Galvan-Contreras with interference with the privacy of a minor, in violation of Minnesota Statutes section 609.746, subdivision 1(e)(2). The complaint does not allege that Galvan-Contreras had knowledge of the victim's age. Galvan-Contreras denied knowing the victim's age and moved to dismiss the complaint for lack of probable cause, arguing that the statute requires proof of knowledge of the victim's age. The district court disagreed with this interpretation of the statute and denied the motion.
The parties agreed that this pretrial ruling was dispositive and proceeded to a stipulated-evidence court trial pursuant to Minnesota Rule of Criminal Procedure 26.01, subdivision 4. Galvan-Contreras agreed that the state could prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he knew or had reason to know that a person was actually present in the bathroom stall next to him. He also agreed that the state could prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he surreptitiously invaded the victim's privacy and that the victim was 15 years old. The state agreed that it lacked sufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Galvan-Contreras knew or had reason to know that the victim was under the age of 18. The district court found Galvan-Contreras guilty. This appeal follows.
Does Minnesota Statutes section 609.746, subdivision 1(e)(2), require proof of knowledge of the victim's age?
Galvan-Contreras argues that the district court incorrectly interpreted the statute when it denied his pretrial motion to dismiss. Specifically, Galvan-Contreras contends that the statute requires knowledge that the victim of the offense is under the age of 18. We are not persuaded and hold that subdivision 1(e)(2) is subject to only one reasonable interpretation: it includes no requirement that the state prove knowledge of the victim's age.
“[T]he goal of all statutory interpretation is to ascertain and effectuate the intention of the legislature.” Christianson v. Henke, 831 N.W.2d 532, 536 (Minn. 2013) (quotation omitted). “The first step in statutory interpretation is to determine whether the statute's language, on its face, is ambiguous.” State v. Defatte, 928 N.W.2d 338, 340 (Minn. 2019) (quotation omitted). “A statute is ambiguous only when the statutory language is subject to more than one reasonable interpretation. If a statute is unambiguous, we apply the statute's plain meaning.” Id. (citation and quotation omitted). We first consider the statutory definitions that apply, and in the absence of a statutory definition, we give that phrase its plain and ordinary meaning in light of its context. Id.; see also Smith v. United States, 508 U.S. 223, 229, 113 S. Ct. 2050, 2054, 124 L.Ed.2d 138 (1993) (“The meaning of a word that appears ambiguous if viewed in isolation may become clear when the word is analyzed in light of the terms that surround it.”); State v. Pakhnyuk, 926 N.W.2d 914, 920 (Minn. 2019) (“The statutory language in dispute is not examined in isolation; rather, all provisions in the statute must be read and interpreted as whole.”). “We review questions of statutory interpretation de novo.” Defatte, 928 N.W.2d at 340.
The first relevant portion of the statute reads:
(d) A person is guilty of a gross misdemeanor who:
(1) surreptitiously installs or uses any device for observing, photographing, recording, amplifying, or broadcasting sounds or events through the window or other aperture of a ․ place where a reasonable person would have an expectation of privacy and has exposed or is likely to expose their intimate parts, ․, or the clothing covering the immediate area of the intimate parts; and
(2) does so with intent to intrude upon or interfere with the privacy of the occupant.
Minn. Stat. § 609.746, subd. 1(d) (2018). For felony offenses, such as the one charged in this case, an additional paragraph applies:
(e) A person is guilty of a felony and may be sentenced to imprisonment for not more than two years or to payment of a fine of not more than $5,000, or both, if the person:
(1) violates this subdivision after a previous conviction under this subdivision or section 609.749; or
(2) violates this subdivision against a minor under the age of 18, knowing or having reason to know that the minor is present.
Id., subd. 1(e) (2018).
Galvan-Contreras argues that the use of the phrase “knowing or having reason to know that the minor is present” requires the state to prove knowledge of the victim's age to obtain a conviction. The state argues that the phrase “knowing or having reason to know that the minor is present” establishes age as a material element and unambiguously requires knowledge only of the victim's presence. We agree with the state and reject Galvan-Contreras's argument for two reasons.
First, we conclude that the statutory definitions of the verb “know” and of “criminal intent” control our interpretation. “ ‘Know’ requires only that the actor believes that the specified fact exists.” Minn. Stat. § 609.02, subd. 9(2) (2018). Further, the word “know” is incorporated into criminal intent, Minn. Stat. § 609.02, subd. 9(1) (2018), and “[c]riminal intent does not require proof of knowledge of the age of a minor even though age is a material element in the crime in question.” Minn. Stat. § 609.02, subd. 9(6) (2018). We discern no ambiguity in these statutory definitions. Because the statutory definitions are not themselves ambiguous, and they rule out proof of knowledge of age, we cannot ascribe a different or broader meaning to those terms when interpreting the disputed phrase “knowing or having reason to know that the minor is present.” As written, subdivision 1(e)(2) has only one reasonable interpretation: it establishes age as a material element but requires knowledge only of the victim's presence, not knowledge of the victim's age.
Galvan-Contreras asserts that section 609.02, subdivision 9(6), is inapplicable because it irreconcilably conflicts with section 609.746, subdivision 1(e)(2). To resolve the conflict, Galvan-Contreras argues that we should construe the specific provision in section 609.746, subdivision 1(e)(2), as an exception to the general statement regarding knowledge of age in section 609.02, subdivision 9(6). Galvan-Contreras relies on the “Irreconcilable Provisions” section of the Minnesota Statutes, which states:
When a general provision in a law is in conflict with a special provision in the same or another law, the two shall be construed, if possible, so that effect may be given to both. If the conflict between the two provisions be irreconcilable, the special provision shall prevail and shall be construed as an exception to the general provision ․
Minn. Stat. § 645.26, subd. 1 (2018). Without language explicitly requiring proof of knowledge of age, however, the interference-with-privacy statute does not conflict with the statutory definitions of “know” and “criminal intent.” In the absence of an irreconcilable conflict, section 645.26 does not apply. See Schatz v. Interfaith Care Ctr., 811 N.W.2d 643, 649-50 (Minn. 2012) (acknowledging that an irreconcilable conflict must exist for section 645.26 to apply).
Second, we disagree with Galvan-Contreras's argument that this court's decision in State v. Stevenson binds our interpretation. 637 N.W.2d 857, 861 (Minn. App. 2002), aff'd on other grounds, 656 N.W.2d 235 (Minn. 2003).1 In Stevenson, this court concluded that because fifth-degree criminal sexual conduct was a specific-intent crime, the state could convict Stevenson for attempted fifth-degree criminal sexual conduct. Id. Galvan-Contreras is correct that Stevenson involved similar language. The statute prohibited engaging “in masturbation or lewd exhibition of the genitals in the presence of a minor under the age of 16, knowing or having reason to know the minor is present.” Id. Galvan-Contreras is also correct that we classified fifth-degree criminal sexual conduct as a specific-intent crime based on the form of the verb “know:”
Here, the legislature used the criminal intent language of Minn. Stat. § 609.02 to define the crime of fifth-degree criminal sexual conduct; namely, forms of the verb “know.” We do not believe the legislature's intent to make specific intent an element of the offense could be more plain. Therefore, we conclude, as a matter of law, that criminal sexual conduct in the fifth degree is a crime that a defendant can legally be convicted of attempting to commit.
Id. Galvan-Contreras misinterprets Stevenson, however, by relying on it to support his contention that proof of knowledge of age is required to obtain a conviction for interference with the privacy of a minor. In Stevenson, we concluded that fifth-degree criminal sexual conduct requires proof of some specific knowledge, but neither this court nor the supreme court determined whether that specific knowledge was knowledge of presence or knowledge of age. Stevenson, therefore, provides us with little, if any, guidance. We decline to extend Stevenson to require adoption of Galvan-Contreras's interpretation of subdivision 1(e)(2).
Because Minnesota Statutes section 609.746, subdivision 1(e)(2), does not require the state to prove that Galvan-Contreras knew or had reason to know the age of the person whose privacy he invaded, the district court did not err in denying the pretrial motion to dismiss.
1. This court's opinion analyzed the meaning of the phrase “knowing or having reason to know the minor is present.” Stevenson, 637 N.W.2d at 861. The Minnesota Supreme Court affirmed the convictions, but did so based on the meaning of a different phrase: “in the presence of a minor.” State v. Stevenson, 656 N.W.2d 235, 238-39 (Minn. 2003). Based on the rule of lenity, the supreme court concluded that in the presence of a minor meant “reasonably capable of being viewed by a minor” and not “actually viewed by a minor.” Id. The supreme court did not address the knowledge requirement analyzed by this court.
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Docket No: A20-0366
Decided: January 19, 2021
Court: Court of Appeals of Minnesota.
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