Defendant Must Pay Restitution After Clay County, MN, Fight

Minnesota case law summary by Attorney Richard Clem: Criminal law, resitution.

State of Minnesota v. Aaron Ronald Miller. MN criminal law, restitution.

An October 2011 bonfire in Clay County didn't go well for Aaron Ronald Miller, Jeremy Sandberg, and Steven Montplaisir. Miller and Sandberg met Montplaisir for the first time that evening, and tensions flared when Montplaisir accused Sandberg of sexual improprieties involving an unnamed woman.

After tensions simmered for a while, Monstplaisir got into his truck to leave the soiree. But Miller's truck was blocking his exit. Miller came over to Montplaisir's truck, took the keys, and demanded an apology.

Someone then hit Montplaisir, who was rendered unconscious by the blow. Miller jumped into the fight and put Montplaisir into a choke hold. The three kept fighting until Montplaisir had been beaten up so badly that he was not recognizable. Miller and Sandberg were also injured.

Montplaisir went to the hospital the next day for treatment of his cuts, cracked rib, and collapsed lung. He and his insurance company incurred over $4000 in medical bills.

Miller pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct but downplayed the seriousness of his actions. He admitted to throwing a punch and maybe "accidentally" hitting Montplaisir's tooth. The judge accpeted the plea, and ordered him to pay a fine and restitution. The trial court held that Miller and Sandberg would be jointly and severally liable. Since Miller was unemployed, the judge gave him a full year to pay the fines and restitution. AFter hearing, the final restitution tab was set at $12,250 to Montplaisir and his insurance company. But despite the earlier ruling, the trial court gave Montplaisir the right to get a civil judgment in just 90 days, rather than the one year ordered earlier.

Dissatisfied with the prospect of having to pay restitution for the fight, Miller appealed to the Minnesota Court of Appeals. He first argued that he should only be responsible for the damages caused by the injuries he actually administered, rather than being liable for the full amount, which included damages caused by Sandberg. The Court of Appeals quickly rejected this argument. A victim's right to receive restitution is not contingent on him being able to identify which blow was landed by which assailant.

Miller also argued that the trial judge erred in ordering a rehearing, after sufficient witnesses were not present for the first one. But the Court of Appeals held that since the additional witness was helpful in making the determination, this was not an error.

Finally, Miller argued that the trial court should have considered his ability to pay. Here, Miller got some sympathy from the Court of Appeals. The Court noted that the lower court had not made any findings about ability to pay. In particular, the Court of Appeals pointed to the one-year grace period that the trial court had originally accepted. Therefore, it reversed this reduced time frame.

The Court of Appeals sent the case back to the lower court, and asked the lower court to make detailed findings about ability to pay or to extend the deadline.

No. A13-0264, ___ N.W.2d ___ (Minn. Ct. App. Feb. 10, 2014).

Please see the original opinion for the court's exact language.


Richard P. Clem is an attorney and continuing legal education (CLE) provider in Minnesota. He has been in private practice in the Twin Cities for 25 years. He has a J.D., cum laude, from Hamline University School of Law in St. Paul and a B.A. in History from the University of Minnesota. His reported cases include: Asociacion Nacional de Pescadores a Pequena Escala o Artesanales de Colombia v. Dow Quimica de Colombia, 988 F.2d 559, rehearing denied, 5 F.3d 530 (5th Cir. 1993), cert. denied, 510 U.S. 1041 (1994); LaMott v. Apple Valley Health Care Center, 465 N.W.2d 585 (Minn. Ct. App. 1991); Abo el Ela v. State, 468 N.W.2d 580 (Minn. Ct. App. 1991).

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