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State v. Henes

April 2, 2009


Appeal from the District Court of Bottineau County, Northeast Judicial District, the Honorable Michael G. Sturdevant, Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Maring, Justice.


[¶1] Henes appeals from an amended criminal judgment sentencing him to serve twenty years with the North Dakota Department of Corrections with fifteen years of the sentence suspended for five years. We affirm, concluding the district court did not err in relying on two uncounseled guilty verdicts when it sentenced Henes.


[¶2] The State charged Henes with three counts of gross sexual imposition, class AA felonies, arising out of sexual encounters occurring on October 28, 2006, December 8, 2006, and December 13, 2006. The State and Henes presented a binding plea agreement to the district court, whereby the State would dismiss two of the counts, reduce the third count to gross sexual imposition, a class A felony, and recommend a maximum sentence of twenty years, with fifteen years suspended. The agreement provided Henes could ask the district court for a lesser sentence.

[¶3] At sentencing, Henes argued the district court should suspend all twenty years of his sentence, order him to complete a sex offender treatment program, and order him to live at the Northland Mission Center. Henes introduced testimony from three witnesses: the sex offender program coordinator at the North Dakota State Penitentiary, the assistant director of the Northland Rescue Mission in Grand Forks, and the director of special education for the Peace Garden Consortium in Bottineau. Henes contended that sufficient checks were in place at the Northland Mission Center to ensure that he was adequately supervised. The State did not introduce any testimony, but argued that the district court should follow the sentence outlined in the plea agreement. The State argued Henes was a moderate to high risk sex offender and needed intensive sex offender treatment in a structured setting. The State asserted that, while the court could impose rules to govern Henes's conduct if the court did order a probationary sentence, Henes was not likely to follow those rules. The State argued Henes committed more than one mistake; he also violated the rules "which prohibited the criminal mischief and driving without liability insurance that he just got." The State argued Henes should serve the recommended sentence and presented certified copies of two criminal judgments of misdemeanor convictions for driving without liability insurance and criminal mischief. Henes did not object to the admission of this evidence. The court received the exhibits into evidence. Both convictions were obtained by a guilty verdict.

[¶4] When sentencing Henes, the court stated Henes was not starting with a clean slate, and stated it was troubled by Henes's sex offender assessments and his history of criminal activity. The court also stated,

Although it might seem minor, I am troubled by the last two charges that came in. Driving without insurance is not a big deal, but on the other hand it's advised by three or four deputies that he shouldn't be doing it. And then the incident at the parking lot at Walmart, and I would think if there was ever a time that a person would be on his absolute best behavior, and no matter how arbitrary he might think a deputy is being saying you can't be driving that vehicle, when you're two weeks away from a sentencing on a class A felony I would think that you'd want to do anything to stay out of more trouble, and that just doesn't forfend well for a less than fully structured environment in the future to try and deal with the problems raised by these charges.

The court decided to conform to the binding plea agreement, and it sentenced Henes to twenty years with fifteen years suspended for a period of five years of supervised probation.

[¶5] Henes appeals, arguing the district court relied upon an impermissible factor to determine the severity of his sentence when it relied on the convictions for driving without liability insurance and criminal mischief.


[¶6] A district court is afforded wide discretion in sentencing. State v. Hoverson, 2006 ND 49, ¶ 34, 710 N.W.2d 890. This Court will vacate a district court's sentencing decision only if the court acted outside the limits prescribed by statute or substantially relied on an impermissible factor in determining the severity of the sentence. State v. Emery, 2008 ND 3, ¶ 4, 743 N.W.2d 815.

[¶7] Henes argues the district court considered an impermissible factor at sentencing by considering his driving without liability insurance and criminal mischief convictions when it sentenced him. The State offered certified copies of the convictions into evidence at the sentencing hearing. Henes was given the opportunity to object to the admission of both exhibits. However, he stated he had no objection to the admission of either exhibit. Henes also did not raise this argument to the district court. Issues not raised to the district court will not be addressed for the first time on appeal unless the alleged error rises to the level of obvious error under N.D.R.Crim.P. 52(b). State v. Fehl- Haber, 2007 ND 99, ¶ 12, 734 N.W.2d 770. Because Henes did not object when the convictions were admitted into the record, we review the district court's sentencing decision for obvious error.

[¶8] "This Court cautiously exercises its authority to notice obvious error and does so only in exceptional circumstances in which a party has suffered a serious injustice." State v. Kautzman, 2007 ND 133, ¶ 15, 738 N.W.2d 1. "To establish obvious error, the defendant must show: (1) error; (2) that is plain; and (3) ...

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