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State v. Sheperd

Supreme Court of North Dakota

November 16, 2017

State of North Dakota, Plaintiff and Appellee
v.
Anjelo Steve Sheperd, Defendant and Appellant

         Appeal from the District Court of Cass County, East Central Judicial District, the Honorable Douglas R. Herman, Judge.

          Leah J. Viste, Assistant State's Attorney, Fargo, N.D., for plaintiff and appellee.

          Nicholas D. Thornton (argued) and James A. Teigland (on brief), Fargo, N.D., for defendant and appellant.

          McEvers, Justice.

         [¶ 1] Anjelo Sheperd appeals from a criminal judgment, entered after a bench trial on stipulated facts, finding him guilty of patronizing a minor for commercial sexual activity in violation of N.D.C.C. § 12.1-41-06(1)(a). We affirm the criminal judgment.

         I

         [¶ 2] On June 29, 2016, law enforcement arrested Sheperd as a part of a multi-agency sting operation targeted at apprehending individuals paying, or attempting to pay, for sex with minors. Law enforcement posted an advertisement on Backpage.com. The advertisement impliedly sought sexual encounters with men, but did not reference involvement with a minor. Sheperd responded to the advertisement. A text message exchange between Sheperd and an undercover officer, purporting to be a female, discussed rates for sexual activities. Later in the text message exchange, the undercover officer told Sheperd "she" was almost seventeen. Sheperd arrived at the sting location, set up at a hotel in Fargo, and was arrested and charged with patronizing a minor for commercial sexual activity in violation of N.D.C.C. § 12.1-41-06(1)(a).

         [¶ 3] Sheperd waived his right to a jury trial, and the district court held a bench trial on the stipulated facts. At the trial, Sheperd indicated his intent to appeal based on his interpretation of the statute under which he was charged. The stipulated facts indicated Sheperd agreed to exchange money or something of value for a sex act, that Sheperd originally thought the female was over eighteen but later learned the female claimed to be sixteen, and that Sheperd arrived at the hotel and knocked on the designated room door. The district court found Sheperd guilty of patronizing a minor for commercial sexual activity. Sheperd appeals to this Court.

         II

         [¶ 4] On appeal, Sheperd argues N.D.C.C. § 12.1-41-06(1)(a) requires the presence of a minor and because no actual minor was involved in this case, the State did not meet its burden of proof. Sheperd further argues this Court should have decided State v. Davison, 2017 ND 188, 900 N.W.2d 66, differently. The State argues N.D.C.C. § 12.1-41-06(1)(a) does not require the actual presence of a minor as an essential element of the crime of patronizing a minor for commercial sexual activity.

         [¶ 5] The parties agree that if no minor is required for a conviction under N.D.C.C. § 12.1-41-06(1)(a), there is sufficient evidence to sustain the convictions. The question is one of statutory interpretation, which is a question of law and is fully reviewable on appeal. State v. Brown, 2009 ND 150, ¶ 15, 771 N.W.2d 267.

Words in a statute are given their plain, ordinary, and commonly understood meaning, unless defined by statute or unless a contrary intention plainly appears. If the language of a statute is clear and unambiguous, "the letter of [the statute] is not to be disregarded under the pretext of pursuing its spirit." If the language of the statute is ambiguous, however, a court may resort to extrinsic aids to interpret the statute.

Zajac v. Traill Cty. Water Res. Dist., 2016 ND 134, ¶ 6, 881 N.W.2d 666 (citations omitted).

         [¶ 6] Sheperd was convicted of patronizing a minor for commercial sexual activity in violation of N.D.C.C. ...


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