A man should not have been convicted of violating a restraining order in Mankato when he could not have known he was in violation, the Minnesota Court of Appeals has ruled.
The appellate court Monday overturned the conviction of a former Minnesota State University student who says he did not realize he was violating a harassment restraining order as he walked outside a Mankato apartment building in 2018.
The restraining order required the defendant to stay away from a fellow MSU student’s residence but did not specify where the woman lived.
Prosecutors argued that knowledge of where the woman lived wasn’t required for a conviction and a Blue Earth County judge agreed. But the Court of Appeals disagreed.
The appellate judges classified their decision as a published opinion, meaning it sets precedent.
Defense attorney Jim Kuettner said he expects the ruling will bring more specificity in restraining order requirements and more broadly reinforces that proof of knowledge is required in most criminal cases.
Assistant Blue Earth County Attorney Susan DeVos said she respects the court’s decision but has concerns about its suggestion to include prohibited geographical areas in restraining orders.
Blue Earth County District Judge Mark Betters found Rylan Dakota Andersen, 26, formerly of St. Peter, guilty of misdemeanor violating a restraining order in March 2019 after a two-day trial.
A woman had sought and was granted a civil restraining order against Andersen in 2017 after she said he continued to repeatedly contact her after she told him to stop, according to court documents.
Among other restrictions, the restraining order prohibited Andersen from going within 100 feet of the woman’s residence. But the woman’s address was kept confidential.
In April 2018 the protected woman’s roommate and another witness say Andersen walked through a courtyard about 30 feet from the woman’s Mankato apartment.
Andersen told authorities he did not know the woman lived there. He said he was cutting through the courtyard as he walked from the MSU campus to a restaurant for lunch.
The protected woman claimed Andersen knew where she lived because he had seen her there on a prior occasion, the charges said. While Andersen had once seen the woman outside the apartment complex, he did not realize it was her residence, Kuettner said.
Kuettner argued the prosecution failed to prove Andersen knew he was violating the restraining order when he cut through the courtyard. But the state argued the law did not require proof of intent. The judge agreed.
Andersen was sentenced to three days in jail already served and a fine.
Andersen’s defense team filed an appeal in June 2019, again questioning whether the state must prove a defendant knew where a protected party resides.
In their responses, the Blue Earth County Attorney’s Office and Minnesota Attorney General’s Office argued that state statute doesn’t require proof of knowledge in restraining order violations.
In 2013 following another case appeal, the state Legislature amended the section of the statute that governs gross misdemeanor and felony violations to eliminate the word “knowingly.” The misdemeanor section did not previously include the word “knowingly.” The court should interpret from the 2013 action that lawmakers’ intent was to make knowledge not required in all violations, the prosecution argued.
But the Court of Appeals ruled that “mens rea” — the requirement that “the defendant know the facts that make his conduct illegal” — is presumed unless explicitly stated otherwise by law in the majority of cases. And Andersen’s case does not qualify for any of the established exemptions, the appellate judges said.
The prosecution argued not allowing people protected by a restraining order to keep their address confidential would put their safety at risk.
The appellate ruling suggests that orders instead be drafted to prohibit someone from a geographical area surrounding a residence without identifying an address.
Kuettner said that is already happening in some cases and he expects it will become more common in the wake of the ruling.
DeVos said she has concerns about that practice.
“Such boundary restrictions would either require such a small geographical boundary that the benefit of keeping an address confidential may be eradicated or such a large geographical boundary that it may impinge on the respondent’s right to free movement,” she said.