State Supreme Court overturns local case

Published 10:03am Friday, September 27, 2013

The Minnesota Supreme Court on Wednesday overturned a Freeborn County District Court ruling by allowing judges to extend probation to the statutory limit when lawbreakers fail to pay restitution.

Assistant Freeborn County Attorney David Walker, who filed the appeal to the Supreme Court, called the decision a big win for victims.

“This helps us protect victims, get their restitution and helps us make them whole,” Walker said. “It’s a very good result for victims.”

Restitution is when lawbreakers are required by a court to pay victims compensation for damages or stolen goods.

The case originated in Freeborn County in June of 2006 when resident Malena Maria Barrientos, now 37, was sentenced on one count of second-degree burglary. According to court documents, Barrientos was part of a string of burglaries with two other people in the county but pleaded guilty to burglarizing one residence.

Freeborn County Judge James Broberg, now retired, sentenced Barrientos to five years of probation and more than $21,000 in restitution. Though she only pleaded guilty to one burglary, she agreed in the plea agreement to pay restitution for others.

Initially she was ordered to pay $230 a month until the amount was paid, but when she failed to make the majority of her payments, the judge reduced the minimum monthly payments to $50.

In June of 2011 at the end of her probation, Barrientos had not paid off the restitution. She still had about $20,000 remaining. Walker said he asked Freeborn County Judge Steve Schwab, who replaced Broberg, to extend her probation another five years to the maximum of 10 years allowed for that charge.

Schwab initially agreed to the request, but a few months later when Barrientos was brought in on a probation violation, her public defender, Kevin Riha, argued that the judge did not have the authority to extend probation for five years, citing a statute that said a judge can extend probation for up to one year two times, Walker said.

Schwab agreed with the defense, stating the probation could only be extended a year.

Walker said he appealed Schwab’s order, and the case was taken to the Minnesota Court of Appeals.

“The question was, do you let her off the hook or do you keep at least getting the $50 from her and requiring that?” Walker said.

The Court of Appeals agreed with Schwab, so Walker appealed the case to the Minnesota Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court ruled that a judge may extend probation up to the statutory limit when the defendant fails to pay the full restitution by the end of the probation term.

In the Barrientos case, specifically, that means a judge may extend her term from the original five years to 10 years because that is the statutory maximum term, according to the ruling.

“I think this is an excellent result from the Supreme Court that will help us recover more restitution for victims,” Walker said. “I think when a person victimizes another and owes them money that they should be required to pay that money in full to the best of their ability.”

Now that the Supreme Court has issued its opinion, Walker said he will ask in Freeborn County District Court that probation for Barrientos be extended the full five years.

Barrientos’ public defender through the appeals, Sean McGuire, could not be reached for this story.