Ruling Offers a New Protection to Victims of Assault in Minnesota (USA)
Monday, August 3, 2009 10:31 AM

On July 16, 2009, the Minnesota Supreme Court published a ruling that may serve as a new avenue of prosecuting certain perpetrators who break into their former homes to commit assault.  The case, State v. Spence, involved a man who broke into his former girlfriend's home, held her to the floor and threatened her.  The Defendant (Spence) purchased the home with the victim and still made payments on it at the time of the attack.  The Defendant no longer lived there, however, as he voluntarily moved out when the relationship ended nine months earlier.  The victim previously had an order for protection against Spence, but it expired months before the attack.

The District Court found Spence guilty of both assault and first-degree burglary, which requires, among other things, that the perpetrator enter a dwelling without the consent of the person in lawful possession.  The Court of Appeals reversed the burglary conviction, holding that the Defendant's partial ownership of the home meant he was in lawful possession and, therefore, could not be considered as lacking consent. 

In its decision of July 16th, the Minnesota Supreme Court overruled the Court of Appeals and upheld the burglary conviction.  According to the Supreme Court, an individual can agree to give up their lawful possession of a property.  In this case, the Defendant voluntarily gave up his lawful possession of the home by moving out.  Therefore, the victim had sole lawful possession of the dwelling, and the Defendant committed burglary by entering it without her permission and committing a crime.

Thus, an individual may now be charged with the serious crime of burglary if they enter their former partner's home to commit a crime, even if they have an ownership interest in the home.  As such, this ruling provides an new type of protection for victims who do not have an active order for protection against former partners.

Compiled from:  State v. Spence, 742 N.W.2d 203 (Minn. App. 2007), rev'd No. A06-1541 (Minn. July 16, 2009).