At issue in this case is whether appellant/cross-respondent Vaundell Duwayne Kingbird was exonerated for purposes of the statute used to determine if a person whose conviction has been reversed, vacated, or set aside is eligible for compensation based on exoneration, Minn. Stat. § 590.11 (2020) (the eligibility-for-exoneration-compensation-statute). The applicable definition of "exonerated" requires Kingbird to establish "any evidence of factual innocence." Id., subd. 1(b)(1), 1(c)(2). We must therefore determine whether Kingbird has established any evidence of factual innocence.
Kingbird was convicted in 2010 of violating Minn. Stat. § 609.165, subd. 1b(a) (2014), which makes it a crime for certain convicted felons to possess a firearm. After we held in State v. Haywood, 886 N.W.2d 485, 487 (Minn. 2016), that an air-compressed BB gun is not a "firearm" under this statute, Kingbird's conviction was vacated. Kingbird then filed a petition for an order determining that he was eligible for compensation based on exoneration. The district court denied the petition, and the court of appeals affirmed. We conclude that Kingbird has not provided any evidence of factual innocence. Therefore, we affirm the decision of the court of appeals.
In May 2010, a caller reported to law enforcement that a man, later identified as Kingbird, had a handgun and was holding a woman against her will at his residence. When the officers responded to the call, they noticed Kingbird walking outside the house with his hands in his pockets. The officers drew their weapons and ordered Kingbird to show them his hands and to get on the ground; he did not comply. One of the officers used a taser on Kingbird
The next day, the State charged Kingbird with one count of ineligible-person-in possession of a firearm, Minn. Stat. § 609.165, subd. 1b(a);
As part of a plea agreement, Kingbird admitted that he possessed an air-compressed BB gun and pleaded guilty to being an ineligible person in possession of a firearm, Minn. Stat. § 609.165, subd. 1b(a); in return, the State dismissed the other charges. The district court stayed execution of the presumptive 60-month prison sentence and placed Kingbird on probation for 10 years. In August 2011, Kingbird violated the terms of his probation by committing a domestic assault. The district court revoked his probation and executed the stayed 60-month sentence.
In 2016, we held that an air-compressed BB gun is not a "firearm" under Minn. Stat. § 609.165. Haywood, 886 N.W.2d at 487. Soon after this decision, the State moved to vacate Kingbird's conviction pursuant to Haywood. The district court agreed, and on January 5, 2017, Kingbird's conviction was vacated.
On September 25, 2017, Kingbird filed a petition for an order declaring him eligible for exoneration compensation, contending that he was "exonerated" as defined by Minn. Stat. § 590.11, subd. 1(1)(i) (2018).
In 2019, the Minnesota Legislature amended the eligibility-for-exoneration-compensation statute. The Legislature adopted a new definition of "exonerated," added new language to explain the meaning of "on grounds consistent with innocence," and established a special deadline for some people impacted by our decision in Back to bring a petition. Act of May 30, 2019, ch. 5, art. 2, § 13, 2019 Minn. Laws 1st Spec. Sess. 965, 965-66 (codified at Minn. Stat. § 590.11, subds. 1(b)(1)(i), 1(c)(1)-(2), 2 (2020)). On July 15, 2019, Kingbird filed a second petition to be declared eligible for exoneration compensation based on his vacated conviction, asserting that his claim was timely under the amended and extended limitations period.
On October 3, 2019, the district court denied Kingbird's second petition, concluding that he did not meet the definition of "exonerated." Specifically, the court noted that because the statutory phrase "on grounds consistent with innocence" is further defined as meaning "any evidence of factual innocence," Kingbird must show evidence of factual innocence. Further, the district court concluded that Kingbird had "not advanced an argument that he did not commit the act for which he was arrested and convicted. Rather, his conviction was vacated due to a change in the law." The court of appeals affirmed, concluding that Kingbird was not "exonerated" within the meaning of Minn. Stat. § 590.11, subd. 1(c)(2), because his conviction was vacated based on a clarification of the law. Kingbird v. State, 949 N.W.2d 744, 750-51 (Minn. App. 2020). We granted Kingbird's petition for review.
There are two issues before us. First, we consider whether the district court had jurisdiction to hear Kingbird's petition. This jurisdictional question is a threshold issue that we raise sua sponte. See Dead Lake Ass'n, Inc. v. Otter Tail Cnty., 695 N.W.2d 129, 134 (Minn. 2005) (stating that "lack of subject matter jurisdiction may be raised at any time ... sua sponte by the court."). We directed the parties to submit supplemental briefing on this issue.
At issue is whether the 2-year statute of limitations in Minn. Stat. § 590.11, subd. 2, is a jurisdictional bar to review if a petition is not timely filed, or if that deadline is subject to waiver. The 2-year time limit found in subdivision 2 of section 590.11 states as follows:
Minn. Stat. § 590.11, subd. 2. The first sentence provides a general requirement that a petition be filed within 2 years of the date a person is exonerated. The second sentence, added in 2019, however, creates an exception to this general requirement
In their supplemental briefs, Kingbird and the State agreed that Kingbird's 2019 petition was timely. Moreover, they agreed that the State waived any statute of limitation defense by failing to assert it below. This agreement by the parties, however, does not end the matter. The waiver by the State is only conclusive if the time bar is in fact a waivable statute of limitations rather than a jurisdictional requirement. If it is the latter, it cannot be waived by the parties, and we must still independently confirm jurisdiction and determine whether the petition was timely. See Dead Lake Ass'n, Inc., 695 N.W.2d at 134 (noting that "lack of subject matter jurisdiction... cannot be waived by the parties.").
We thus consider whether the 2-year limitations period in the eligibility-for-exoneration-compensation statute is a jurisdictional bar to review if a petition is not timely filed,
As an initial matter, the State concedes that a petition for a determination of eligibility for exoneration compensation does not create a new statutory cause of action, but instead is simply a type of postconviction claim. See Carlton, 816 N.W.2d at 601-02 (explaining that the postconviction statutes, chapter 590, "did not create an entirely new cause of action unknown at common law" but "merely codified or replaced preexisting remedies....").
We begin by looking to the language of the statute, Minn. Stat § 590.11, subd. 2. Subdivision 2 is titled "Procedure" and "does not reference the jurisdiction of the [district] court in any way." Carlton, 816 N.W.2d at 603 (relying on both a subdivision's title as well as its language when concluding the provision was a waivable statute of limitations). Additionally, the first sentence of the limitations period says that "[a] petition must be brought within two years ... after the petitioner is exonerated." Minn. Stat. § 590.11, subd. 2. We have held that similar language is not a jurisdictional bar. See Carlton, 816 N.W.2d at 603-07 (concluding the statutory language that a petition "must be filed within two years" was a waivable statute of limitations and not a jurisdictional bar). And the second sentence—added in 2019—simply states that a petitioner who was impacted by our decision in Back "may commence an action" during a specific 2-year period. Minn. Stat. § 590.11, subd. 2. In short, no language in subdivision 2 shows that a district court lacks the authority to decide a petition brought outside of the 2-year limitations period.
We next consider the statute's legislative history. When the eligibility-for-exoneration-compensation statute was originally enacted in 2014, see Act of May 16, 2014, ch. 269, § 1, 2014 Minn. Laws. 1020, 1020-25 (codified as amended at Minn. Stat. § 590.11 (2020)), the Legislature intended to establish a compensation process for people who had been exonerated. See 68 Journal of the House of Representatives 6951 (88th Minn. Leg. Mar. 10, 2014). As initially enacted, it required a person to file a petition seeking an order declaring their eligibility for exoneration compensation within 2 years of the date that the person was "exonerated" as defined by the statute.
As previously stated, in Back we held that one of the two alternative requirements contained in the definition of "exonerated" in Minn. Stat. § 590.11, subd. 1(1) (2016), was unconstitutional. 902 N.W.2d at 30-31, 31 n.4. We severed that requirement from the statute, leaving a single definition of "exonerated." Id. The Legislature responded in 2019 by adding back a second definition of exoneration based on having a conviction reversed. The Legislature also added language authorizing some people whose claims had been impacted by our decision in Back to now be able to file a petition, so long as they met the new definition of "exonerated." See Hearing on H.F. 707, H. Pub. Safety. & Crim. Just. Comm., 91st Minn. Leg., Feb. 7, 2019 (noting that the amendments were made to "fix" the circumstances arising from Back) (video) (statement of Rep. Lesch, House author of the bill). The legislative history is clear: the purpose of the extended limitations period was meant to restore eligibility to those who would have been
The legislative history related to the general requirement that a petition be filed within 2 years of a person being exonerated further supports our conclusion that the limitations period was not intended to be a jurisdictional bar.
Finally, the structure of Minn. Stat. § 590.11 also supports our conclusion. In Carlton, we similarly held that the structure of the postconviction statutes supported finding that the time limitation was a waivable statute of limitations. 816 N.W.2d at 604-05. There, we relied in part on Minn. Stat. § 590.04, subd. 3 (2020), which provides that "[t]he court may inquire into and decide any grounds for relief, even though not raised by the petitioner." Carlton, 816 N.W.2d at 604-05 (quoting Minn. Stat. § 590.04, subd. 3). We took that to mean that the postconviction statute calls for the exercise of judicial discretion over mandating strict adherence to the statute's technical requirements. Here, the eligibility-for-exoneration-compensation statute expressly incorporates Minn. Stat. § 590.04, subd. 3. Minn. Stat. § 590.11, subd. 3(b) (stating that when a prosecutor does not agree the petitioner is eligible for exoneration compensation, "[t]he petitioner's burden of proof and the procedures set forth in section 590.04, subdivision 3, apply to this proceeding."). Moreover, the eligibility-for-exoneration-compensation statute states that if the prosecutor "agree[s] to compensation based on the interests of justice," then "the court shall issue an order ... granting petitioner's eligibility for compensation." Minn. Stat. § 590.11, subd. 3(a). "These provisions indicate that strict compliance
In conclusion, the language of the statute, its legislative history, structure, and purpose all make clear that Minn. Stat. § 590.11, subd. 2, is not a jurisdictional bar to review. Rather, it is a statute of limitations subject to waiver. Here, because the State failed to assert that Kingbird's petition was untimely under the 2-year statute of limitations in Minn. Stat. § 590.11, subd. 2, the State has waived this defense.
We now turn to the merits of this appeal: whether Kingbird has been "exonerated" within the meaning of Minn. Stat. § 590.11, subd. 1(c)(2). In 2017, Kingbird's conviction for felon-in-possession of a firearm was vacated based on our decision in Haywood, 886 N.W.2d 485. Here, the specific legal issue we must address is whether Kingbird's conviction was vacated on "grounds consistent with innocence," as the statute requires.
"[W]hether an individual has been `exonerated'" is "[t]he threshold determination" under the eligibility-for-exoneration-compensation statute. Back, 902 N.W.2d at 26. As relevant here, a person is exonerated if a court "vacate[s]" a conviction "on grounds consistent with innocence." Minn. Stat. § 590.11, subd. 1(b)(1)(i). "[G]rounds consistent with innocence" is defined to mean either:
Minn. Stat. § 590.11, subd. 1(c) (emphasis added). Consequently, in addition to showing that he is eligible for compensation because his conviction has been "vacated," Kingbird must also show that there is "any evidence of factual innocence," whether that evidence was available at the time of trial or is newly discovered. What it means to meet this definition of "factual innocence," is a question of statutory interpretation that we review de novo. Back, 902 N.W.2d at 27.
Kingbird contends that he meets the eligibility standard set out in Minn. Stat. § 590.11, subd. 1(c)(2). He asserts that his conviction was vacated "on grounds consistent with innocence" based on our holding in Haywood. But Kingbird only considers one element: his vacated conviction. To be considered "exonerated" under Minn. Stat. § 590.11, subd. 1(c), he must also show "factual innocence."
If a statutory phrase is unambiguous, we apply the statute's plain meaning. State v. Defatte, 928 N.W.2d 338, 340 (Minn. 2019). When a statute does not define a word or a phrase, we often determine plain meaning by looking to dictionary definitions and applying them in the context of the statute. Haywood, 886 N.W.2d at 488. We also interpret the statute as a whole to give effect to all of its parts. State v. Riggs, 865 N.W.2d 679, 683 (Minn. 2015).
Here, the Legislature used a very specific form of "innocence" to ascribe meaning to "grounds consistent with innocence": "any evidence of factual innocence." Minn. Stat. § 590.11, subd. 1(c)(2) (emphasis added). The word "innocence" means "the state of being not chargeable for or guilty of a particular crime or offense." See Innocence, Webster's Third New International Dictionary of the English Language Unabridged
Because the adjective "factual" modifies the noun "innocence," the common and ordinary meaning of the phrase "factual innocence" is the state of being not guilty of a crime (innocence) but only when the reason is restricted to or based on facts (factual). Kingbird argues that because a BB gun is not a firearm under Haywood, his actions were not against the law and therefore he is innocent. But this claim of innocence is not restricted to or based on facts, because without Haywood, Kingbird would not be deemed innocent. And because Kingbird's case turns on a legal significance, the statutory meaning of the term firearm—not facts alone—Kingbird's claim does not squarely fit within the definition of "factual innocence."
In other words, the facts of Kingbird's case did not change. The facts of the offense on which Kingbird was convicted are undisputed: he admitted as part of his plea agreement that he possessed a BB gun at a time when he was ineligible to possess certain firearms. His conviction was vacated based on our decision in Haywood—a decision that concluded the State did not have a legal basis to bring an ineligible-person-in-possession-of-a-firearm charge based on an air-powered BB gun. Because Kingbird has not shown evidence of "factual innocence,"
For the foregoing reasons, we affirm the decision of the court of appeals.
Concurring in part, dissenting in part, Thissen, Anderson, JJ.
THISSEN, J., (concurring in part, dissenting in part).
CONCURRENCE & DISSENT
I agree with the court that the 2-year limitations period in Minn. Stat. § 590.11, subd. 2 (2020), governing petitions for an order declaring eligibility for compensation based on exoneration is not a jurisdictional bar to review. I disagree with the court's interpretation of Minn. Stat. § 590.11, subd. 1 (2020).
This case turns on the meaning of the phrase "factual innocence" in Minn. Stat. § 590.11. Innocence is "the state of being not chargeable for or guilty of a particular crime or offense." See Innocence, Webster's Third New International Dictionary of the English Language Unabridged (2002); see also Innocence, The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (5th ed. 2018) (defining "innocence" in part as "[g]uiltlessness of a specific legal crime or offense."). By adding the qualifying adjective "factual," the Legislature wanted to make sure that not every person who was convicted and later found free from legal guilt would qualify to seek exoneration damages under the statute. Certainly, the modifier "factual" means that a person whose conviction was vacated because of a legal error with the trial (prejudicial evidence was improperly admitted; an erroneous jury instruction was given) does not qualify to seek exoneration damages. But that is not this case. Vaundell Kingbird's conviction for being a felon in possession of a firearm under Minn. Stat. § 609.165, subds. 1a-1b (2014), was not vacated for such a legal technicality.
Kingbird's conviction was vacated because he did not possess a firearm. Possession of a firearm is an essential element of the crime of illegally possessing a firearm; a person cannot be convicted of the crime if he did not possess a firearm. Kingbird possessed an air-compressed BB gun which is not a firearm. See State v. Haywood, 886 N.W.2d 485, 487 (Minn. 2016) (holding that the term "firearm" in section 609.165 does not include—and never has included—an air-compressed BB gun). Stated another way, the State did not prove a fact—that Kingbird possessed a firearm—necessary to his conviction. It is hard to avoid the common-sense conclusion that Kingbird was "factually innocent" of the crime.
I am unclear what rule of law defendants, lawyers, and judges can take from this decision.
I am not wholly unsympathetic to the majority's conclusion that the Legislature did not intend persons in Kingbird's situation —a person whose conviction for illegal possession of a firearm was vacated following our decision in Haywood—to be eligible for exoneration damages. The legislative history provides some clues that may be the case.
In 2018, the Legislature considered a bill to amend section 590.11 in response to our decision in Back v. State (Back II), 902 N.W.2d 23, 25 (Minn. 2017), where we struck down as unconstitutional a provision of Minn. Stat. § 590.11. During a Senate committee hearing, a representative of the
Id. Following the testimony, the committee amended the bill to provide a definition for "on grounds consistent with innocence" that included the "any evidence of factual innocence" language.
This legislative history provides some support for the conclusion that the Legislature did not intend persons like Kingbird —whose convictions for illegal possession of a firearm were vacated because of our decision in Back—to qualify for exoneration damages. But under our court's rules about statutory interpretation, consideration of legislative history is forbidden unless a statute is ambiguous; an approach that sometimes forces the court into the linguistic contortions demonstrated in this case.
Moreover, in this case, the legislative history is far from definitive. The testifier for the Minnesota County Attorneys Association raised two concerns—general problems with an ambiguous statute and specific concerns about the implications of Haywood. Further, no legislator specifically addressed the Haywood decision. Therefore, we do not know if the Legislature in adopting the amendment to limit "consistent with innocence" to "factual innocence" was responding to the testifier's concern that the phrase "consistent with innocence" was generally ambiguous or if it was responding to the specific concern that the Haywood decision potentially exposed the State to millions of dollars in exoneration damages. What we do know is that the Legislature did not choose to limit exoneration damages to situations involving "newly discovered evidence" (the limit proposed by the State in Back I before the court of appeals). Further, we know that the Legislature did not choose language excluding cases where a person was convicted consistent with the prevailing understanding of a statute at the time even if that understanding was later reversed (the situation of Kingbird and other Haywood exonerees). Accordingly, it follows that the
It is undoubtedly true that the prosecutors who pursued the case against Kingbird acted in good faith. At the time, the term "firearm" as used in section 609.165 was (wrongly) understood to include BB guns. That historical reality may underlie the majority's decision in this case. But I find nothing in the text of the statute (or otherwise) to suggest that eligibility for exoneration damages turns on the good faith or bad faith of the prosecutors who brought the case. If the Legislature intended that, it could have very clearly said so.
Because Kingbird is factually innocent— because the State did not prove the essential fact that he possessed a firearm— Kingbird qualifies to seek exoneration damages under section 590.11. I would reverse.
ANDERSON, Justice (concurring in part, dissenting in part).
I join in the concurrence and dissent of Justice Thissen.
Furthermore, the dissent's concern—that "[i]f the vacation of Kingbird's conviction for a possession of a firearm because he did not possess a firearm does not make him eligible, who can be?"—leads to many readily available answers; namely, any person whose conviction was vacated, reversed, or set aside because the facts of his case have changed. This would include circumstances where there is evidence that law enforcement and prosecutors "got the wrong guy" or that there was another cause for the death that led to a homicide or murder conviction. The authors of the original exoneration bills specifically gave the examples of "Koua Fong Lee, who was wrongfully convicted of criminal vehicular homicide after his Toyota Camry accelerated out of his control into another vehicle, and Michael Ray Hansen, who was wrongfully convicted of second-degree murder for killing his infant daughter who actually died of positional asphyxia." Back v. State, 883 N.W.2d 614, 621 (Minn. App. 2016) (citing Hearing on H.F. 2925 Before the H. Comm. on Judiciary Fin. and Pol'y (Mar. 26, 2014) (statement of Rep. Lesch); Hearing on S.F. 2480 Before the S. Comm. on the Judiciary (Mar. 13, 2014) (statement of Sen. Latz)), rev'd on other grounds in 902 N.W.2d 23 (Minn. 2017). Both of those examples would fall cleanly within our interpretation of "factual innocence." And under Minn. Stat. § 590.11, subd. 1(c)(2), it makes no difference whether such a change in facts is based on evidence that "was available at the time of investigation or trial or is newly discovered evidence." What the Legislature's use of the term "factual innocence" precludes is eligibility for exoneration compensation when the legal meaning of a statutory element of a crime has been clarified by a court such that the unchanged facts can no longer sustain the conviction.