115-month prison sentence upheld for Lake City man sentenced on drug charges in Wabasha County

Emily Cutts, Post-Bulletin, Rochester, Minn.
·2 min read

Feb. 23—The Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled Monday that a 56-year-old man's 115-month prison sentence was properly handed down after it was sent back to a lower court for resentencing last spring.

The appeals court concluded that the district court in Wabasha County did not err in allowing prosecutors to submit additional evidence after an initial hearing on resentencing, nor did it engage in impermissible fact-finding or abuse its discretion when handing down the 115-month sentence to Donald Albert Strobel.

Strobel was found guilty by a jury in April 2017 of first-degree controlled substance crime and second-degree controlled substance crime. He was convicted in absentia after leaving court before the second day of trial began.

About five months after being arrested on a warrant, he was sentenced in October 2017 by Judge Terrence Walters to concurrent prison sentences of 115 months and 108 months.

Strobel appealed his convictions in early 2018, arguing his constitutional right to a speedy trial was violated and that his sentence on the first-degree controlled-substance charge was based on an incorrect criminal history score. The appeals court ruled that there was no speedy-trial violation and upheld his convictions but did send his sentence back to the lower court.

In April 2020, Strobel was sentenced by Judge Christopher Neisen to 115 months in state prison on the first-degree controlled-substance charge.

Strobel appealed that sentence, arguing that the district court erred by allowing prosecutors to submit a transcript of a plea hearing for his 2012 conviction. That conviction and its resulting effects to Strobel's criminal history score was what led to the appeals court's reversal and remand.

The Drug Sentencing Reform Act affected the calculation of Strobel's criminal history score. Past offenses are used to determine the score and the court ruled in 2018 that the state failed to prove Strobel's fifth-degree controlled substance possession offense from 2012 should be classified as a felony.

The appeals court remanded the case "with instructions permitting the state to develop the record regarding the type and amount of controlled substance underlying Strobel's 2012 conviction," Monday's ruling read.

In January 2020, the district court conducted a new sentencing hearing and prosecutors provided a copy of the criminal complaint for that conviction. The judge did not accept that argument and directed prosecutors to file a request for the transcript for the plea hearing.

The appeals court did not find that the district court erred in that respect, nor did it engage in any impermissible fact-finding when it reviewed the complaint and plea-hearing transcription to determine if the state had met its burden to prove that the 2012 offense was a felony under the current statutory definition.