The Minnesota Court of Appeals this week said the Sherburne County District Court erred last year in sentencing a Zimmerman man to probation instead of prison time.
In a ruling released Monday, the Appeals Court ordered Sherburne County to resentence Eric D. Haskins, 41, for his conviction in a 2021 incident where he repeatedly threatened to shoot a woman with weapons he illegally owned.
According to court documents, the woman called 911 on May 7, 2021, and said Haskins threatened to kill her and didn't let her leave his Livonia Township house for several hours. When Haskins did leave the house to buy cigarettes that day, he took the woman's phone but she was able to leave and call authorities. Deputies found the woman with bruises and cuts on her face.
Haskins pleaded guilty to two felony counts in August 2022: one count of second-degree assault with a dangerous weapon and one count of illegal firearm possession. As part of his conviction, three charges were dismissed: one felony count of kidnapping, one felony count of violent threats and one gross misdemeanor count of interfering with a 911 call.
At the October 2022 sentencing, Haskins' attorney Christina Zauhar requested a dispositional departure, so Haskins would be sentenced without mandatory minimum sentences and presumptive prison time. Zauhar said Haskins should be eligible for probation because he put in "a lot of hard work" to put the matter behind him and was a low risk to reoffend because he had support from his family and community.
Leah Emmans, assistant Sherburne County attorney, argued that the second-degree assault and illegal firearm possession called for 36-month and 60-month prison sentences, respectively.
"The court is obligated to follow the law," Emmans told the judge, as recorded in a transcript from the hearing. "The court must consider the presumptive sentence and use [that] unless there are substantial and compelling circumstances that warrant a departure."
Emmans also noted Haskins could have been charged with felonies for every illegal firearm in his possession — more than a dozen.
"I can't believe I'm saying this — put aside the crime where the defendant pointed a gun and threatened to kill [a woman]," Emmans said. "I have never seen the amount of weapons in someone's possession that the defendant had, who is ineligible to possess. This defendant had handguns, had long guns, had automatic weapons, had weapons that would make a law enforcement agency blush."
Judge Brianne Buccicone sentenced Haskins to 36 months for assault and 60 months for illegal possession but stayed the sentences, so Haskins will not face prison time unless he violates the terms of his probation. The judge also sentenced him to 180 days in jail and ordered him to pay a $585 fine.
The state appealed the sentence, arguing the departure from sentencing guidelines was an abuse of discretion. The Appeals Court agreed, stating the record does not support the District Court's assertion that Haskins is particularly amenable to probation.
At the sentencing, Zauhar argued Haskins was ineligible to possess firearms because of juvenile offenses from more than two decades ago, and since then, he had "no other serious offenses on his record" and has cooperated with the court system.
But during that time, Haskins was convicted of drunk driving twice and resisting a police officer, according to court documents. More so, during this time "Haskins began flouting the prohibition that made it unlawful for him to possess a single firearm, amassing the arsenal that police found in his home," the Appeals Court decision says.
"We conclude that, on the record as a whole, the circumstances do not support the district court's conclusion that Haskins is particularly amendable to probation," the decision states.
A resentencing date has not yet been set.