901 N.W.2d 166 (Minn. 2017), A15-0005, State v. Hensel

Docket NºA15-0005
Citation901 N.W.2d 166
Opinion JudgeSTRAS, Justice.
Party NameState of Minnesota, Respondent, v. Robin Lyne Hensel, Appellant
AttorneyLori Swanson, Attorney General, Saint Paul, Minnesota; and Paul D. Reuvers, Nathan C. Midolo, Iverson Reuvers Condon, Bloomington, Minnesota, for respondent. Kevin C. Riach, David D. Coyle, Fredrikson & Byron, P.A., Minneapolis, Minnesota, for appellant. Teresa Nelson, American Civil Liberties Un...
Judge PanelStras, J. Dissenting, Anderson, J., Gildea, C.J. Took no part, Lillehaug, J. LILLEHAUG, J., took no part ANDERSON, Justice (dissenting). GILDEA, Chief Justice (dissenting). I join in the dissent of Justice Anderson.
Case DateSeptember 13, 2017
CourtSupreme Court of Minnesota

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901 N.W.2d 166 (Minn. 2017)

State of Minnesota, Respondent,

v.

Robin Lyne Hensel, Appellant

A15-0005

Supreme Court of Minnesota

September 13, 2017

Page 167

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 168

Court of Appeals.

State v. Hensel, 874 N.W.2d 245, (Minn.Ct.App., Jan. 25, 2016)

SYLLABUS

1. Minnesota Statutes § 609.72, subd. 1(2) (2016), is facially unconstitutional under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution because it is substantially overbroad.

2. Because there is no reasonable narrowing construction of Minn. Stat. § 609.72, subd. 1(2), the remedy for the First Amendment violation is to invalidate the statute.

Lori Swanson, Attorney General, Saint Paul, Minnesota; and Paul D. Reuvers, Nathan C. Midolo, Iverson Reuvers Condon, Bloomington, Minnesota, for respondent.

Kevin C. Riach, David D. Coyle, Fredrikson & Byron, P.A., Minneapolis, Minnesota, for appellant.

Teresa Nelson, American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota, Saint Paul, Minnesota; and Scott M. Flaherty, Briggs and Morgan, P.A., Minneapolis, Minnesota, for amicus curiae American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota.

Cort C. Holten, Jeffrey D. Bores, Gary K. Luloff, Chestnut Cambronne PA, Minneapolis, Minnesota, for amicus curiae Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association Legal Defense Fund.

Susan L. Naughton, League of Minnesota Cities, Saint Paul, Minnesota, for amici curiae League of Minnesota Cities, Association of Minnesota Counties, and Minnesota Association of Townships.

Stras, J. Dissenting, Anderson, J., Gildea, C.J. Took no part, Lillehaug, J.

OPINION

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STRAS, Justice.

This case requires us to determine whether the part of Minnesota's disorderly-conduct statute that prohibits " disturb[ing]" assemblies or meetings, Minn. Stat. § 609.72, subd. 1(2) (2016), is unconstitutional under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. Both the district court and the court of appeals concluded that the statute is constitutional. Because Minn. Stat. § 609.72, subd. 1(2), violates the First Amendment and there is no reasonable narrowing construction of the statute, we reverse.

FACTS

The facts of this case, which arose out of two Little Falls City Council meetings, are undisputed. At the first of the two meetings, appellant Robin Lyne Hensel sat in the public gallery, which was about 15 to 20 feet from a raised dais located at the front of the room and reserved for city-council members. Tables and chairs were positioned in the area between the gallery and the dais.

During the meeting, Hensel, who was sitting in the front row of the gallery, displayed signs that depicted dead and deformed children. These signs, which were approximately 4-feet long and 4-feet high, along with a sign on her head, obstructed the view of those seated behind her, causing the City Council president to grant permission to affected members of the gallery to come forward and sit in the chairs available at the front of the room. Hensel's actions eventually led the City Council to adjourn and reschedule the meeting.

Four days later, the City Council reconvened in the same room, but this time there were no tables or chairs in the area between the gallery and the dais. Rather than sitting in the gallery, as she had at the previous meeting, Hensel took one of the folding chairs from the gallery and placed it in the space previously occupied by the tables and chairs. Hensel refused multiple requests to return to the gallery and challenged the City Council by demanding to see a policy that prohibited her from sitting there. Eventually, the Little Falls City Attorney warned Hensel that a police officer would remove her from the meeting room and issue her a ticket for disorderly conduct if she did not return to the gallery. When Hensel again refused a request to move, an officer escorted her from the room.

Based on these events, the State charged Hensel with disorderly conduct under Minn. Stat. § 609.72, subd. 1(2). Before trial, Hensel moved to dismiss the charge, arguing, among other grounds, that the statute violated the First Amendment because it was unconstitutionally overbroad, unconstitutionally vague, and unconstitutional as applied to her case. The district court, in denying Hensel's motion, rejected her vagueness challenge, reasoning that the statutory language was clear and understandable. Hensel's overbreadth challenge, by contrast, presented a closer call. Even though the court concluded that Minn. Stat. § 609.72, subd. 1(2), was overbroad, it upheld the statute by narrowly construing it to require proof that " the disturbance in this case was caused by defendant's conduct itself and not the content of the activity's expression." Because Hensel's conduct fell within

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the contours of the revised statute, the court held that probable cause for the charges existed and that the as-applied challenge to the statute failed.

At trial, Hensel indirectly renewed her challenge to the constitutionality of the disturbance-of-an-assembly-or-meeting statute, Minn. Stat. § 609.72, subd. 1(2), by requesting a jury instruction requiring the jury to find that her conduct, if expressive, constituted " fighting words." Hensel also sought another jury instruction requiring the jury to find that her disturbing conduct was completely separate from any protected expression. The district court denied both requests and convicted her of disorderly conduct after the jury returned a guilty verdict.

The court of appeals affirmed Hensel's conviction, but disagreed with the district court's analysis of Hensel's overbreadth challenge. Specifically, the court of appeals held that the disturbance-of-an-assembly-or-meeting statute was a time, place, or manner restriction that was not subject to standard overbreadth analysis. State v. Hensel, 874 N.W.2d 245, 253 (Minn. App. 2016). Applying the relaxed test for time, place, or manner restrictions, the court concluded that the statute was constitutional and did not require a narrowing construction. Id. at 254-55. We granted Hensel's petition for review to evaluate the constitutionality of Minn. Stat. § 609.72, subd. 1(2).

ANALYSIS

The question presented in this case is whether the disturbance-of-an-assembly-or-meeting statute, Minn. Stat. § 609.72, subd. 1(2), violates the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. Each of Hensel's challenges--substantial overbreadth, void for vagueness, and instructional error--turns on the constitutionality of the statute. To evaluate Hensel's challenges, therefore, we apply a de novo standard of review. See Rew v. Bergstrom, 845 N.W.2d 764, 776 (Minn. 2014).

I.

The most sweeping of the three challenges is Hensel's argument that the disturbance-of-a-meeting-or-assembly statute is unconstitutionally overbroad. An overbreadth challenge is a facial attack on a statute in which the challenger must establish that " a substantial number of [a statute's] applications are unconstitutional, judged in relation to the statute's plainly legitimate sweep." United States v. Stevens, 559 U.S. 460, 473, 130 S.Ct. 1577, 176 L.Ed.2d 435 (2010) (quoting Wash. State Grange v. Wash. State Republican Party, 552 U.S. 442, 449 n.6, 128 S.Ct. 1184, 170 L.Ed.2d 151 (2008)). The rationale for allowing an overbreadth challenge, even when a statute is constitutional as applied in a particular circumstance, is that enforcement of an overbroad law chills protected speech, which " inhibit[s] the free exchange of ideas." United States v. Williams, 553 U.S. 285, 292, 128 S.Ct. 1830, 170 L.Ed.2d 650 (2008).

Hensel's claim is that the disturbance-of-a-meeting-or-assembly statute is overly broad and chills a " substantial" amount of protected speech and expression. Hensel notes that the statute could apply in countless circumstances, including outside the government-meeting context, such as a private conversation around one's dinner table or a gathering of two or more people on the street. Hensel also emphasizes that the statute could reach activities like uttering unpopular " political or personal views," " [s]torming out of a meeting," " [r]aising one's voice" to express displeasure, or even " brandishing signs or other symbols that some find offensive." Given the myriad ways in which the State could enforce the statute against protected speech and expressive

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conduct, Hensel argues, the statute is substantially overbroad.

A.

To evaluate Hensel's overbreadth claim, the first step is to interpret the statute itself to determine whether it includes protected speech or expressive conduct within its coverage. See Williams, 553 U.S. at 293. After all, " it is impossible to determine whether a statute reaches too far without first knowing what the statute covers." Id. The disturbance-of-a-meeting-or-assembly statute, Minn. Stat. § 609.72, subd. 1(2), provides as follows: Whoever does any of the following in a public or private place, including on a school bus, knowing, or having reasonable grounds to know that it will, or will tend to, alarm, anger or disturb others or provoke an assault or breach of the peace, is guilty of disorderly conduct, which is a misdemeanor: . . .

. . .

(2) disturbs an assembly or meeting, not unlawful in its character . . . .

The statute is broad and unambiguous, prohibiting any conduct or speech that " disturbs an assembly or meeting," whether expressive or not. Id. An individual could violate the statute by, for example, wearing an offensive t-shirt, using harsh words in addressing another person, or even raising one's voice in a speech. To be sure, the statute also conceivably covers fighting words, obscene speech, and true threats--all categories of unprotected speech. See Stevens, 559 U.S. at 468,...

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16 practice notes
  • 946 N.W.2d 596 (Minn. 2020), A19-0323, State v. Jorgenson
    • United States
    • Minnesota Supreme Court of Minnesota
    • July 22, 2020
    ...unpunished. Broadrick, 413 U.S. at 612, 93 S.Ct. 2908. We review a constitutional challenge de novo. See State v. Hensel, 901 N.W.2d 166, 170 (Minn. 2017). We presume that a statute is constitutional and strike it down only if absolutely necessary. State v. Behl, 56......
  • State v. Stewart, 011121 MNCA, A20-0488
    • United States
    • Minnesota Court of Appeals of Minnesota
    • January 11, 2021
    ...Nov. 13, 1987). The constitutionality of a statute presents a question of law, which we review de novo. State v. Hensel, 901 N.W.2d 166, 170 (Minn. 2017). "We presume that Minnesota statutes are constitutional and will strike down a statute as unconstitutional ......
  • State v. Jorgenson, 100719 MNCA, A19-0323
    • United States
    • Minnesota Court of Appeals of Minnesota
    • October 7, 2019
    ...steps of an overbreadth challenge. See In re Welfare of A.J.B., 929 N.W.2d 840, 847-48 (Minn. 2019); see also State v. Hensel, 901 N.W.2d 166, 171-76 (Minn. 2017) (providing the same general framework). The first step is to interpret "the challenged statute; it is&#......
  • State v. Mrozinski, 020821 MNCA, A20-0231
    • United States
    • Minnesota Court of Appeals of Minnesota
    • February 8, 2021
    ...to the reckless-disregard prong of the statute. We review the constitutionality of a statute de novo. State v. Hensel, 901 N.W.2d 166, 170 (Minn. I. The threats-of-violence statute is not unconstitutionally overbroad. "Generally, Minnesota Statutes are presumed......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
16 cases
  • 946 N.W.2d 596 (Minn. 2020), A19-0323, State v. Jorgenson
    • United States
    • Minnesota Supreme Court of Minnesota
    • July 22, 2020
    ...unpunished. Broadrick, 413 U.S. at 612, 93 S.Ct. 2908. We review a constitutional challenge de novo. See State v. Hensel, 901 N.W.2d 166, 170 (Minn. 2017). We presume that a statute is constitutional and strike it down only if absolutely necessary. State v. Behl, 56......
  • State v. Stewart, 011121 MNCA, A20-0488
    • United States
    • Minnesota Court of Appeals of Minnesota
    • January 11, 2021
    ...Nov. 13, 1987). The constitutionality of a statute presents a question of law, which we review de novo. State v. Hensel, 901 N.W.2d 166, 170 (Minn. 2017). "We presume that Minnesota statutes are constitutional and will strike down a statute as unconstitutional ......
  • State v. Jorgenson, 100719 MNCA, A19-0323
    • United States
    • Minnesota Court of Appeals of Minnesota
    • October 7, 2019
    ...steps of an overbreadth challenge. See In re Welfare of A.J.B., 929 N.W.2d 840, 847-48 (Minn. 2019); see also State v. Hensel, 901 N.W.2d 166, 171-76 (Minn. 2017) (providing the same general framework). The first step is to interpret "the challenged statute; it is&#......
  • State v. Mrozinski, 020821 MNCA, A20-0231
    • United States
    • Minnesota Court of Appeals of Minnesota
    • February 8, 2021
    ...to the reckless-disregard prong of the statute. We review the constitutionality of a statute de novo. State v. Hensel, 901 N.W.2d 166, 170 (Minn. I. The threats-of-violence statute is not unconstitutionally overbroad. "Generally, Minnesota Statutes are presumed......
  • Request a trial to view additional results