This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (1998).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
State of Minnesota,
Laurence Rene Riendeau,
St. Louis County District Court
File No. K497300917
Mike Hatch, Attorney General, Margaret H. Chutich, Assistant Attorney General, 525 Park Street, Suite 500, St. Paul, MN 55103; and
Alan L. Mitchell, St. Louis County Attorney, 100 North Fifth Avenue West, #501, Duluth, MN 55802; and
Brian Simonson, Assistant County Attorney, 1810 12th Avenue East, Hibbing, MN 55746 (for respondent)
John S. Lind, 920 Alworth Building, 306 West Superior Street, Duluth, MN 55802 (for appellant)
Considered and decided by Willis, Presiding Judge, Kalitowski, Judge, and Halbrooks, Judge.
U N P U B L I S H E D O P I N I O N
Appellant Laurence Rene Riendeau challenges the district court’s denial of his postsentencing motion to withdraw his guilty plea to receipt of stolen property in excess of $2,500 under Minn. Stat. §§ 609.53, subd. 1 (1996), and 609.52, subd. 3(2) (1996). We affirm.
D E C I S I O N
The decision to grant or deny a motion to withdraw a guilty plea is generally left to the trial court. Shorter v. State, 511 N.W.2d 743, 746 (Minn. 1994); see also State v. Ecker, 524 N.W.2d 712, 716 (Minn. 1994) (applying abuse of discretion standard). The scope of the appellate court’s review is limited to the question of whether there is sufficient evidence to sustain the court’s findings. Ecker, 524 N.W.2d at 716 (citations omitted). When a court fails to make findings but “‘the record is clear and yields an obvious answer to the relevant questions raised on appeal,’” the appellate court may independently review the record to determine whether sufficient evidence exists to support the decision. Scruggs v. State, 484 N.W.2d 21, 24-25 (Minn. 1992) (quoting Davis v. State, 775 P.2d 1243, 1247 (Idaho Ct. App. 1989)).
A defendant may withdraw a guilty plea after sentencing “upon a timely motion and proof to the satisfaction of the court that withdrawal is necessary to correct a manifest injustice.” Minn. R. Crim. P. 15.05, subd. 1. The defendant bears the burden of proving by a preponderance of the evidence that the facts warrant withdrawal of the plea. Lundin v. State, 430 N.W.2d 675, 679 (Minn. App. 1988), review denied (Minn. Dec. 21, 1988). If a defendant can establish that withdrawal is necessary to correct a manifest injustice, the defendant has the absolute right to withdraw a guilty plea. State v. Kaiser, 469 N.W.2d 316, 319 (Minn. 1991). Manifest injustice occurs if a guilty plea is not accurate, voluntary, and intelligent. Perkins v. State, 559 N.W.2d 678, 688 (Minn. 1997).
The district court is responsible for ensuring that defense counsel and the state establish an adequate factual basis for the plea in the record. Ecker, 524 N.W.2d at 716 (Minn. 1994). The factual-basis requirement is satisfied if the record contains a showing that there is credible evidence available that would support a jury verdict that defendant is guilty of a crime at least as great as that to which he pleaded guilty. State v. Genereux, 272 N.W.2d 33, 34 (Minn. 1978).
Riendeau claims that his plea lacks an adequate factual basis because he refused to concede at the hearing that the trailer had a value of $4,500. We disagree. Riendeau’s subjective belief about the trailer’s precise value was not an element of the crime to which he pleaded guilty. The elements of the crime of receipt of stolen property are: (1) the property was stolen; (2) defendant received, possessed, transferred, bought, or concealed the property; (3) the defendant knew or had reason to know the property was stolen; and (4) defendant’s act took place at a specified time and place. Minn. Stat. § 609.53, subd. 1 (1998); 10 Minnesota Practice, CRIMJIG 16.48 (1999). The statute provides that an individual who is guilty of receiving stolen property may be sentenced according to the provisions under section 609.52, subdivision 3. Minn. Stat. § 609.53, subd. 1. Thus, the value of the property is relevant to determine the severity of sentence, but not guilt.
The record here contains evidence to establish all of the elements of the crime. There is no dispute that the trailer was stolen from its owner and found in Riendeau’s possession at the time and place alleged in the complaint. Riendeau had reason to know that the trailer was stolen based on evidence that its value far exceeded the $275 that he allegedly paid for it. The trailer’s owner estimated its value at $4,500 in his statement to the police. A jury can properly accept the rightful owner’s testimony as to the value in a case involving receipt of stolen property. State v. Clipper, 429 N.W.2d 698, 700 (Minn. App. 1988). Even without direct evidence that a defendant knows property is stolen, a jury can infer such knowledge from evidence that its purchase price is far below the property’s actual value. State v. Simonsen, 298 Minn. 235, 236, 214 N.W.2d 679, 681 (1974). When Riendeau stated at the plea hearing that he did not believe the trailer was worth $4,500, the court engaged in additional inquiry to confirm that Riendeau had seen the documentation in the record concerning the trailer’s valuation. Although Riendeau continued to maintain that the owner had overestimated the trailer’s worth, he agreed that most people would think that the price he paid was low.
Riendeau argues that it is not enough that a defendant “should have known” property was stolen. In support, he cites State v. Melian, 297 Minn. 342, 345, 210 N.W.2d 855, 856 (1973). But at the time Melian was decided, Minn. Stat. § 609.53 only applied to a defendant with actual knowledge. The statute has been amended to include a defendant who “had reason to know” the property in question was stolen. Compare Minn. Stat. § 609.53, subd. 1 (Supp. 1973) with Minn. Stat. § 609.53, subd. 1 (1998). Finally, the record contains other circumstantial evidence to support an inference that Riendeau knew the trailer was stolen, including: (1) his general evasiveness and denial of any knowledge of the existence of the trailer when the owner confronted him; and (2) the inconsistent stories he gave to the investigating officer.
Riendeau’s argument that his plea lacks a factual basis because the trailer was registered in his name is without merit. Evidence that he registered the stolen property in his own name neither exonerates him nor invalidates the guilty plea. To the contrary, it strengthens the factual basis of his plea because “concealing” property includes “conduct which converts the property to use of the defendant or renders more difficult its discovery by the owner.” Simonsen, 298 Minn. at 236-37, 214 N.W.2d at 681.
Riendeau also claims that the plea lacks an adequate factual basis because he has claimed innocence. This argument is without merit. Riendeau has offered no additional evidence to support his claim of innocence, which is belied by his contrary testimony at the plea hearing that he was not maintaining such a claim. The district court has no obligation to believe a subsequent claim of innocence if a plea was knowing, voluntary, and accurate at the time it was made. State v. Struzan, 298 Minn. 547, 548, 214 N.W.2d 342, 343 (1974).
A guilty plea is not valid unless it is voluntary, which ensures that the defendant is not pleading guilty because of improper pressures. Ecker, 524 N.W.2d at 718. Riendeau contends the district court erred by refusing to permit withdrawal of his plea based on his claims that it was involuntarily made due to his defense counsel’s coercion and intimidation. We disagree.
According to Riendeau, his attorney (1) told him that he would go to jail if he did not enter the agreement; (2) threatened to charge him additional fees if the case went to trial; and (3) dictated to him how he should answer the court’s questions at the plea hearing. The district court determined that the record provided no support for Riendeau’s claims of coercion and Riendeau does not point to any additional supporting evidence on appeal. His defense counsel submitted an affidavit denying that he had subjected Riendeau to any intimidation. As the court concluded, the attorney’s statement that a jury trial may result in jail time was a reasonable assessment given the potential maximum sentence under the sentencing guidelines. Similarly, his counsel’s alleged “threat” to charge an additional $6,000 was a realistic assessment of the additional legal fees, fines, and costs that would accrue if the matter went to trial.
Riendeau’s testimony at the plea hearing also does not support his claim of coercion. When asked at the hearing whether he had been threatened or promised anything, Riendeau responded no. When asked whether he was satisfied that his attorney had represented his interests, he said yes. When he did not understand a question at the hearing, he requested and received clarification, which belies his claim that he was told not to ask questions of the court. The district court did not abuse its discretion in determining that Riendeau entered his plea voluntarily.
We conclude that Riendeau has failed to meet his burden of showing by a preponderance of the evidence that the withdrawal of his plea is necessary to avoid manifest injustice.