This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2000).
IN COURT OF APPEALS
Jeffrey William Webber,
Steele County District Court
File No. K298310
Mike Hatch, Attorney General, 525 Park Street, Suite 500, St. Paul, MN 55103; and
Douglas L. Ruth, Steele County Attorney, 303 South Cedar, Owatonna, MN 55060; and
Gary Remine, Special Assistant County Attorney, 22 Sixth Street East, Mantorville, MN 55955-0295 (for respondent)
John D. Ellenbecker, 803 West St. Germain Street, P.O. Box 1127, St. Cloud, MN 56302-1127 (for appellant)
Considered and decided by Harten, Presiding Judge, Crippen, Judge, and Hanson, Judge.
Appellant Jeffrey Webber disputes the trial court’s denial of his motion to withdraw his guilty plea, contending that the court, only hours before the plea, had erroneously denied his motion to suppress medical records and that he was given too little time to reflect on his rights before entering a plea. Because appellant knowingly waived his right to challenge the trial court’s denial of his motion to suppress evidence, we affirm.
In August 1997, appellant forced his live-in girlfriend, A.K., to have sexual intercourse with him. The next day, appellant admitted himself to the mental-health unit of the Owatonna Hospital, and two months later, A.K. informed the police that appellant had sexually assaulted her. A.K. obtained copies of appellant’s medical records from the Owatonna Hospital, including his mental-health forms, and turned them over to the state. In April 1998, the state charged appellant with criminal-sexual conduct in the first degree in violation of Minn. Stat. § 609.342, subd. 1(c) (1998).
At a pretrial hearing, appellant moved to suppress the medical records, contending that he did not recall signing a form authorizing that they be disclosed. On the morning of trial, in June 1999, the trial court informed appellant that it had denied his suppression motion. After further negotiations of the parties, appellant entered into an agreement with the state and pleaded guilty to a lesser offense of fourth-degree criminal-sexual conduct in violation of Minn. Stat. § 609.345, subd. 1(c) (1998). At sentencing, appellant moved to withdraw his guilty plea. The court denied his motion and imposed a stayed 21-month sentence, placing appellant on probation for 10 years.
The ultimate decision whether to allow the withdrawal of a guilty plea “is left to the sound discretion of the trial court,” and the reviewing court will reverse the court’s denial only “in the rare case” it concludes the trial court abused its discretion. Kim v. State, 434 N.W.2d 263, 266 (Minn. 1989).
A defendant does not have an absolute right to withdraw a guilty plea. Shorter v. State, 511 N.W.2d 743, 746 (Minn. 1994). But if a defendant demonstrates that “withdrawal is necessary to correct a manifest injustice,” the trial court shall permit withdrawal before or after sentencing. Minn. R. Crim. P. 15.05, subd. 1. Even if a manifest injustice does not exist, a court may permit a defendant to withdraw a plea before sentencing “if it is fair and just to do so,” taking into consideration whether granting the motion would prejudice the prosecution. Id., subd. 2.
Appellant argues that “it was not fair or just to hold him to a guilty plea” where he was “caught * * * off guard with the evidentiary ruling on the admissibility of the medical records.” Emphasizing his concern that his guilty plea was not voluntary, appellant asserts that pressure was placed upon him that caused him to enter into the plea agreement.
Fairness would require that appellant be permitted to withdraw an involuntary plea. In fact, when a guilty plea is not “accurate, voluntary, and intelligent,” a “manifest injustice occurs.” Alanis v. State, 583 N.W.2d 573, 577 (Minn. 1998) (citation omitted). The voluntary requirement “insures that the guilty plea is not in response to improper pressures or inducements.” Id. (citation omitted).
Appellant has presented no evidence that his plea was not voluntary. At the time he entered his plea, appellant acknowledged that he understood the plea agreement, was making his decision with a “clear head,” and was not under the influence of any medication, drugs, or alcohol. Asked by his attorney whether he understood that he would be giving up his right to challenge the evidentiary ruling, appellant answered that he did understand. Defense counsel verified on the record that he and appellant had discussed the issue. Counsel also told the court that he tried to “negotiate a resolution” with the state that would have allowed appellant to preserve the suppression issue for appeal but was unable to do so.
The court also considered the prejudicial effect on the state of allowing for withdrawal of the plea where the prosecutor reported having released all state witnesses from subpoena and being uncertain whether it would be able to locate at least one of the witnesses. In this respect, we are also mindful that Kim allows for consideration of the victim’s interest in closing the case. 434 N.W.2d at 267.
Appellant further states that upon reflection, he believes the trial court erred in denying his suppression motion and that he made a bad decision in pleading out his case rather than challenging the ruling. Regardless of the merits of his assertion for suppression of his medical records, appellant cannot succeed if he waived his right to challenge the trial court’s decision. When confronted with the evidentiary ruling, appellant had the option of (a) entering into a plea agreement with the state; (b) stipulating to facts and waiving a jury trial to expedite appellate review of the trial court’s denial of his suppression motion; or (c) entering a not guilty plea and going to trial. See State v. Lothenbach, 296 N.W.2d 854, 857-58 (Minn. 1980) (providing that defendant may enter into a stipulation of facts, but, having admitted in open court that he/she is guilty of the offense, may not “thereafter raise independent claims relating to the deprivation of constitutional rights that occurred prior to the entry of the guilty plea” (quotation omitted)). By not proceeding to trial or entering into a Lothenbachstipulation, appellant waived his right to challenge the denial of his suppression motion.
This is not one of those rare cases where the trial court clearly abused its discretion in denying appellant’s motion for withdrawal. The court sought assurances that appellant was fully advised by counsel of the implications of his plea, and appellant made a specific election to enter into an unconditional plea of guilty.