This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2000).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
State of Minnesota,
Donald Lee Yeager,
Filed May 14, 2002
Washington County District Court
File No. K7002716
Mike Hatch, Attorney General, Suite 500, 525 Park Ave., St. Paul, MN 55103; and
Doug Johnson, Washington County Attorney, Michael C. Hutchinson, Assistant County Attorney, 14949 – 62nd Street North, Stillwater, MN 55082 (for respondent)
John M. Stuart, State Public Defender, Charles F. Clippert, Assistant Public Defender, Suite 600, 2829 University Ave. SE, Minneapolis, MN 55414 (for appellant)
Considered and decided by Randall, Presiding Judge, Lansing, Judge, and Klaphake, Judge.
U N P U B L I S H E D O P I N I O N
Donald Yeager pleaded guilty to felony theft of a ladder, toolbox, and siding supplies from a construction site. At the sentencing hearing two months later, he moved to withdraw his plea. The district court rejected his motion and Yeager appeals, contending that the plea was not knowingly and understandingly entered and that it was inaccurate in that the state failed to provide a factual basis for the aggregate amount of the theft. Because the district court did not abuse its discretion or make findings unsupported by the record, we affirm.
F A C T S
In plea negotiations concluded on the day of trial, Donald Yeager agreed to plead guilty to one count of theft of property valued at more than $500 and less than $2,500. In return for the plea, the state agreed to a 150-day sentencing cap, a discharge of Yeager’s probationary sentence on a previous offense, and a recommendation that Yeager be permitted to participate in a work-release program.
The police reports submitted as a factual basis for the plea state that Yeager was observed by the homeowner leaving the construction site with the homeowner’s ladder strapped to the hood of his van. A state trooper, responding to the homeowner’s 911 call, apprehended Yeager and brought him back to the construction site. The homeowner confronted Yeager about a missing toolbox. Yeager initially denied taking the toolbox, but ultimately admitted that it was in his van. When Yeager opened the van to retrieve the toolbox, the homeowner saw several boxes of siding supplies, including soffits, that were similar to the homeowner’s siding supplies being used in the house construction.
After the homeowner confirmed that siding supplies were also missing, he contacted the Washington County Sheriff’s Office and an investigator went to Yeager’s home. The investigator retrieved an empty soffit box from Yeager’s van. Yeager claimed that the box had been in his garage for several months, and when cleaning out his garage, he placed the box in his van. But the investigator learned from the manufacturer’s operations manager that the serial number on the box identified the soffits as having been manufactured only one month before the investigator saw the box in Yeager’s van. The total value of the missing and recovered items was approximately $2,000.
When Yeager pleaded guilty, he admitted taking the ladder and the tools. He acknowledged that the homeowner claimed that he also took siding supplies, including soffits. The total value of all items, with the siding supplies included, exceeded $500, the threshold amount for a felony offense. Yeager acknowledged as part of his plea that he would likely be convicted of felony theft because a jury would reasonably believe the homeowner’s testimony on the value and identity of the items taken.
Yeager submitted a signed plea petition and responded to questions from his attorney, the prosecutor, and the court. He stated under oath that he understood the plea petition, the rights he was giving up by pleading guilty, and the proceedings at the plea hearing. He explained to the court that he was taking pain medication for three herniated disks resulting from a car accident the previous September. He said that he experienced occasional dizziness but neither the drugs nor the dizziness affected his ability to understand the plea procedures or impaired his capacity to make decisions. After specific questioning relating to the items reported as stolen, the district court accepted Yeager’s plea and continued the case for presentence investigation and sentencing.
At the sentencing hearing, Yeager moved to withdraw his plea, stating that he had taken morphine the morning of the plea to alleviate the pain from his back injury. The district court rejected Yeager’s claim that his plea was affected by the pain medication and imposed sentence. Yeager appeals the denial of his motion to withdraw his plea and also challenges the factual basis to establish that the value of the stolen items exceeded $500.
D E C I S I O N
It is well-established that a person who has “entered a plea of guilty to a criminal complaint does not have the absolute right to withdraw it.” State v. Knight, 292 Minn. 419, 423, 192 N.W.2d 829, 832 (1971). 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. Minn. R. Crim. P. 15.05, subd. 2. The “fair and just” standard does not permit withdrawal “for any reason or without good reason” because accepting guilty pleas would then “simply be a means of continuing the trial to some indefinite date” when the defendant chose to withdraw the plea. Kim v. State, 434 N.W.2d 263, 266 (Minn. 1989) (quotation omitted). The defendant bears the burden of proving that the reason for withdrawing the plea is fair and just. Id. at 267. We review the district court’s decision on plea withdrawal under an abuse-of-discretion standard. Perkins v. State, 559 N.W.2d 678, 685 (Minn. 1997).
A valid plea must be accurate, voluntary, and intelligent. Perkins, 559 N.W.2d at 688. A plea is intelligent if the defendant knows and understands the charges, the rights waived by pleading guilty, and the consequences of the plea. Brown v. State, 449 N.W.2d 180, 182 (Minn. 1989). Yeager did not specifically assert that he failed to understand the charges, the rights waived, or the consequences. He stated only that he had taken painkillers containing morphine at the time he entered the plea.
The district court found that Yeager’s plea was entered knowingly and understandingly and the record supports the finding. The existence of a medical condition, by itself, does not invalidate a plea; the defendant must indicate how the condition caused an inability to understand the consequences of his actions. Perkins, 559 N.W.2d at 690-91. Yeager failed to indicate the amount of pain medication he had taken, the morphine dosage the medication contained, or how it affected his comprehension.
At the plea hearing, Yeager submitted a signed plea petition that he had previously reviewed with his attorney. The prosecutor, the court, and Yeager’s attorney questioned him on the record about specific elements of the offense, and he provided coherent and responsive answers. The district court found that his answers demonstrated comprehension and lucidity and that his participation in the plea inquiry did not suggest any drug-influenced behavior or responses. Yeager told the court that he had taken pain medication that morning. When asked about whether his pain medication was inhibiting his ability to understand the proceedings, he responded, “I feel I understand.” When asked specifically whether the pain medication was impairing his decision-making, he said, “I don’t think so.” When asked the same question about whether the occasional dizziness caused by his accident impaired his ability to go ahead on the day of the plea, Yeager responded, “I don’t think so.”
Yeager has not demonstrated that the pain medication affected his capacity to comprehend any part of the proceedings. The district court did not abuse its discretion in denying his motion to withdraw his plea.
Before accepting a guilty plea, the district court has an initial responsibility to ensure that the plea is accurate. State v. Trott, 338 N.W.2d 248, 251 (Minn. 1983). For a guilty plea to be accurate, it must be supported by a proper factual basis. State v. Ecker, 524 N.W.2d 712, 716 (Minn. 1994). Although an adequate factual basis is preferably established through the defendant’s own testimony, this is not the exclusive method of satisfying the factual-basis requirement. Kochevar v. State, 281 N.W.2d 680, 686 (Minn. 1979). A sworn complaint, information contained in the formal charge, the contents of the presentence-investigation report, or the transcript of the arraignment, plea, or sentencing may also be considered as part of the factual basis. See State v. Hoaglund, 240 N.W.2d 4, 6 (Minn. 1976) (considering these sources to determine whether plea had adequate factual basis).
Yeager contends that the state failed to enter evidence at the plea hearing that the value of the stolen items aggregated to more than $500. Yeager did not raise this objection in his motion to withdraw his guilty plea, but whether or not he preserved this argument for appeal, the argument fails. Yeager does not dispute that he stole the ladder and the toolbox. The combined value of these items does not exceed $500. But the siding supplies together with the ladder and the toolbox total nearly $2,000.
Yeager unequivocally stated at the plea hearing that he accepted the plea agreement because he recognized that it was more than likely that a jury would believe that he stole not only the ladder and the toolbox but also the siding supplies. Thus, his plea was accepted as an Alford or Goulette plea. See North Carolina v. Alford, 400 U.S. 25, 37-38, 91 S. Ct. 160, 167-68 (1970) (allowing court to accept a defendant’s plea of guilty despite claim of innocence when evidence would support a jury verdict of guilty); State v. Goulette, 258 N.W.2d 758, 760 (Minn. 1977) (same).
The factual basis necessary for an Alford plea is that the record demonstrates that the defendant “believe[s] the state’s evidence was sufficient to convict him” or the record demonstrates that in all likelihood the defendant committed the crime. Ecker, 524 N.W.2d at 717. A defendant who enters an Alford plea may not minimize his guilt or bind the court to his version of the facts by attempting to limit the scope of his culpability. State v. Winchell, 363 N.W.2d 747, 749 (Minn. 1985).
Furthermore, the district court file provides ample support that Yeager stole items from the construction site that had a value of more than $500. The original complaint set forth an itemized list of values for the stolen items that amounted to nearly $2,000. The manufacturing date for the soffit box found in Yeager’s van supports the homeowner’s allegation that Yeager stole not only the ladder and the toolbox but also the siding supplies. Yeager’s plea does not lack factual support.