This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2002).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
State of Minnesota,
Clayton James Hanks,
Filed May 6, 2003
St. Louis County District Court
File No. K201601286
Mike Hatch, Attorney General, James B. Early, Assistant Attorney General, 525 Park Street, Suite 500, St. Paul, MN 55103; and
Alan L. Mitchell, St. Louis County Attorney, St. Louis County Courthouse, 100 North Fifth Avenue West, Suite 501, Duluth, MN 55802 (for respondent)
John Stuart, State Public Defender, Ann McCaughan, Assistant Public Defender, 2829 University Avenue Southeast, Suite 600, Minneapolis, MN 55414-3230 (for appellant)
Considered and decided by Willis, Presiding Judge, Schumacher, Judge, and Anderson, Judge.
G. BARRY ANDERSON, Judge
Appellant challenges the district court’s denial of his motion to withdraw two guilty pleas, arguing that coercion, his lack of competence, and his misunderstanding of the plea agreement provide grounds to conclude that manifest injustice would occur without withdrawal or that it would be fair and just to permit withdrawal. We find that the district court did not abuse its discretion by concluding that no manifest injustice would result from denying appellant’s motion. Further, because the district court properly held that appellant has not shown that it would be fair and just to allow withdrawal of his pleas under these circumstances, we find no abuse of discretion. We affirm.
Appellant Clayton James Hanks was arrested and charged in St. Louis County for burglary of a school on November 25, 2001; burglary of a private dwelling and theft of a firearm on November 26, 2001; and receiving stolen property on November 27, 2001.
On April 12, 2002, appellant entered guilty pleas to one count each of first- and third-degree burglary in exchange for the dismissal of the other pending charges. The plea agreement provided that these two burglaries would be sentenced as a single behavioral incident and part of a crime spree and called for a sentence capped at 60 months. Appellant also agreed to testify against some of his accomplices in exchange for an agreement with respondent State of Minnesota that appellant would not be charged in an additional residential burglary.
Pursuant to the plea agreement, appellant completed and reviewed a plea petition with his attorney. The petition noted, inter alia, that: (1) appellant had been a patient in a mental hospital; (2) a psychiatrist or other person had treated appellant for a nervous or mental condition; (3) appellant’s attorney had advised him of the consequences of his plea, including giving up the right to a jury trial, the right to present witnesses and cross-examine the state’s witnesses, and that he was giving up his presumption of innocence; and (4) no one had made promises, other than the agreement contained in the petition, or threatened appellant in order to obtain his guilty plea.
At the plea hearing, appellant told the district court that he understood the plea agreement to mean that he was giving up his right to a jury trial, all the rights that accompany the right to a jury trial, and his presumption of innocence. Appellant also stated that no one had made any additional promises or threatened him in any way to obtain his guilty plea to the charges. Finally, appellant gave a detailed factual basis for the third-degree burglary he committed at a local school and for the first-degree burglary he committed at a private residence.
Approximately a month later, at appellant’s sentencing hearing, appellant sought to withdraw his guilty pleas. Appellant stated that he was in “extremely poor mental and physical health” at the time of his plea. He specifically mentioned that he has a thyroid condition and a lymphogranulomatosis disorder that may have caused the emotional problems that he had been experiencing in the last few months. He also testified that he suffered from psychosis and that the prison’s mental-health staff said that he was incapable of making a competent decision for the last three to four months. Appellant further stated that he had requested and was denied psychiatric assistance while incarcerated, that he was forced to talk to police while being chained to the floor by prison staff, and that police interrogated him immediately after releasing him from this punishment. In his pro se supplemental brief, appellant alleges that because he could not deal with his emotional and physical problems, he pleaded guilty in order to get out of jail and obtain a transfer. Because he didn’t understand that the plea agreement required him to testify or assist in the prosecution of the two accomplices, appellant argues, he should be allowed to withdraw his guilty pleas. Appellant stated at sentencing that he was taking Lithium for his physical condition and beginning to think more clearly. He also requested that the district court postpone the sentencing for two weeks until he was on medication for a longer time and was more emotionally and physically stable.
The district court rejected all of appellant’s arguments and refused to allow him to withdraw his guilty pleas. The court stated, “When I listen to you here * * * you’ve convinced me that you know very well exactly what you’re doing all the time.” Accordingly, the district court sentenced appellant to 60 months as set out in the plea agreement. This appeal followed.
We will reverse the district court’s decision on a motion to withdraw a guilty plea only if the district court abused its discretion. Barragan v. State, 583 N.W.2d 571, 572 (Minn. 1998).
The ultimate decision [to allow a defendant to withdraw a guilty plea] is left to the sound discretion of the trial court, and it will be reversed only in the rare case in which the appellate court can fairly conclude that the trial court abused its discretion.
Kim v. State, 434 N.W.2d 263, 266 (Minn. 1989); see also State v. Kaiser, 469 N.W.2d 316, 319-20 (Minn. 1991) (discussing Kim, 434 N.W.2d at 266-67).
Under Minn. R. Crim. P. 15.05, a defendant may withdraw a guilty plea if either of two standards is met. The defendant has the right to withdraw a plea at any time, before or after sentence, if the defendant can show “that withdrawal is necessary to correct a manifest injustice.” Minn. R. Crim. P. 15.05, subd. 1 (emphasis added). If a guilty plea is not “accurate, voluntary, and intelligent (i.e. knowingly and understandingly made),” manifest injustice occurs and the plea may be withdrawn. Perkins v. State, 559 N.W.2d 678, 688 (Minn. 1997). When credibility determinations are crucial in establishing whether a guilty plea was accurate, voluntary, and intelligent, we “give deference to the primary observations and trustworthiness assessments made by the district court.” State v. Aviles-Alvarez, 561 N.W.2d 523, 527 (Minn. App. 1997) (citations omitted), review denied (Minn. June 11, 1997).
The second ground upon which appellant may seek to withdraw his guilty pleas provides:
[i]n its discretion the court may also allow the defendant to withdraw a plea at any time before sentence if it is fair and just to do so, giving due consideration to the reasons advanced by the defendant in support of the motion and any prejudice the granting of the motion would cause the prosecution by reason of actions taken in reliance upon the defendant’s plea.
Minn. R. Crim. P. 15.05, subd. 2 (emphasis added). But while a district court may permit the withdrawal of a plea, defendants should not be permitted to freely withdraw a plea before sentencing because to allow such action in all cases “would undermine the integrity of the plea-taking process” and delay trial until some indefinite date in the future. Kim, 434 N.W.2d at 266. Because the “manifest-injustice” standard applies to withdrawal of pleas both before and after sentencing, it is more stringent than the discretionary “fair-and-just” provision under Minn. R. Crim. P. 15.05, subd. 2. State v. Williams, 373 N.W.2d 851, 853 (Minn. App. 1985).
Appellant cites three possible grounds for concluding that the district court abused its discretion when it failed to find “manifest injustice” or that it would be “fair and just” to permit him to withdraw his guilty plea. First, he contends that his plea was coerced after he endured days of being chained to the floor while undergoing questioning by police. Second, appellant argues that his physical and mental condition prevented him from making an accurate, voluntary, and intelligent plea. Finally, he claims that the plea was not voluntary and intelligent because he did not understand what the agreement required him to do relative to the ongoing cases of his accomplices.
Appellant argues that the district court failed to examine his plea for voluntariness to ensure that he did not plead guilty because of any improper or coercive pressure. If the district court found that appellant made the plea involuntarily, appellant must be allowed to withdraw it. See State v. Danh, 516 N.W.2d 539, 544 (Minn. 1994) (stating that “involuntariness of a guilty plea * * * constitute[s] such a manifest injustice as to entitle a defendant to withdraw his plea.”).
Whether or not appellant entered pleas because of coercion cannot be determined by the district court until the court first makes factual findings relating to the alleged coercion. Kaiser, 469 N.W.2d at 319. In Kaiser, the defendant was not permitted an evidentiary hearing to consider his claim that defense counsel improperly coerced him into pleading guilty. Id. at 318. After the district court denied the defendant’s motion to withdraw his plea, this court reversed, holding that he should be permitted to withdraw the plea. Id. at 319-19. The supreme court reversed this court, holding that the court of appeals should have remanded the case to the district court for an “evidentiary hearing (at which defendant could testify), for findings of fact, for a determination of whether the plea was coerced, and, if not coerced, for reconsideration of the motion to withdraw under the “fair and just” standard.” Id. at 319-20.
In the present controversy, the following exchange occurred between the district court judge and appellant at the time appellant entered his guilty pleas:
THE COURT: Mr. Hanks, other than the plea agreement * * *, has anybody offered you anything, promised you anything or threatened you in any way in order to obtain from you pleas of guilty this morning?
THE DEFENDANT: No, Your Honor.
Given this question and appellant’s adoption of similar language in the plea petition, appellant had ample opportunity to notify the court of any coercion. While it is possible that appellant was denying coercion in order to complete the plea, it is equally plausible that no coercion existed at all. Moreover, this court gives district court credibility determinations and assessments of trustworthiness due deference, including credibility determinations critical to whether a guilty plea was voluntary and intelligent. Aviles-Alvarez, 561 N.W.2d at 527.
We find the facts very different from those addressed in Kaiser. Unlike in Kaiser, the district court here allowed appellant to address the court on the date of sentencing and it heard all of appellant’s arguments regarding whether police coercion led him to take the plea offered. There is also nothing in the record to indicate that the district court prevented appellant from presenting additional evidence or from calling others to testify on his behalf. Appellant failed to provide supporting evidence of any of his allegations. Moreover, appellant did not request additional time to collect supporting affidavits, witnesses, or records that may have corroborated his claims that he was coerced into pleading guilty. Because we find that appellant failed to support any coercion claim and had a more-than-adequate opportunity to present evidence or seek additional time to gather evidence, the district court did not abuse its discretion by refusing to permit withdrawal of appellant’s guilty pleas on the ground of coercion.
Appellant next claims that his mental condition prevented him from making an accurate and voluntary plea. Specifically, appellant argues that the plea petition, which contained information that he had a history of mental illness, including recently taking medication to treat his condition, should have alerted the district court that his condition might prevent him from competently entering a plea. Because no one at the plea hearing asked about appellant’s mental-health history or recommended an evaluation under Minn. R. Crim. P. 20, appellant argues the district court erred by finding him competent.
The court asked appellant whether he had reviewed the plea petition fully with his attorney and found that appellant’s mental state at the time of the plea satisfied the appropriate standards for accepting a plea of guilty. The judge stated,
Mr. Hanks, I’m not a medical person * * *. But I do know what the standards are with respect to one, pleading guilty, and two, entering pleas and understanding what you’re doing when you do that, and what rights you’re giving up or waiving. And I got to tell you that, quite frankly, when I listen to you here in the courtroom, you’ve convinced me that you know very well exactly what you’re doing all the time.
We give determinations of credibility by the district court great deference. State v. Bias, 419 N.W.2d 480, 484 (Minn. 1988).
Under the “manifest-injustice” standard, the district court had adequate grounds to conclude that appellant’s plea was “accurate, voluntary, and intelligent (i.e., knowingly and understandingly made).” Perkins, 559 N.W.2d at 688 (quotation omitted).
Nor did the district court abuse its discretion under the “fair-and-just” analysis. Nothing in the PSI indicated whether appellant’s mental condition prevented him from knowingly and intelligently pleading to the charged crimes. Furthermore, nothing during the course of the plea indicated that appellant did not fully comprehend the importance and gravity of his actions. The district court found that appellant’s factual description of the two burglaries and his mental condition produced a valid plea, and the court’s denial of appellant’s motion to withdraw his plea on this ground was not an abuse of discretion.
Appellant also claims that he failed to appreciate the consequences of pleading guilty and the scope of his waiver and plea agreement. Appellant stated, “When I took the plea, I don’t think I was really thinking clearly” and that there was some confusion regarding whether the 60-month sentence the plea agreement called for was made contingent on his testimony regarding two accomplices. Appellant further stated that he had repeatedly asked for psychiatric help and prison staff had told him that he was not competent to make decisions during the time he pleaded to these charges. From this evidence, appellant claims that he could substantiate his allegations that his plea was not competently made if given the chance.
But appellant reviewed the plea petition with his attorney, signed it, and told the district court that it was his intention to accept the agreement as drafted. The petition stated that appellant would plead guilty to first- and third-degree burglary and that these crimes would be sentenced as a crime spree, “so they are the same behavioral incident.” He further agreed, “as a condition of this agreement to cooperate with Carlton County in the prosecution” of his accomplices, including testifying at trial. If appellant reviewed this portion of the plea petition with his attorney, as he admitted, he was aware of his obligation to testify in the trials of his accomplices. Furthermore, the petition fully explains that appellant would plead to two counts of burglary, the other counts would be dismissed, and that his sentence would be capped at 60 months. There is overwhelming evidence in the record that appellant understood the terms of his plea agreement, that he had sufficiently reviewed the petition with his attorney, and that he acknowledged prior psychiatric treatment but was competent and intended to accept the agreement. His bare assertion that he did not comprehend the agreement is neither credible nor sufficient to justify vacation of the plea here under any theory.
Because there is no evidence that the district court failed to adequately establish that appellant understood the terms of the plea agreement, it was not an abuse of discretion to deny appellant’s motion to withdraw his pleas under either the “manifest-injustice” or “fair-and-just” standards.
 Appellant stated in his pro se supplemental brief that he has filed a federal lawsuit regarding his treatment while incarcerated but there is nothing in the record, other than his mere assertion, to substantiate this claim. There is no evidence in the record to show that appellant was ever mistreated and appellant submitted no evidence at the sentencing hearing supporting his claimed mistreatment.
 Minn. R. Crim. P. 20.01, subd. 1, provides:
[a] defendant shall not be permitted to enter a plea or be tried or sentenced for any offense if the defendant:
(1) lacks sufficient ability to consult with a reasonable degree of rational understanding with defense counsel; or
(1) is mentally ill or mentally deficient so as to be incapable of understanding the proceedings or participating in the defense.