This opinion will be unpublished and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,
Eddie Nelson Vega-Echavarria,
Filed September 16, 2003
St. Louis County District Court
File No. K0-02-600082
Mike Hatch, Attorney General, Hilary Lindell Caligiuri, Deputy Attorney General, Jennifer S. Kenney, Assistant Attorney General, 445 Minnesota Street, Suite 1200, St. Paul, MN 55101; and
Alan L. Mitchell, St. Louis County Attorney, 100 North 5th Avenue West, #501, Duluth, MN 55802 (for respondent)
John M. Stuart, State Public Defender, Rochelle R. Winn, Assistant Public Defender, 2221 University Avenue SE, Suite 425, Minneapolis, MN 55414 (for appellant)
Considered and decided by Randall, Presiding Judge, Hudson, Judge, and Forsberg, Judge.
Appellant Eddie Vega-Echavarria challenges the district court’s denial of his motion to withdraw his plea of guilty to a controlled substance crime. Because the district court did not abuse its discretion, we affirm.
At about 4:00 a.m. on January 19, 2002, Duluth police officers, officers from the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, and officers from the Minnesota Gang Strike Force executed a search warrant at room 225 of the Motel 6. The application for the search warrant stated that within the past 24 hours a confidential informant had purchased cocaine at the room from a man named “Julio.” Upon entering the room, the officers found appellant Delfino Garcia and three females. The officers seized two cellophane bags containing approximately 52 grams of cocaine, which were concealed inside the housing of the room’s air conditioner. The officers also seized $696 in cash from Garcia’s pant’s pocket and $385 in cash from his wallet. Appellant told one of the officers that he was also known as “Julio.”
Appellant was arrested and charged with two counts of aiding and abetting a controlled substance crime in the first degree in violation of Minn. Stat. § 152.021, subds. 1(1), 2(1) (2000). Appellant agreed to plead guilty to an amended count of second-degree controlled substance crime in violation of Minn. Stat. § 152.022, subd. 2(1) (2000). The district court accepted his plea following a plea hearing under Minn. R. Crim. P. 15.01.
When appellant appeared for sentencing, however, he informed the court that he wanted to withdraw his guilty plea, asserting that defense counsel and the prosecutor had coerced him into pleading guilty. See Minn. R. Crim. P. 15.05. The court appointed substitute counsel for appellant and set the matter for a hearing.
At the hearing, appellant testified on his own behalf and appellant’s former defense counsel testified for the state. The district court determined that the evidence did not rise to the level of coercion and denied appellant’s motion to withdraw. The court sentenced appellant to 44 months in accordance with the terms of the parties’ earlier plea agreement. This appeal follows.
D E C I S I O N
Appellant argues that the district court abused its discretion by denying his motion to withdraw his guilty plea. This court will reverse a district court’s decision on a motion to withdraw a guilty plea only if the court abused its discretion. Barnes v. State, 489 N.W.2d 273, 275 (Minn. App. 1992), review denied (Minn. Nov. 3, 1992).
“There are three basic prerequisites to a valid guilty plea: the plea must be accurate, voluntary and intelligent (i.e., knowingly and understandingly made).” State v. Trott, 338 N.W.2d 248, 251 (Minn. 1983). The purpose of the accuracy requirement is to “protect a defendant from pleading guilty to a more serious offense than he could be convicted of [at trial].” Id. The voluntariness requirement acts to “insure that the defendant is not pleading guilty because of improper pressures” or inducements. Id. A plea must be intelligent to insure that the defendant knows and understands the charges, the rights he is waiving by pleading guilty, and the consequences of his plea. Id.
There is no absolute right to withdraw a guilty plea once a plea has been entered. Shorter v. State, 511 N.W.2d 743, 746 (Minn. 1994). While a district court may allow the withdrawal of a plea before sentencing if fair and just to do so, a defendant should not be allowed to withdraw a plea in all cases, because to allow such action would “undermine the integrity of the plea-taking process,” and may result in defendants using the guilty plea to postpone trial to some indefinite date in the future when they see fit to make a motion to withdraw their plea. Kim v. State, 434 N.W.2d 263, 266 (Minn. 1989).
Appellant argues that the district court abused its discretion in not allowing him to withdraw his guilty plea before sentencing. He claims that his plea was not voluntary because defense counsel told him that he would not receive a fair trial in Duluth because people in Duluth were prejudiced against Hispanics.
Appellant’s former defense counsel, however, denied making such a statement and stated that when asked by appellant whether he would have a jury of his peers, she responded that there were not as many minorities in Duluth as in the Twin Cities. She further stated that there would be minorities on the panel, but not as many as in other places. The district court was free to reject appellant’s testimony and accept that of his former defense counsel regarding what she told appellant about the impact race might have on his case. We will not disturb the district court’s determination of witness credibility on appeal. See State v. Aviles-Alvarez, 561 N.W.2d 523, 527 (Minn. App. 1997) (stating that when credibility determinations are crucial, “a reviewing court will give deference to the primary observations and trustworthiness assessments made by the district court”), review denied (Minn. June 11, 1997).
Appellant also argues that his plea was coerced and not voluntary. To show that a plea is involuntary or coerced, a defendant must show that his plea was based on “improper pressures” or inducements. Trott, 338 N.W.2d at 251. Here, the record shows that appellant acknowledged signing the guilty plea petition without undue pressure. At the guilty plea hearing, appellant testified that he went over the guilty plea petition with his counsel, that he understood the petition’s terms, and that he did not have any questions about the petition or the rights he was giving up by pleading guilty. The record further shows that appellant’s former counsel explained to him the realities of being tried by a jury in Duluth. While this information may have influenced his decision to plead guilty, we do not believe that it rises to the level of coercion or demonstrates that his plea was involuntary.
Finally, appellant argues that his plea was not knowing and intelligent because his former counsel did not have an interpreter present when she discussed the guilty plea and plea petition with appellant. At the hearing on appellant’s motion to withdraw, his former counsel testified that she had no reason to believe that appellant did not understand their conversation or the petition. The record also shows that although interpreters were present to assist appellant at each hearing in these proceedings, appellant used them only occasionally and he appeared to have a basic understanding of the English language. The record further shows that appellant’s former counsel was careful to make sure that appellant spoke up if there was anything he did not understand or if he had any questions.
We therefore conclude that the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying appellant’s motion to withdraw his guilty plea.
* Retired judge of the Minnesota Court of Appeals, serving by appointment pursuant to Minn. Const. art. VI, § 10.