may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2002).
IN COURT OF APPEALS
Lewis L. Goodwin,
Ramsey County District Court
File No. K8031802
Mike Hatch, Attorney General, 1800 NCL Tower, 445 Minnesota Street, St. Paul, MN 55101-2134; and
Susan Gaertner, Ramsey County Attorney, Mark N. Lystig, Assistant County Attorney, 50 Kellogg Boulevard West, Suite 315, St. Paul, MN 55102 (for respondent)
John M. Stuart, State Public Defender, Richard A. Schmitz, Assistant Public Defender, 2221 University Avenue Southeast, Suite 425, Minneapolis, MN 55414 (for appellant)
Considered and decided by Willis, Presiding Judge; Peterson, Judge; and Hudson, Judge.
U N P U B L I S H E D O P I N I O N
In this appeal from convictions based on guilty pleas to one count of possession of a firearm by an ineligible person and two counts of second-degree assault, appellant argues that the district court judge improperly injected itself into plea negotiations by participating directly in the plea agreement. Because the district court improperly injected itself into the plea negotiations by promising a particular sentence in advance, we reverse and remand.
Appellant Lewis L. Goodwin was charged by complaint with two counts of second-degree assault, one count of unlawful possession of a firearm by an ineligible person, and one count of unlawful use or possession of tear gas. After the trial began, appellant and his attorney negotiated a plea agreement under which appellant would plead guilty to two counts of assault and one count of possession of a firearm by an ineligible person and the charge for unlawful use or possession of tear gas would be dismissed.
At the guilty-plea hearing, the prosecutor explained that
the only agreement that exists between the defense and the state is that in exchange for the defendant’s pleas of guilty to Count I, assault in the second degree, Count II, assault in the second degree, and Count III, possession of a firearm by an ineligible person, that at the time of the sentencing of this defendant the state would then dismiss Count IV, unlawful use or possession of tear gas.
If I may proceed, Your Honor, it’s the state’s understanding that the defense – and I’ll be willing to be corrected at any time – it’s the state’s understanding that the defense has, or the court has agreed with the defense that in exchange for those three pleas, that the court has indicated to the defense over the objection of the state, that it would sentence the defendant to 60 months in prison less whatever credit he has coming, and the state is free to argue for more time regarding the three felonies, but the state understands this is the representation that the court has given to the defense.
Also at the guilty-plea hearing, the following exchange occurred as appellant was questioned by his attorney.
Q Okay. You understand that there’s an agreement worked out here today for your plea of guilty, isn’t that true?
Q You understand that that agreement has been worked out with the court and not the prosecuting attorney?
Q The only involvement the prosecuting attorney has had in this agreement is that they’ve agreed in exchange for your plea of guilty to Count I, II, and III, that they would dismiss Count IV?
Q You understand that?
Q But the agreement that we’ve worked out has been with the court?
Q And that agreement is as follows: That the court will sentence you to a period of 60 months with credit for time served, which we understand at this point to be approximately four months?
Q In exchange for your plea of guilty to Count I, which is assault in the second degree, Count II which is assault in the second degree, you can have an Alford plea to that, and Count III, which is a firearm in possession by an ineligible person, is that what you understand the agreement to be?
While speaking to appellant at the guilty-plea hearing, the district court referred to the plea agreement as “that agreement that we have between yourself and your attorney and I.” Also, appellant signed a petition to enter a guilty plea pursuant to Minn. R. Crim. P. 15. The petition is a printed form that contains blank spaces to fill in individual information about a guilty plea. The form has been completed so that it describes the plea agreement in a manner that is consistent with the agreement that appellant and his attorney discussed at the guilty-plea hearing. One section of the printed form states that the person who signed the form understands “[t]hat my attorney discussed this case with one of the prosecuting attorneys and that my attorney and the prosecuting attorney agreed that if I entered a plea of guilty, the prosecutor will do the following.” In this section, words have been crossed out and other words have been written in so that the completed form states, “[t]hat my attorney discussed this case with one of the prosecuting attorneys and me and that my attorney and the court agreed that if I entered a plea of guilty, the court will do the following: sentence me to 60 months.”
The district court accepted appellant’s guilty pleas and sentenced him to 60 months for the conviction of possession of a firearm by an ineligible person and to 45 and 57 months for the two convictions of second-degree assault, and the charge for unlawful use or possession of tear gas was dismissed. This appeal from the convictions followed.
This court explained in Anyanwu that although it is not improper for the district court to become involved in plea negotiations, when the district court steps into the position of one of the parties to the negotiations, it has improperly injected itself into the negotiations, and the guilty plea is per se invalid. Id. Here, the record demonstrates that the district court became a party to the negotiations when it agreed to impose a 60-month sentence if appellant pleaded guilty. During the guilty-plea hearing, the prosecutor, appellant, and the district court all described the plea agreement as an agreement between appellant and the district court. Also, appellant’s petition to enter a guilty plea indicates that appellant’s attorney and the court entered into an agreement. We, therefore, conclude that appellant’s guilty plea is per se invalid.
The state argues that because appellant persuaded the district court to accept his plea during trial, he cannot now “avail himself of invited error.” But in Anyanwu, this court explicitly acknowledged “the procedural and substantive irony of an appeal in which the district court granted appellant precisely what he requested,” 681 N.W.2d at 413, and, nevertheless, concluded that Anyanwu “should be permitted to vindicate the policies safeguarding the plea bargaining process on appeal even though he has validly entered a plea of guilty.” Id. As in Anyanwu, appellant’s participation in the plea agreement with the district court “is not fatal to his claim because the arrangement itself is impermissible.” Id. at 414.
The state also argues that because (1) the district court did not promise an unauthorized sentence in advance; (2) appellant tendered a guilty plea to multiple counts in a complaint in return for a promise by the prosecution to dismiss one or more counts; and (3) the sentence that was imposed is not a departure under the sentencing guidelines, there is no reversible error. But this argument fails to recognize that the end result does not justify the procedure used to reach that result. As this court explained in Anyanwu, “irrespective of any demonstrated prejudice, the law is clear that a guilty plea is per se invalid when the district court impermissibly injects itself into plea negotiations.” Id.
Finally, the state argues that the Rules of Criminal Procedure specifically authorize a judge to participate in a plea negotiation over the objection of the prosecutor when a defendant tenders a plea to a lesser-included offense. The rules provide:
Upon motion of the defendant and hearing thereon the court may accept a plea of guilty to a lesser included offense or to an offense of lesser degree, provided the court is satisfied following hearing that the prosecution cannot introduce evidence sufficient to justify the submission of the offense charged to the jury or that it would be a manifest injustice not to accept the plea.
Minn. R. Crim. P. 15.07.
This rule permits the district court to accept a guilty-plea to a lesser-included offense, but it does not permit the district court to inject itself into negotiations leading to the plea. Here, the district court did not simply accept a plea to which the prosecution objected; the court became a party to the plea agreement. Therefore, in accordance with this court’s recent decision in Anyanwu, we reverse appellant’s convictions and remand this case to be assigned to a different district court judge for further proceedings. Because we are reversing appellant’s convictions, it is not necessary to address the additional issues that appellant has raised.
Reversed and remanded.