This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2004).
IN COURT OF APPEALS
State of Minnesota,
Reversed and remanded
Ramsey County District Court
File No. K8-02-4415
Mike Hatch, Attorney General, 1800 NCL Tower, 445 Minnesota
Street, St. Paul,
Susan Gaertner, Ramsey County Attorney, Mark Nathan Lystig, Assistant County Attorney, Suite 315, 50 West Kellogg Boulevard, St. Paul, MN 55102 (for respondent)
John M. Stuart, State Public Defender, Sharon E. Jacks,
Assistant Public Defender,
Considered and decided by Minge, Presiding Judge; Wright, Judge; and Huspeni, Judge.
Appellant challenges the district court’s imposition of a sentence in excess of that agreed to in the plea agreement based on appellant’s failure to appear at the scheduled sentencing hearing. Because we conclude that the district court may not impose a sentence in excess of that provided in the plea agreement without allowing appellant to withdraw his guilty plea, we reverse and remand.
Appellant Luis Perales was charged with a second-degree controlled substance crime under Minn. Stat. § 152.022, subd. 2(1) (2002), for possessing six or more grams of methamphetamine discovered during a routine traffic stop. The presumptive sentence given appellant’s criminal history points was 88 months in prison. Appellant agreed to plead guilty in exchange for the prosecutor recommending a downward durational departure to 50 months in prison. The agreement as stated in the plea petition also stated that if the court did not accept the plea, appellant had the right to withdraw the guilty plea and go to trial.
At the plea hearing the district court approved the plea agreement on the condition that appellant agree to the following three conditions: to show up at the time and place set for sentencing, to cooperate with the probation department during the pre-sentencing investigation and to obey the law. The district court asked appellant if he agreed to each condition individually and appellant stated that he did. The district court then stated that “[i]f you don’t do these things, your plea of guilty will stand and I’ll be able to sentence you in accordance with state law and I won’t have to pay any attention to any deal here.” Appellant stated that he understood this.
Sentencing was set for February 18, 2003. Appellant failed to appear for sentencing. Appellant was eventually apprehended and on May 3, 2004, the sentencing hearing was held. The district court stated that the agreement for a lesser sentence no longer applied. The prosecutor requested a presumptive sentence under the guidelines because appellant had missed the sentencing hearing. The district court imposed the presumptive sentence of 88 months in prison citing the extraordinary nature of appellant’s plea bargain, his criminal history, his failure to show up for the sentencing hearing, and his not being amenable to probation. This appeal follows.
The issue in this case is whether the district court improperly added a condition to the plea agreement.
A guilty plea must
be accurate, voluntary, and intelligent in order to be valid. State v. Wukawitz, 662 N.W.2d 517, 521
A district court judge’s role is not to
participate in the plea negotiation, but to be an independent examiner of the
plea agreement. State v. Anyanwu,
681 N.W.2d 411, 414 (Minn. App. 2004) (holding that a judge cannot directly
make an agreement with the defendant to impose a certain sentence in exchange
for a guilty plea). Rule 15.04, subd.
3(1) of the Minnesota Rules of Criminal Procedure states “the trial court shall
reject or accept the plea of guilty on the terms of the plea agreement.” In State v. Noreen, the district court
imposed a restitution requirement of $2,000 as a condition of probation that
was not included in the plea agreement.
354 N.W.2d 77, 78 (
This case presents issues similar to those in Kunshier and Kortkamp. In those cases the district court relied on an incident after the plea hearing to allow the state to argue for and to impose a sentence that deviated from the sentence agreed to in the plea agreement. Kunshier, 410 N.W.2d at 378; Kortkamp, 560 N.W.2d at 94. Like the court in Kortkamp, the district court in the present case gave appellant a warning that if he did not do certain things, including showing up for the sentencing hearing, the court could impose a sentence different from the one in the plea agreement. However, the present case differs from the other cases in two respects: (1) the district court in this case specifically told appellant at the plea hearing that if he did not appear for sentencing, the “plea of guilty will stand and I’ll be able to sentence you in accordance with state law and I won’t have to pay any attention to any deal here;” and (2) appellant stated that he understood and accepted that condition.
If the plea agreement is treated like a contract, appellant would be able to accept new conditions and waive his rights under the original plea agreement. Under this reasoning, if a party agrees to a new condition in his plea agreement, he should be held to the new agreement.
However, contract law is not a precise fit.
In addition, the district court’s role in negotiating a plea agreement is limited; it is not supposed to be involved with plea negotiations. See Minn. R. Crim. P. 15.04, subd. 3(1); Anyanwu, 681 N.W.2d at 414-15. Of course, the district court is not powerless. If it rejects an agreement, it may explain its rejection and suggest terms it would accept. But if the agreement is rejected and a revised agreement is under consideration, the defendant should have full opportunity to consider the new conditions, to privately consult with counsel, and to withdraw his guilty plea. An impromptu modification while the defendant is in front of the court does not provide that opportunity. Even minor modifications or additions to a plea agreement may have serious consequences. In this case, appellant agreed that he would be subject to 38 months of additional prison time for any violation of the law.
We recognize that
if the district court feels that an event occurring after the plea hearing does
not allow it to honor the terms of the plea agreement, the district court can
reject the agreement. However, in that event the defendant can
withdraw his guilty plea. As this case
illustrates, the prosecution has alternatives.
Here, the failure of appellant to appear at the sentencing hearing may
be a separate crime. See
Because we conclude that the district court erred when it modified the sentencing agreement without allowing appellant to withdraw his guilty plea, we remand to the district court to allow appellant to withdraw his guilty plea or to impose the sentence provided for in the plea agreement.
Reversed and remanded.
 Of course, the court could at the outset of a plea hearing advise the parties that it will not honor any agreement that does not include specific terms such as the three added in this case. Such action would encourage inclusion of such terms in all plea agreements.