This opinion will
be unpublished and
may not be cited
except as provided by
Minn. Stat. §
480A.08, subd. 3 (2004).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF
Joseph Douglas, petitioner,
Filed December 20,
St. Louis County
File No. K4-96-101887
John J. Douglas, OID #202354, MCF – Stillwater, 970 Pickett Street North, Bayport, MN 55003 (pro se appellant)
Mike Hatch, Attorney General, 1800 Bremer Tower,
445 Minnesota Street, St. Paul, MN 55101;
Alan L. Mitchell, St. Louis County Attorney,
St. Louis County Courthouse, 100
North Fifth Avenue West, Duluth, MN 55802
Considered and decided by Shumaker,
Presiding Judge; Lansing, Judge; and Hudson, Judge.
U N P U B L I S H E D O P I N I O N
The district court denied John
Douglas’s postconviction petition for withdrawal of his guilty plea, entered nearly
eight years earlier, to possession of a photographic representation of sexual
conduct involving a minor. On appeal, Douglas challenges the district court’s determination
that his plea-withdrawal petition is untimely and that the record provides an
adequate basis for the plea. We affirm
the denial of postconviction relief.
A C T S
Douglas entered a negotiated plea in January 1997 to possession of a
photographic representation of sexual conduct involving a minor in violation of
Minn. Stat. § 617.247, subd. 4 (1996).
In exchange for the guilty plea, the state dismissed the more serious
charges of using a minor in a sexual performance and soliciting a child to
engage in sexual conduct.
the plea hearing, Douglas, who was represented by an attorney, pleaded guilty
when the court specifically asked him whether he had possessed “photographic
representations of sexual conduct with a minor knowing that the person was a
also testified under oath that he had discussed the facts of his case with his
attorney, that he made no claim of innocence, and that he knew the facts
constituted the charge to which he was pleading. Douglas’s attorney submitted a written plea
petition, which Douglas acknowledged that he had discussed with his attorney
and which Douglas signed.
Nearly eight years later, in December 2004, Douglas filed a petition for postconviction relief, seeking
to withdraw his guilty plea. As the
basis for withdrawal, Douglas asserted “that
his guilty plea was not sufficient to support the offense of conviction.” In the accompanying memorandum, Douglas argued that his plea was not accurate because
“his admissions do not support the necessary elements of the offense.”
The district court denied Douglas’s
petition as an untimely request that would unfairly prejudice the
prosecution. The district court also
found that the plea was voluntary, intelligent, and accurate, and that withdrawal
was not necessary to correct a manifest injustice. Douglas
appeals from the denial of his petition, arguing that his petition was timely
because the state failed to establish prejudice and that the record does not
adequately support his guilty plea.
E C I S I O N
A criminal defendant who wishes to challenge a conviction
may petition for postconviction relief. Minn. Stat. § 590.01, subd. 1 (2004). A petitioner seeking postconviction relief
has the burden of establishing, by a fair preponderance of the evidence, the
facts that warrant reopening his case. Minn. Stat. § 590.04, subd. 3 (2004); King v. State, 562 N.W.2d 791, 794 (Minn. 1997). To withdraw a guilty plea, a defendant must
file a timely petition and demonstrate that withdrawal is necessary to correct
a manifest injustice. Minn.
R. Crim. P. 15.05, subd. 1; Alanis v.
State, 583 N.W.2d 573, 577 (Minn.
The district court concluded that Douglas’s
petition filed nearly eight years after he pleaded guilty was untimely and that
granting the petition would unduly prejudice the state in prosecuting the
charges. Timeliness is a relevant
consideration in deciding whether to grant a petition even though a defendant
is not required to bring a plea-withdrawal petition within a specific
R. Crim. P. 15.05, subd. 1; James v.
State, 699 N.W.2d 723, 728 (Minn.
2005). Whether the state will be
prejudiced because of actions in reliance on the defendant’s guilty plea is
also a consideration in granting or denying a plea petition. Minn. R.
Crim. P. 15.05, subd. 2 (stating rule for plea withdrawal before
sentencing). A conviction based on a
guilty plea should not be vacated except for “the strongest of reasons if the
effect of such vacation will be to seriously prejudice or bar proceedings by
the state due to changes in evidentiary circumstances occurring between the
time the plea of guilty was accepted and the time when the case [can] be
tried.” Chapman v. State, 282 Minn.
13, 16-17, 162 N.W.2d 698, 700-01 (1968).
Douglas pleaded guilty to
possessing “photographic representation[s] of sexual conduct which involve a
minor, knowing or with reason to know its content and character.” Minn. Stat. § 617.247, subd. 4 (1996). “Sexual conduct” is defined as acts of sexual
intercourse, sadomasochistic abuse, masturbation or lewd exhibition of
genitals, or physical or simulated contact of genitals or breasts in an act of
sexual stimulation. Id.
§ 617.246, subd. 1(e) (1996).
In response to Douglas’s plea-withdrawal petition, the
county attorney’s office contacted the investigating sheriff’s office to locate
the photographs that formed a basis for the charges against Douglas. The sheriff’s office notified the county
attorney that it had destroyed the photographs because of the age of the
case. The state, in opposition to the
postconviction petition, asserted that without the pictures they would be
unable to proceed to trial.
Douglas contends that
granting his petition would not prejudice the county attorney because the
photographs are insufficient to support the charge to which he pleaded guilty and
therefore the photographs are irrelevant.
We disagree. The complaint
alleges that one of the photographs is of a minor who “is naked and engaged in
sexual activities.” Consequently, the
photograph, if accurately described, is critical to the prosecution of the
charge. The photograph would be
particularly important if the minor who was photographed was unavailable or
unwilling to testify. The complaint
states that the minor had a relationship with Douglas,
that they remained friends after the relationship ended, and that she was
reluctant to discuss the photographs with the sheriff’s investigator. This record supports the state’s claim that
prosecution could not go forward without the photographs. We also note that the record does not suggest
that the file containing the photographs was prematurely destroyed. Douglas
received a two-year stayed sentence that expired in March 1999. In light of the prejudice to the state, plea
withdrawal should not be permitted except for “the strongest of reasons.” Chapman,
282 Minn. at
16, 162 N.W.2d at 700.
The reason that Douglas
provides for plea withdrawal is that the plea was inaccurate because it lacked
an adequate factual basis. The district
court rejected this claim and found that Douglas
was represented by counsel, understood the charges, submitted a plea petition,
and indicated that he understood the petition. Manifest
injustice occurs when a guilty plea is not “accurate, voluntary, and
intelligent.” Perkins v. State, 559 N.W.2d 678, 688 (Minn. 1997). A proper factual basis must be established
for a guilty plea to be accurate. State v. Ecker, 524 N.W.2d 712, 716 (Minn. 1994).
At his plea hearing, Douglas
acknowledged that his plea was voluntary and that he photographed the minor
further admitted that the facts constituted the crime with which he had been
charged. He acknowledged, in response to
the court’s questions, that he had in his possession photographic
representations of sexual conduct with a minor.
Douglas acknowledged the charges
against him in a detailed plea petition and also acknowledged that the
prosecutor had physical evidence supporting the charges. Douglas has
not demonstrated a strong reason to permit his plea withdrawal. The record supports the district court’s
determination that the plea was accurate and that denial of the petition for
plea withdrawal is not manifestly unjust.