This opinion will be unpublished and

may not be cited except as provided by

Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2004).






State of Minnesota,





Justin Paul Farnsworth,



Filed September 5, 2006

Reversed and remanded

Toussaint, Chief Judge


Dakota County District Court

File No. K5-04-3689


Mike Hatch, Attorney General, 1800 Bremer Tower, 445 Minnesota Street, St. Paul, MN 55101-2134; and


James C. Backstrom, Dakota County Attorney, Scott A. Hersey, Assistant County Attorney, Dakota County Judicial Center, 1560 Highway 55, Hastings, MN  55033 (for appellant)


Mark D. Nyvold, 332 Minnesota Street, Suite W-1610, St. Paul, MN  55101 (for respondent)


            Considered and decided by Dietzen, Presiding Judge; Toussaint, Chief Judge; and Stoneburner, Judge.

U N P U B L I S H E D   O P I N I O N

TOUSSAINT, Chief Judge

            In this pretrial appeal, the State of Minnesota challenges the district court’s decision to grant in part respondent Justin Paul Farnsworth’s motion to suppress the confession on which the charges against him were based and to withdraw his guilty plea to first-degree criminal sexual conduct.  Because the district court erred in allowing Farnsworth to withdraw his guilty plea based solely on its decision to suppress the confession, we reverse and remand.


            The ultimate decision on a motion to withdraw a guilty plea “is left to the sound discretion of the [district] court, and [that decision] will be reversed only in the rare case in which the appellate court can fairly conclude that the [district] court abused its discretion.”  Kim v. State, 434 N.W.2d 263, 266 (Minn. 1991).

            Here, the district court reserved its ruling on Farnsworth’s motion to withdraw his guilty plea and scheduled a hearing on his motion to suppress his confession.  The court reasoned that, if it determined that the confession was inadmissible, it would grant Farnsworth’s withdrawal motion.  But a valid guilty plea waives all non-jurisdictional defects, including the involuntariness of a confession.  See State v. Ford, 397 N.W.2d 875, 878 (Minn. 1986) (guilty plea by counseled defendant operated as waiver of all non-jurisdictional defects arising prior to entry of plea).  The validity of the plea was the first issue the district court needed to address—not the validity of the confession.  If the plea is valid, any challenge to the validity of the confession is barred.

            A district court may allow a defendant to withdraw a guilty plea before sentencing 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.  A defendant does not have an absolute right to withdraw a plea before sentencing, and the burden is on the defendant to prove that he is entitled to withdrawal under this subdivision.  Kim, 434 N.W.2d at 266.

            To be valid, a guilty plea must be accurate, voluntary, and intelligent, that is, knowingly and understandingly made.  State v. Ecker, 524 N.W.2d 712, 716 (Minn. 1994).  The purpose of the requirement that a plea is intelligently made is to insure that the defendant understands the charges, understands the rights he is waiving, and understands the consequences of his plea.  State v. Trott, 338 N.W.2d 248, 251 (Minn. 1983); State v. Aviles-Alvarez, 561 N.W.2d 523, 526 (Minn. App. 1997), review denied (Minn. June 11, 1997).  The record should reflect that the defendant knows his constitutional rights and specifically waives those rights, whether through direct questioning by the district court at the plea hearing or by evidence that the defendant fully discussed those rights with counsel prior to entering his plea.  See, e.g., State v. Wiley, 420 N.W.2d 234, 237 (Minn. App. 1988), review denied (Minn. Apr. 26, 1988).

            Farnsworth moved to withdraw his guilty plea on several grounds, among them the ground that his attorney failed to provide him with a copy of his confession prior to his plea.[1]  A defendant has no absolute right to receive a copy of a statement or confession, provided that the confession is made available to his attorney for review.  Minn. Stat. § 611.033 (2004).  While Farnsworth’s attorney did not receive a transcript of the confession until after the guilty plea, he did receive and review a videotape of the confession prior to the plea.  The district court found that:  (1) based on this review, the attorney recognized that “the investigating police officer was using a technique that could psychologically induce [Farnsworth] to confess”; (2) the attorney acknowledged that there could be an issue about the validity of the confession; and (3) the attorney nevertheless believed that he would not be able to get the confession suppressed because Farnsworth “appeared to be at the police station voluntarily, and the police officer had told [Farnsworth] that he was not under arrest and did not have to answer questions.”  These strategic assessments represent reasonable professional judgment and cannot be characterized as unprofessional errors on the part of Farnsworth’s attorney.

            Farnsworth further claimed that he was entitled to withdraw his plea because he was not “fully apprised” of the issues relating to his confession and of the potential challenges that could have been made to that confession, particularly the challenges to the officer’s statements that he was not trying to put Farnsworth away but was trying to obtain treatment for Farnsworth and that he did not know if Farnsworth would have to go to jail and lose his kids.  Farnsworth argued that “[n]ot being made aware of the issues that existed in connection with his statement made the waiver of this suppression issue involuntary and likewise made [Farnsworth’s] plea unknowing and unintelligent.”

            But the record and the findings made by the district court establish that Farnsworth had several discussions with his attorney prior to pleading guilty during which his confession and his rights were discussed.  While Farnsworth may claim that these discussions lacked sufficient detail, an attorney need not discuss trial strategy in detail with a client.  See Minn. R. Prof. Conduct 1.4(a), (b) (comment).

            The validity of confessions induced by empathetic techniques and implied promises is often a complex legal issue.  See State v. Ritt, 599 N.W.2d 802, 809 (Minn. 1999) (discussing empathetic Reid technique); State v. Slowinski, 450 N.W.2d 107, 112 (Minn. 1990) (holding that, when police suggested they had influence with prosecutor to argue for psychiatric treatment for defendant but did not promise that defendant could avoid jail or prison, police did not make confession involuntary).  Farnsworth has not shown that the lack of an in-depth discussion with his attorney on this legal issue made his guilty plea invalid.

            In addition, at the plea hearing, Farnsworth specifically acknowledged that he could have a hearing to “test the constitutional admissibility of certain evidence” prior to trial and that he understood that by pleading guilty he was giving up that right.  The record thus establishes that Farnsworth entered into a counseled plea, that he understood his rights, and that he voluntarily waived those rights.

            Under the circumstances, the district court abused its discretion when it allowed Farnsworth to withdraw his guilty plea.[2]   We reverse the district court’s decision to allow Farnsworth to withdraw his guilty plea.  The plea is reinstated and the matter is remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion. 

            Reversed and remanded.

[1] Farnsworth asserts that he does not claim ineffective assistance of counsel and that his plea withdrawal motion never mentions this as a ground for withdrawal.  Even if Farnsworth’s claims are analyzed on this basis, however, we would still conclude that Farnsworth has failed to meet his burden:  Farnsworth’s attorney committed no professional errors, and his actions fall within the range of reasonable assistance.  See Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 688, 694, 104 S. Ct. 2052, 2064, 2068 (1984) (holding that defendant must affirmatively prove that counsel’s representation “fell below an objective standard of reasonableness” and that “but for counsel’s unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different”).

[2]  The state claims it will be seriously prejudiced if Farnsworth is allowed to withdraw his plea.  The state cites the continuing trauma to the victim, who was only nine years old at the time the offenses took place years ago, and the difficulty in finding and subpoenaing witnesses who were ready for trial but released when Farnsworth pleaded guilty.  Even if the prejudice to the state is not great, it exists, and it further supports the conclusion that Farnsworth failed to prove he should be allowed to withdraw his plea.