This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2006).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
State of Minnesota,
Filed February 6, 2007
Hennepin County District Court
File No. 05056656
Lori Swanson, Attorney General, 1800 Bremer Tower, 445 Minnesota Street, St. Paul, MN 55101-2134; and
Hennepin County Attorney, Patrick C. Diamond, Assistant County Attorney, C-2000
Leonardo Castro, Chief Fourth District Public Defender, Barbara S. Isaacman, Assistant Public Defender, 317 2nd Avenue South, Suite 200, Minneapolis, MN 55401 (for respondent)
Considered and decided by Ross, Presiding Judge, Klaphake, Judge, and Worke, Judge.
The State of Minnesota challenges the sentences imposed on respondent Bryan Hampton for being a felon in possession of a firearm and for fifth-degree controlled substance crime. See Minn. Stat. §§ 152.025, subds. 2(1), 3(a), 624.713, subds. 1(b), 2(b) (2004). The state claims that the district court improperly interjected itself into the plea negotiations by proposing a plea agreement to which the state objected and accepting that plea from respondent. Because the district court here overstepped its bounds, we reverse and remand this case for reassignment to a different district court judge.
Minnesota Supreme Court has delineated the role of the district court in plea
negotiations as follows: “Although the
court should neither usurp the responsibility of counsel nor participate in the
plea bargaining negotiation itself, its proper role [is to] discreet[ly] inquir[e] into the propriety of
the settlement submitted for judicial acceptance[.]” State
v. Johnson, 279
Other than these general pronouncements, the supreme court has not further defined the parameters of a judge’s role in the plea bargaining process. Here, during the plea hearing, the following discussion took place:
[Assistant County Attorney]: It is my understanding, after fairly extensive discussions in chambers, that the defendant will enter a straight plea of guilty on both counts to the court; that the plea to Count 1 will be in the form of an [Alford] plea and Count 2 will be in the form of a standard straight plea. For the record, the State is not a party to any negotiation in this matter. The State’s only offer now is 60 months to the Commissioner of Corrections, if [the defendant] pled guilty to Count 1. Any disposition other than a 60 months commitment to the Department of Corrections would be over the State’s objection and the State does not agree to an [Alford] plea.
THE COURT: And I understand that. [Addressing the Assistant Public Defender], we have discussed this matter at some length off the record and I am reextending the offer that [the district court judge who presided at the Rasmussen hearing] made last week, that being a dispositional departure on Count 1 and a commitment on Count 2 for a year and a day, with credit for [time served].
Respondent accepted the plea as described by the district court. At sentencing, the district court imposed the sentence discussed at the plea hearing: respondent received a 60-month stayed sentence and was placed on six years of probation for the felon in possession of a weapon offense; for the controlled substance offense, he received a concurrent one-year-and-a-day executed sentence. The state “continue[d] its objection, as voiced on the record at the time of the plea to a downward dispositional departure on Count 1.”
In a case
involving similar facts, this court concluded that when a district court
improperly participated in plea negotiations by promising a defendant a
specific sentence that was objected to by the state, the plea was “per se
invalid”; this court reversed the conviction and remanded the case for
reassignment to a different district court judge in order to allow the defendant
an opportunity to withdraw his guilty plea.
State v. Anyanwu, 681 N.W.2d
411, 415 (
In this case, the district court’s involvement in the plea bargain negotiations is very similar to the judicial conduct that was prohibited in Anyanwu. The court agreed to stay, rather than execute, respondent’s 60-month sentence on the felon in possession of a weapon charge, if respondent agreed to an Alford plea on that charge. The state clearly objected to the plea at both the plea hearing and at sentencing. While the appeal here was filed by the state and the appeal in Anyanwu was filed by the defendant, we do not believe that this distinction calls for a different result, nor have the parties offered us any reason to make a distinction. We therefore reverse respondent’s conviction and remand for reassignment of the case to a different district court judge.
Reversed and remanded.
 While the district court’s role in plea negotiations is set forth in absolute terms in current opinions issued by this court, the roles of the various parties during the interplay of plea negotiations may actually be somewhat more broad and flexible than is suggested by current case law. For example, in this case it is clear that the district court could have, on its own motion, sentenced respondent “without regard to the mandatory minimum sentence” required on the felon in possession of a weapon offense. See Minn. Stat. § 609.11, subd. 8 2004). It appears the district court may have intended to exercise this authority in this case. However, care must be taken in how that authority is exercised to avoid the Anyanwu concerns.