This opinion will be unpublished and

may not be cited except as provided by

Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2006).






State of Minnesota,





Bryan Hampton,



Filed February 6, 2007

Reversed and remanded
Klaphake, Judge


Hennepin County District Court

File No. 05056656


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


Mike Freeman, Hennepin County Attorney, Patrick C. Diamond, Assistant County Attorney, C-2000 Government Center, Minneapolis, MN  55487 (for appellant)


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.

U N P U B L I S H E D   O P I N I O N


            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.


            The 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 Minn. 209, 216, 156 N.W.2d 218, 223 (1968); see Minn. R. Crim. P. 15.04, subd. 3(1) (stating district court “shall reject or accept the plea of guilty on the terms of the plea agreement”).  The judge may not “undermine” his or her judicial role “by becoming excessively involved in the negotiations themselves.”  Johnson, 279 Minn. at 216 n.11, 156 N.W.2d at 223 n.11 (quotation omitted); see also State v. Nelson, 257 N.W.2d 356, 359 n.1 (Minn. 1977) (“Trial judges should be very cautious not to impermissibly participate in plea negotiations.”). 

            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 (Minn. App. 2004); see also State v. Moe, 479 N.W.2d 427, 429-30 (Minn. App. 1992) (when district court judge improperly participates in plea negotiations, case must be remanded for reassignment to a different judge, who may resentence the defendant or allow him to withdraw his guilty plea and proceed to trial), review denied (Minn. Feb. 10, 1992).   

            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.[1]

            Reversed and remanded.

[1] 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.