This opinion will be unpublished and

may not be cited except as provided by

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






State of Minnesota,





Nate Manning,



Filed ­­­August 7, 2007

Reversed and remanded

Dietzen, Judge


Hennepin County District Court

File No. 03011021


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


Michael O. Freeman, Hennepin County Attorney, Linda K. Jenny, Assistant County Attorney, C-2000 Government Center, 300 South Sixth Street, Minneapolis, MN 55487 (for respondent)


John M. Stuart, State Public Defender, Philip Marron, Assistant Public Defender, 2221 University Avenue Southeast, Suite 425, Minneapolis, MN 55414 (for appellant)


            Considered and decided by Stoneburner, Presiding Judge; Kalitowski, Judge; and Dietzen, Judge.

U N P U B L I S H E D   O P I N I O N




            Appellant challenges his conviction of and sentence for possession of a firearm by a prohibited person, arguing that the district court erred in impermissibly injecting itself into the plea agreement and in denying his motion to withdraw his guilty plea after it refused to honor the terms of the plea agreement for a downward departure in his sentence.  We reverse and remand.


In August 2002, a police officer, who knew that appellant Nate Manning did not have a valid driver’s license, observed appellant driving a motor vehicle and pulled him over to make the arrest.  When the officer approached the vehicle, he observed a handgun in appellant’s possession.  Appellant was subsequently charged with one count of possession of a firearm by a prohibited person.[1]

            In August 2003, appellant pleaded guilty to possession of a firearm by a prohibited person.  Prior to the guilty plea, appellant submitted to the court a petition to plead guilty, which characterized the plea agreement as follows:

The court agrees to sentence to 48 months concurrent with any other sentences including A&D; prosecutor will dismiss count II of file 0301121,[[2]] defendant will plead to receiving charge from file 02059352, and agrees to pay restitution to victim, judge agrees to release pending sentence.


In describing the plea agreement, the prosecutor stated that it was “in[] negotiation with the Court” over the state’s objection.  He further stated that “[t]he State had offered 60
months pursuant to minimum statutory sentencing, however, I understand that the court is inclined to give a minimal or a slight departure of 48 months.”  The prosecutor then asked appellant whether he understood that “this is a negotiation with the Court.”  Respondent answered, “Yes.”  Subsequently, the court accepted appellant’s guilty plea and scheduled a sentencing hearing in September 2003. 

The district court then turned to the issue of appellant’s release prior to the sentencing hearing.  The court stated:

And I want to make it clear—a couple of things clear.  First of all, if there is any violation of conditional release, then, as far as I’m concerned, the agreement to give a durational downward departure is off and you will be facing the 60 months.  Also, if there’s any failure to cooperate with probation in the preparation of their presentence investigation report, the same thing.  And finally, any failure to appear promptly on time on the date of sentencing also to be surrendered to go to prison on that date will also be a violation—will also result in imposition of the 60-month sentence. 


Appellant stated that he understood the terms of his conditional release, but he did not appear for the scheduled sentencing in September 2003.

            In February 2005, appellant brought a motion to withdraw his guilty plea, arguing that a 60-month sentence would violate the terms of his plea agreement.  At the June 2006 hearing on defendant’s motion, the court stated:

Originally I had indicated on the record that if the defendant fully cooperated and appeared for sentencing, that I would do a downward durational departure from 60 months to 48 months.  However, the defendant has not complied in any respect with the conditions on which I agreed to the downward durational departure and so it would be my intention to sentence according to the guidelines. 


The state argued that granting appellant’s motion would prejudice the state because it had been so long after the original plea.  The district court denied the motion and imposed an executed 60-month sentence for the firearm charge.  This appeal follows.


Appellant argues that the district court erred by impermissibly injecting itself into the plea negotiation, and, therefore, the plea must be vacated.  Respondent concedes that the district court impermissibly injected itself into the plea agreement.[3] 

The district court “should neither usurp the responsibility of counsel nor participate in the plea bargaining negotiation itself.”  State v. Johnson, 279 Minn. 209, 216, 156 N.W.2d 218, 223 (1968).  The district court’s “ultimate judicial responsibility” is to make reasonably certain that a defendant has not been “improperly induced to plead guilty to a crime” nor permitted to bargain for a plea that is “excessively lenient.”  Id. at 215-16, 156 N.W.2d at 223.  When a district court injects itself into plea negotiations, its role as an “independent examiner” changes to “one of the parties to the negotiation” that is “excessively involved in the negotiations themselves.” 216 n.11, 156 N.W.2d at 223 n.11.  Regardless of any demonstrated prejudice, the law is clear that a guilty plea is invalid when the district court impermissibly injects itself into plea negotiations.  State v. Anyanwu, 681 N.W.2d 411, 415 (Minn. App. 2004).

In Anyanwu, the district court promised defendant a sentence in advance, over the objection of the prosecutor.  Id.  This court concluded that because the district court improperly participated in plea negotiations by promising the defendant a specific sentence that was objected to by the state, the defendant’s conviction must be reversed and the case remanded for reassignment to a different district court judge to allow the defendant the opportunity to withdraw his guilty plea.  Id.; see also State v. Moe, 479 N.W.2d 427, 430-31 (Minn. App. 1992) (when district court judge improperly participates in plea negotiations, case must be remanded for reassignment to a different judge, who may re-sentence the defendant or allow him to withdraw his guilty plea and proceed to trial), review denied (Minn. Feb. 10, 1992). 

Here, the record indicates that the district court made a deal with appellant for a downward durational departure at sentencing in exchange for a guilty plea to the charge. Respondent concedes that the district court impermissibly injected itself into the plea agreement, but argues that the doctrine of laches should be applied to prevent appellant from raising that argument and withdrawing his guilty plea.  But laches applies to matters of civil law.  See, e.g., Lloyd v. Simons, 97 Minn. 315, 317, 105 N.W. 902, 902-03 (1906) (stating that laches is the lack of diligence in bringing an action or otherwise asserting one’s right as will preclude the party from obtaining equitable relief).  And respondent fails to identify any cases that apply laches to criminal law.  Thus, we conclude that laches does not apply.  Essentially, respondent argues that appellant’s motion to withdraw his guilty plea was untimely and relies on cases involving the untimeliness of a defendant’s petition for postconviction relief.  See, e.g., State v. Lopez, 379 N.W.2d 633, 636 (Minn. App. 1986) (holding that a motion to withdraw guilty plea made 11 months after sentencing was “untimely”), review denied (Minn. Feb. 14, 1986).  See also State v. Searles, 274 Minn. 199, 200, 142 N.W.2d 748, 749 (1966) (stating that the district court was justified in denying defendant’s motion to withdraw a three-year-old plea of guilty); State v. Weisberg, 473 N.W.2d 381, 383 (Minn. App. 1991) (holding that defendant’s motion to vacate his plea of guilty was untimely where, although defendant challenged validity of his plea before sentencing, he did not challenge specificity of complaint until after state had moved to rebuke his probation 17 months later), review denied (Minn. Oct. 11, 1991).  But none of the cases identified by respondent involved a district court impermissibly injecting itself into the plea agreement.

We observe the significant time delay involved that was primarily caused by appellant’s failure to appear as ordered by the district court and allowing the withdrawal of the guilty plea is prejudicial to the state.  But under Anyanwu, the original plea arrangement was impermissible and, therefore, invalid.  Consequently, the conviction and sentence must be vacated and the case remanded to a different judge to give appellant the opportunity to enter a new plea to the charge. 

Appellant further argues that the district court’s failure to sentence him according to the terms of the plea agreement requires either modification of his sentence to the
agreed-on terms or withdrawal of the guilty plea.  But because we vacate the conviction and sentence, we need not address this issue. 

            Reversed and remanded.  

[1] The complaint was later amended to add one count of felony fifth-degree possession of a controlled substance, but that charge was later dropped due to lack of evidence.

[2] File no. 0301121 refers to this case.

[3] While respondent concedes that the district court impermissibly injected itself into the plea negotiations, respondent argues that because appellant did not raise this issue at the district court, it is waived.  But appellant’s failure to object to the court as a party to the plea arrangement is not fatal to his claim because the arrangement itself is impermissible.  State v. Anyanwu, 681 N.W.2d 411 (Minn. App. 2004); see also Brown v. State, 449 N.W.2d 180, 182-83 (Minn. 1989) (holding that a defendant who challenges a judgment of conviction against him based on an invalid guilty plea may seek a postconviction hearing from the district court or may appeal directly to this court).