This opinion will be unpublished and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
State of Minnesota,
Filed December 21, 2007
Ramsey County District Court
File No. K7-05-1844
Lori Swanson, Attorney General, 1800 Bremer Tower, 445 Minnesota Street, St. Paul, MN 55101-2134; and
Susan Gaertner, Ramsey County Attorney, Mitchell L. Rothman, Assistant County Attorney, 50 West Kellogg Boulevard, Suite 315, St. Paul, MN 55102-1657 (for respondent)
John M. Stuart, State Public Defender, Cathryn Middlebrook, Assistant Public Defender, 540 Fairview Avenue North, Suite 300, St. Paul, MN 55104 (for appellant)
Considered and decided by Hudson, Presiding Judge; Willis, Judge; and Minge, Judge.
On May 27, 2005, a surveillance video showed a man stealing two DVD players from a St. Paul Target store. On May 29 and May 31, 2005, Target security officers saw a man at the store who they believed was the same person who appeared in the May 27 surveillance video. On both May 29 and May 31, the security officers saw the man pushing a shopping cart containing DVD players that he had concealed under pillows and saw him abandon the shopping cart when he realized he was being watched by the security officers. Police responded to the May 31, 2005 incident and confronted the suspect, who was identified as appellant Eugene Morris. The police showed Morris still images from the surveillance videos from the three days in question, and Morris admitted that he was the man who appeared in the still images, that he stole two DVD players on May 27, and that he was attempting to steal additional DVD players on May 29 and May 31.
Morris was charged with theft, in violation of Minn. Stat. § 609.52, subd. 2 (2004). As a result of a plea negotiation, the state agreed to amend the charge to attempted theft for incidents occurring at the Target store during the period May 27 to May 31, 2005. The state also agreed, in exchange for Morris’s plea of guilty to the attempted-theft charge, not to seek an aggravated sentence under the career-offender statute. Morris accepted the state’s offer and pleaded guilty, in the form of an Alford plea, to attempted theft. At the scheduled sentencing hearing, Morris told the district court that he wanted to withdraw his guilty plea and that he had retained private counsel. The district court continued sentencing to allow Morris’s private counsel to file a certificate of representation and a motion to withdraw Morris’s guilty plea. Over the next several months, the district court granted Morris further continuances to complete the process of retaining private counsel and to move to withdraw his guilty plea. Morris did not retain private counsel, and finally, more than seven months after he pleaded guilty, Morris, represented by a public defender, moved to withdraw his guilty plea. He explained that he was not the man who appeared on the May 27, 2005 surveillance tape and that he accepted the plea agreement only because he was facing the possibility of a 60-month sentence as a career offender. The district court denied Morris’s motion, and he appeals.
It is well settled that a defendant who has entered a guilty plea does not have an absolute right to withdraw it later. Shorter v. State, 511 N.W.2d 743, 746 (Minn. 1994). This rule is based on the notion that giving a defendant an absolute right to withdraw a guilty plea before sentencing “would undermine the integrity of the plea-taking process.” Kim v. State, 434 N.W.2d 263, 266 (Minn. 1989). Rather, the decision whether to permit withdrawal is “‘left to the sound discretion of the [district] court, and it will be reversed only in the rare case in which the appellate court can fairly conclude that the [district] court abused its discretion.’” State v. Kaiser, 469 N.W.2d 316, 320 (Minn. 1991) (quoting Kim, 434 N.W.2d at 266). A district court considering a defendant’s request to withdraw a guilty plea before sentencing must determine if the defendant has established that there is a “fair and just” reason for withdrawal of the plea, giving due consideration to any prejudice that the granting of the motion would cause the prosecution because of any actions taken in reliance on the defendant’s plea. Minn. R. Crim. P. 15.05, subd. 2.
Morris claims first that the district court should have allowed him to withdraw his guilty plea because, after he entered the plea, he told the district court that he was not the person in the surveillance video who stole the DVD players on May 27, 2005, and, therefore, was innocent of the theft charge. But Morris did not plead guilty to the theft on May 27, 2005. Rather, he pleaded guilty to attempted theft during the period May 27 to May 31, 2005. This point was thoroughly clarified at the plea hearing:
THE COURT: Mr. Morris, to the amended charge here then of attempted theft, a felony, from May 27th of this year, how do you plead, guilty or not guilty?
THE DEFENDANT: I plead not guilty to the 27th.
. . .
THE DEFENDANT: I’m trying to explain I was never there on the 27th. It’s my understanding the 29th or 30th is the attempt—it was that day I was there.
. . .
THE COURT: So, Mr. Morris, I’m going to ask you again with this change to the charge of attempted theft from the dates between May 27th of this year and May 31st of this year, how do you plead, guilty or not guilty?
THE DEFENDANT: I plead guilty.
As this portion of the record shows, Morris maintained his innocence only as to the theft on May 27, 2005. At no point did he claim that he was innocent of the charge of attempted theft during the period May 27 to May 31, 2005. Therefore Morris’s assertion that he maintained his innocence is misplaced. And even if Morris had claimed that he was innocent of the charge to which he pleaded guilty, this court has held that a defendant’s assertion of innocence after entering a guilty plea is insufficient to establish that a district court abused its discretion by denying, under the fair-and-just standard, a motion to withdraw a guilty plea. See State v. Williams, 373 N.W.2d 851, 853 (Minn. App. 1985).
Morris argues next that the fact that he told the district court that he felt pressured into accepting the plea agreement should have been sufficient “for the court to find it was fair and just to allow [him] to withdraw his guilty plea before sentencing.” To be constitutionally valid, a guilty plea must be accurate, voluntary, and intelligent. State v. Trott, 338 N.W.2d 248, 251 (Minn. 1983). Morris’s argument goes to the voluntariness of his plea. In support of his claim that his plea was not voluntary, Morris points to the following statement that he made at the sentencing hearing: “The only reason I took the Alford plea is because when I had a chance to talk with my attorney at the time, she told me talking about 60 months, prior background, you know, all of that at one time kind of, you know, it scared me . . . .”
A plea is voluntary as long as it is not the product of “improper pressures or inducements.” Alanis v. State, 583 N.W.2d 573, 577 (Minn. 1998). Morris’s comments at the sentencing hearing do not show that his guilty plea was the result of improper pressures or inducements. They show instead that Morris feared the sentence that he could receive and that he wanted to take advantage of the plea agreement to avoid a longer sentence. Morris’s decision to accept the plea agreement because he wanted to avoid a more serious penalty does not make his guilty plea involuntary. See State v. Ecker, 524 N.W.2d 712, 719 (Minn. 1994) (citing Brady v. United States, 397 U.S. 742, 750-51, 90 S. Ct. 1463, 1470 (1970)).
Morris’s guilty plea was also accurate and intelligent. When he entered his plea, Morris acknowledged that he had reviewed the police reports and that he and his public defender had reviewed the plea agreement thoroughly and discussed his rights and the charges against him. He also acknowledged the evidence against him; that he understood that he had the right to a jury trial; and that, if he went to trial, the state would have to prove his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt; and he waived his jury-trial rights. Finally, he acknowledged that, if he went to trial, there was a “substantial likelihood” that a jury would convict him, and that because of this, he wanted to take advantage of the plea agreement in which the state agreed not to seek a sentence under the career-offender statute. Because Morris pleaded guilty based on the likelihood that a jury would convict him, his plea meets the requirements of an Alford plea. See Ecker, 524 N.W.2d at 717 (holding that a defendant may plead guilty, even though he maintains his innocence, if the defendant reasonably believes, and the record establishes, that the state has sufficient evidence to obtain a conviction).
The district court did not abuse its discretion by denying Morris’s motion to withdraw his guilty plea.