This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (1994).


Lorenzo NMN Johnson, petitioner,


State of Minnesota,

Filed September 3, 1996
Thoreen, Judge


Ramsey County District Court
File No. K895831

John M. Stuart, Minnesota State Public Defender, Susan K. Maki, Assistant State Public Defender, 2829 University Ave. S.E., Suite 600, Minneapolis, MN 55414 (for Appellant)

Hubert H. Humphrey III, Minnesota Attorney General, 1400 NCL Tower, 445 Minnesota Street, St. Paul, MN 55101; Susan Gaertner, Ramsey County Attorney, Darrell C. Hill, Assistant Ramsey County Attorney, 50 West Kellogg Boulevard, Suite 315, St. Paul, MN 55102 (for Respondent)

Considered and decided by Klaphake, Presiding Judge, Peterson, Judge, and Thoreen, Judge.


Appellant pleaded guilty to second-degree (felony) murder and first-degree assault and was sentenced pursuant to the plea agreement to consecutive sentences. In a postconviction proceeding, he alleged that he was denied effective assistance of counsel prior to entering his plea and that the consecutive sentences unfairly exaggerate the criminality of his conduct. The district court denied his petition, and he appeals on the same grounds. We affirm.

Appellant Lorenzo Johnson stabbed two men outside his apartment building, one of whom died as a result of his wounds. Appellant was originally charged with second-degree intentional murder and second-degree assault. Pursuant to a day-of-trial negotiation, appellant pleaded guilty to second-degree felony murder and first-degree assault. In accordance with the agreement, he received consecutive sentences totalling 236 months.
Appellant filed a petition for postconviction relief. Seeking to withdraw his pleas and proceed to trial, he argued that he received ineffective assistance of counsel throughout the time leading up to his pleas. He also challenged imposition of the consecutive sentences on the ground that they unfairly exaggerate the criminality of his conduct. The district court denied relief on either ground, and he now appeals.

1. Ineffective Assistance of Counsel
In sum, appellant's ineffective assistance claim alleges that his public defender failed to keep him properly informed about his case, failed to explain his rights and options thoroughly, and failed to explain the plea agreement to him properly. 2 Appellant's public defender testified at the hearing and contradicted appellant's claims. He stated that he had discussed the case adequately, was unaware of any complaints about lack of contact or understanding, went through the plea agreement line-by-line, and was certain that appellant understood the consecutive sentencing structure.
There is no dispute that, at the time he entered his pleas, appellant acknowledged on the record that he understood the plea agreement, had adequate time to consult with his attorney, and was giving up any right to claim self-defense (his likely defense at trial). The record further reveals that appellant declined two opportunities to ask questions. Although he expressed misgivings about his pleas at sentencing, he chose not to withdraw them and again confirmed his understanding that consecutive sentences totalling 236 months would be imposed.
The scope of our review from a denial of postconviction relief is limited to ascertaining whether there is sufficient evidence in the record to support the findings of the lower court. State v. Bliss , 457 N.W.2d 385, 391 (Minn. 1990). "A postconviction court's decision will not be disturbed except upon an abuse of discretion." Id.
A defendant may withdraw a guilty plea after sentencing only upon a showing that it is necessary to correct a manifest injustice. Minn. R. Crim. P. 15.05, subd. 1. The decision whether to allow withdrawal of a guilty plea "is addressed to the sound discretion of the trial court" and will not be reversed on appeal absent a clear abuse of discretion. Doughman v. State , 351 N.W.2d 671, 674 (Minn. App. 1984), review denied (Minn. Oct. 16, 1984). A claim of ineffective assistance of counsel requires a showing that (1) "counsel's representation fell below an objective standard of reasonableness," and (2) "there is a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's unprofessional errors, the result * * * would have been different." Strickland v. Washington , 466 U.S. 668, 687, 694, 104 S.2052, 2064, 2068 (1984). This standard applies to ineffective assistance claims related to guilty pleas as well as to criminal trial and sentencing proceedings. Hill v. Lockhart , 474 U.S. 52, 57-59, 106 S.366, 369-70 (1985).
The record in this case amply supports the postconviction court's finding that appellant was adequately represented. Perhaps most notable is the undisputed fact that appellant signed the petition and acknowledged on the record that he understood it and its finality. Contrary to his claims, he was given the opportunity to ask questions and he declined to do so. The postconviction court was also well within its discretion in crediting appellant's counsel's testimony indicating that appellant had been adequately represented throughout the proceedings.
2. Consecutive Sentencing
Consecutive sentences are permitted when a defendant is convicted of multiple current felonies committed against different persons and the sentence for the most severe current conviction is executed according to the guidelines. Minn. Sent. Guidelines II.F.2. A trial court has broad discretion in imposing concurrent or consecutive sentences when authorized by the guidelines and a reviewing court "generally will not interfere absent compelling circumstances." Massey v. State , 352 N.W.2d 487, 489 (Minn. App. 1984), review denied (Minn. Oct. 16, 1984).
Appellant argues that the sentencing court improperly failed to consider his belief that he was acting in self-defense. The guidelines provide that a defendant may rely on "[o]ther substantial grounds * * * which tend to excuse or mitigate the offender's culpability, although not amounting to a defense." Minn. Sent. Guidelines II.D.2.a.(5). However, this court has held that claims of self-defense will not necessarily create the compelling circumstances needed to support a sentencing reduction. State v. McKissic , 415 N.W.2d 341, 345-46 (Minn. App. 1987). Further, appellant's plea bargain stands as a strong barrier against later challenges to the sentence. See, e.g., State v. Givens , 544 N.W.2d 774, 777 (Minn. 1996) (a defendant who agrees to an aggravated sentence as part of a plea agreement cannot later have the sentence reversed if he made a knowing and intelligent waiver of the right to be sentenced according to the guidelines); State v. Tuttle , 504 N.W.2d 252, 257 (Minn. App. 1993) (where "sentence is 'an essential element of the agreement' [and not simply a joint recommendation], there is no basis on which to withdraw the plea if the district court's sentence is in accordance with the plea agreement") (quoting Kim v. State , 434 N.W.2d 263, 267 (Minn. 1989)). The postconviction court here was within its discretion in affirming imposition of the consecutive sentences contemplated by the plea agreement.

  • *
Retired judge of the district court, serving as judge of the Minnesota Court of Appeals by appointment pursuant to Minn. Const. art. VI, § 10.

2 The state public defender's office represents appellant on this appeal. Appellant also filed a pro se supplemental brief addressing the ineffective assistance of counsel claim and the validity of his guilty plea.