may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. §480A.08, subd. 3 (1998).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
State of Minnesota,
Gregory John Padden,
Filed May 18, 1999
Reversed and remanded; motions granted and denied
Pine County District Court
File No. K5971086
John K. Carlson, Pine County Attorney, Pine County Courthouse, 315 Sixth Street, Pine City, MN 55063 (for respondent)
John R. Wylde, Calhoun Square, Suite 309B, 3001 Hennepin Avenue South, Minneapolis, MN 55408 (for appellant)
Considered and decided by Amundson, Presiding Judge, Crippen, Judge, and Anderson, Judge.
Prior to sentencing, the district court denied appellant's request to withdraw his guilty plea. Because appellant's plea was not voluntary, we reverse and remand for proceedings consistent with this opinion.
In May 1998, appellant agreed to plead guilty to first-degree manslaughter pursuant to an Alford-Goulette plea agreement negotiated with the county prosecutor. Despite appellant's continued claim to innocence, the court required appellant to waive his self-defense claim at the plea hearing. Appellant did so after consulting with family members. Appellant then acknowledged those procedural rights he was waiving by pleading guilty. Appellant also waived his rights to a jury trial, to call witnesses, and to testify on his behalf, and acknowledged the state's required burden of proof for conviction.
However, the court also described to appellant conflicting sentencing conditions. Appellant's plea agreement stipulated that appellant would be sentenced to 180 months. In return, the state agreed to dismiss other charges connected to the present case. The prosecutor agreed to the plea on the condition that, if the court sentenced appellant to less than 180 months, the state had the option to withdraw from the plea agreement and proceed to trial. The court reiterated this explanation to appellant. However, the court also explained to appellant that he would be able to have witnesses testify on his behalf during the sentencing hearing to support appellant's hope of reducing the sentence.
Appellant requested withdrawal of the plea on the day of sentencing. Appellant explained that he originally believed he could not receive a fair trial or present a convincing self-defense argument because most testimony and evidence disputed such a claim. But his belief changed when he heard of an outpouring of support in response to a local advertisement requesting witnesses to testify on appellant's behalf. Furthermore, the pre-sentence investigation (PSI) report documented a presumptive sentence of 122 months based on the combination of appellant's plea and criminal history score.
The court rejected appellant's motion. The court first explained that withdrawal would prejudice the prosecution. The prosecution, however, explained at the hearing that "[o]ther than locating witnesses and gearing up * * * there isn't any undue prejudice." Nevertheless, after speaking with counsel in chambers, the court noted that appellant had been represented by competent counsel and understood his rights, which justified rejecting appellant's request to withdraw his plea.
Appellant argues that the district court erred at the sentencing hearing when it rejected his motion to withdraw his guilty plea. The two procedural requirements for withdrawal of a guilty plea are set forth in Minn. R. Crim. P. 15.05. Under subdivision 1, an accused has the right to withdraw a guilty plea to correct "manifest injustice":
The court shall allow a defendant to withdraw a plea of guilty upon a timely motion and proof to the satisfaction of the court that withdrawal is necessary to correct a manifest injustice. Such a motion is not barred solely because it is made after sentence. If a defendant is allowed to withdraw a plea after sentence, the court shall set aside the judgment and the plea.
Id. Manifest injustice justifies withdrawal "if a guilty plea is not accurate, voluntary, and intelligent." Perkins v. State, 559 N.W.2d 678, 688 (Minn. 1997).
Under subdivision 2 to rule 15.05, prior to sentencing, a court may allow a defendant to withdraw a plea at its discretion,
if it is fair and just to do so, giving due consideration to the reasons advanced by the defendant in support of the motion and any prejudice the granting of the motion would cause the prosecution by reason of actions taken in reliance upon the defendant's plea.
This case rests on an analysis of the latter standard because appellant requested a withdrawal of his plea prior to sentencing.
Appellant argues that, because his plea was not voluntary, it would have been fair and just to allow him to withdraw his plea. The supreme court has explained that whether a plea has been voluntarily made is a question of fact and will not be disturbed unless clearly erroneous. See, e.g., State v. Danh, 516 N.W.2d 539, 544 (Minn. 1994) (explaining that such findings are not clearly erroneous if there is "reasonable evidence" to support them).
The "fair and just" standard does not entail an "absolute right" to withdraw a guilty plea before sentencing, and we must guard against a standard that "would undermine the integrity of the plea-taking process." Kim, 434 N.W.2d at 266 (citation omitted). The supreme court has further explained that, if a plea can be withdrawn for any reason, "`then the process of accepting guilty pleas would simply be a means of continuing the trial to some indefinite date in the future when the defendant might see fit to come in and make a motion to withdraw his plea.'" Id. (quoting United States v. Suter, 755 F.2d 523, 526 (7th Cir. 1985)).
On the other hand, however, courts have a duty to examine a criminal defendant's plea for voluntariness to insure that a defendant has not pleaded guilty because of any improper pressure or inducement. See, e.g., State v. Kaiser, 469 N.W.2d 316, 319 (Minn. 1991). The district court cannot rely on only the procedural requirements of accepting a guilty plea. More than mere formalism is required in determining whether a plea was voluntary. The requirements of a factual basis and a review of those procedural rights that have been waived are meaningless if the defendant either fails to appreciate the scope of his waiver, has been improperly induced, or misunderstands the effect of his plea agreement.
The circumstances here lead to the conclusion that appellant's plea was involuntary. Throughout the proceedings, appellant demonstrated and expressed a resolute belief in his innocence. Appellant only reluctantly waived his self-defense claim, at the district court's insistence, as a condition of accepting his guilty plea. Then, in response to waiving this defense, appellant verified that he would be able to present witnesses at the sentencing hearing who would provide mitigating testimony as to his degree of culpability, in the hope of securing a lesser sentence.
The promise of mitigation was illusory. Previously, at the plea hearing, in an unusual provision, the court had expressly affirmed the prosecution's request that, if the court were to sentence lower than the agreed 180 months, the prosecution would be able to withdraw from the plea agreement and proceed to trial. In an apparent attempt at balance, the court also explained that appellant would be able to withdraw his plea in the event of a longer sentence. Under the plea agreement, this was a meaningless commitment because 180 months was the statutory maximum for first-degree manslaughter.
What is particularly troubling about the district court's refusal to allow plea withdrawal is the expressed acknowledgment by the prosecution that no prejudice would attach to the withdrawal. In light of the absence of prejudice and the illusory mitigation opportunity granted to appellant, we conclude that the district court abused its discretion by denying appellant's request to withdraw his plea.
We grant appellant's motion for substitution of private counsel and accept the brief submitted by that attorney. Because appellant was financially able to obtain substitute counsel, we grant the public defender's motion for reimbursement of costs and fees in the amount of $684.48. See Minn. Stat. § 611.20, subds. 1, 2 (1998) (if defendant is financially able to obtain counsel, court shall terminate appointment of public defender and direct partial payment for services). Our decision is not based on arguments to which respondent had no opportunity to respond and we deny respondent's motion to strike or for leave to file an additional brief.
Reversed and remanded; motions granted and denied.
 There are other unique circumstances in this controversy which support the result reached here. The plea occurred at an early stage of the proceedings thus obviating the concerns regarding misuse of the plea process. See Kim, 434 N.W.2d at 266. Further, the presumptive sentence was only two-thirds of the sentence actually imposed.