Ramsey County District Court File No. K4965662
Considered and decided by Toussaint, Chief Judge, Kalitowski, Judge, and
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Toussaint, Chief Judge
Appellant Steven Charles Kaelble appeals from the post-conviction court's order denying his petition, which challenged his 1996 conviction for first-degree criminal sexual conduct, arguing that the addition of a mandatory ten-year conditional-release term to his sentence created a manifest injustice entitling him to withdraw his guilty plea. We conclude that the addition of the conditional-release term did not create a manifest injustice, but because it exceeded the maximum sentence contemplated in the plea agreement, we affirm the sentence as modified.
On April 8, 1996, Steven Charles Kaelble pleaded guilty to first-degree criminal sexual conduct in violation of Minn. Stat. § 609.342, subd. 1(g) (1994). The plea agreement contemplated a 244-month sentence, which was a double upward durational departure from the sentencing guidelines. The plea agreement stated that the maximum sentence for Kaelble's crime was 30 years, or 360 months. In return for Kaelble's guilty plea, the prosecution agreed to withdraw a charge for an offense with a mandatory life sentence.
The ten-year conditional-release term required by Minn. Stat. § 609.109, subd. 7(a) (2000) was not mentioned during the plea hearing. At the May 23, 1996 sentencing hearing, the state reiterated the plea agreement of 244 months and, for the first time, addressed the conditional release term. The state asked that the district court add the mandatory ten-year conditional-release term to the sentence contemplated by the plea agreement. The court then sentenced Kaelble to an executed prison term of 244 months, followed by up to ten years of conditional-release to be reduced by whatever time Kaelble would serve under supervised release. At that time, neither Kaelble nor his attorney objected to the terms of the sentence.
On February 28, 2002, nearly six years after sentencing, Kaelble moved the district court to either modify his sentence or allow him to withdraw his guilty plea, arguing that he was not informed of the ten-year conditional-release term at the time that he pleaded guilty. The post-conviction court denied Kaelble's motion, finding that there was no evidence that Kaelble lacked an understanding of the mandatory conditional-release term, but "entered his plea knowingly [and] voluntarily * * * to avoid a mandatory life sentence if convicted at trial." Further, the court noted that neither Kaelble nor his attorney questioned or objected to the imposition of the conditional-release term at the sentencing hearing. This appeal follows.
On appeal from post-conviction proceedings, this court limits its review to determining whether sufficient evidence exists to sustain the post-conviction court's findings. Hale v. State, 566 N.W.2d 923, 926 (Minn. 1997). A post-conviction court's decision will not be disturbed absent an abuse of discretion. Id. However, interpreting and enforcing plea agreements are issues of law, which are reviewed de novo. State v. Brown, 606 N.W.2d 670, 674 (Minn. 2000).
Kaelble argues that because he was not informed of the mandatory conditional-release term at the time he pleaded guilty, a manifest injustice occurred entitling him to withdraw his guilty plea. We disagree.
After a guilty plea is entered, a criminal defendant does not have an absolute right to withdraw that plea. Perkins v. State, 559 N.W.2d 678, 685 (Minn. 1997) (citation omitted). Rather, a guilty plea may only be withdrawn when it is "necessary to correct a manifest injustice." Minn. R. Crim. P. 15.05, subd. 1. A manifest injustice is present if the plea is not accurate, voluntary, and intelligent. Perkins, 559 N.W.2d at 688. A defendant bears the burden of proving by a preponderance of the evidence that the ...