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State v. Wukawitz

May 29, 2003

STATE OF MINNESOTA, RESPONDENT,
v.
THOMAS ROBERT WUKAWITZ, JR., PETITIONER, APPELLANT.



SYLLABUS BY THE COURT

When the district court fails to impose a mandatory conditional release term at sentencing and imposition of the conditional release term after the fact would violate the plea agreement, the district court may allow the defendant to withdraw his plea.

If withdrawal of a plea would unduly prejudice the state, the district court may impose a conditional release term commencing after the defendant is released from prison for a period of less than the five- or ten-year conditional release term set forth in the statute.

Affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded. 4 Heard, considered, and decided by the court en banc.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Blatz, Chief Justice

OPINION

In this sentencing appeal, appellant Thomas Robert Wukawitz, Jr. challenges the method by which his plea-negotiated sentence was amended to impose a mandatory conditional release term of five years. The Ramsey County District Court imposed a 5-year conditional release term concurrent with Wukawitz's sentence, beginning while Wukawitz was incarcerated and running for the remaining 60 months of his sentence. The court of appeals affirmed the district court but with modification holding that conditional release could not commence before Wukawitz had been released from prison.

The court concluded, however, that the district court could reduce the conditional release term to less than the five years mandated by the statute in order to not violate the terms of the plea agreement. Wukawitz contends that the plain meaning of the statute and our prior holdings require that the court of appeals' decision be reversed and he be allowed either to withdraw his plea or have his sentence modified to allow for only 80 months of incarceration plus a 60-month term of conditional release, thereby honoring the agreed-upon cap of 140 months while still accommodating the prescribed conditional release term.

We hold that in those limited circumstances where imposition of a conditional release term after sentencing would violate the plea agreement, the district court may allow the defendant to withdraw his plea. We further hold that if a plea withdrawal would unduly prejudice the state, the district court may impose conditional release commencing after the defendant is released from prison for a period of less than the five- or ten-year conditional release term set forth in the statute. Accordingly, we remand to the district court to determine whether the state would be unduly prejudiced if Wukawitz were allowed to withdraw his plea.*fn1

On March 12, 1998, Thomas Robert Wukawitz, Jr., pleaded guilty to two counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct in violation of Minn. Stat. § 609.342, subds. 1(a) and 2 (1992). The conduct involved two minors and occurred between September 1988 and December 1992. Pursuant to a plea agreement, the district court sentenced Wukawitz to consecutive terms of 86 months on count one and 54 months on count two, for a total of 140 months. With credit for good time served, Wukawitz was to serve 93-1/3 months in prison and 46-2/3 months on supervised release. Minn. Stat. § 244.01, subds. 5, 8 (1998). The mandatory conditional release term was not discussed during the plea negotiations nor at the plea or sentencing hearings.*fn2

In April 2000, the district court issued an amended sentencing order adding the five-year conditional release term under Minn. Stat. § 609.109, subd. 7. Wukawitz moved to withdraw his plea asserting that he was unaware of the mandatory five-year conditional release term applicable to his convictions when he agreed to plead guilty. The court denied the motion and Wukawitz appealed. In an unpublished opinion, the court of appeals reversed and remanded to the district court, holding that if the district court determined that the plea was induced by the sentence, the district court must either allow Wukawitz to withdraw his plea or modify the sentence so the maximum period of incarceration, including the conditional release term, did not exceed the maximum-executed sentence agreed to in the plea agreement. State v. Wukawitz, No. C7-00-1859, 2001 WL 477207, at *2 (Minn. App. May 8, 2001), rev. denied (Minn. July 24, 2001).

On remand, the state conceded that Wukawitz negotiated for a specific term of months in return for his guilty plea. Concluding that withdrawal of the plea was not appropriate, the district court modified Wukawitz's sentence, ordering the five-year conditional release term to run concurrent with Wukawitz's 140-month sentence. Under the amended sentence, the 60-month conditional release period would begin after Wukawitz served 80 months of his 140-month sentence and run concurrent with his remaining time in prison and any subsequent supervised release period.

Wukawitz appealed to the court of appeals, arguing that imposing the conditional release term prior to his release from prison violated the conditional release statute. State v. Wukawitz, 644 N.W.2d 852, 853 (Minn. App. 2002). In support, Wukawitz cited Minn. Stat. § 609.109, subd. 7(a), which requires conditional release to begin "after" a defendant has completed the sentence imposed. Id. Agreeing with Wukawitz, the court of appeals concluded that conditional release could not commence while Wukawitz was in prison. Id. at 857. The court concluded, however, that the district court could impose a conditional release term of less than five years commencing upon release from prison and terminating on the same date as the original sentence, typically at the completion of supervised release. Id. The court further concluded that a district court could modify a defendant's sentence in such a way without giving priority to plea withdrawal. Id. at 855. Wukawitz appeals from this decision asking that he be allowed to withdraw his plea or in the alternative, that the length of his time in prison be reduced to accommodate the mandatory conditional release term.

Therefore, as framed by the parties, the central issue in this case is whether a defendant has an absolute right to withdraw a plea if a conditional release term is later added that exceeds the agreed-upon sentencing cap, or if under certain circumstances, the district court can modify the sentence to accommodate the non-negotiated mandatory conditional release term. In resolving this issue, we must squarely address our responsibility to insure that a defendant's constitutional rights are not violated and, at the same time, apply the plain and unambiguous language of the conditional release statute to the facts before us. Because all statutes, rules, and case law must be consonant with the dictates of our federal and state constitutions, we begin there.

Both the United States and the Minnesota Constitutions provide that a person shall not be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law. U.S. Const. amend. XIV, § 1; Minn. Const. art. I, § 7. The United State Supreme Court noted in Mabry v. Johnson that it is not the plea bargain itself that implicates the Constitution but the ensuing guilty plea. 467 U.S. 504, 507-08 (1984). Once a defendant has pleaded guilty pursuant to a plea agreement, he has been convicted of a crime that may result in a deprivation of his liberty. ...


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