Ramsey County District Court File No. 62CR125505.
Lori Swanson, Minnesota Attorney General, St. Paul, Minnesota; and John J. Choi, Ramsey County Attorney, Peter R. Marker, Assistant County Attorney, St. Paul, Minnesota (for respondent).
David Merchant, Chief Appellate Public Defender, Rochelle R. Winn, Assistant Public Defender, St. Paul, Minnesota (for appellant)
Considered and decided by Hooten, Presiding Judge; Halbrooks, Judge; and Stauber, Judge.
In this direct appeal following appellant's conviction of felony domestic assault, appellant argues that he is entitled to withdraw his guilty plea because the district court impermissibly interjected itself into the plea negotiations by advising appellant that, "at worst, " he would serve 21 months in prison, and then sentenced appellant to 24 months in prison. We affirm.
On July 4, 2012, police were dispatched to a residence on a report of a domestic incident. The police observed children running out of the residence and a man, later identified as appellant William Lloyd Hutchinson, yelling and cursing inside the home. Appellant's girlfriend, L.R.J., told the police that appellant threatened to harm her 15-year-old daughter and that when she intervened, appellant grabbed her upper arms "extremely hard." She also stated that appellant threatened her developmentally disabled son by winding up his fist to punch him. The police observed bruising on L.R.J.'s lower left tricep area. In a Mirandized statement, appellant admitted to the police that he chased L.R.J.'s daughter and cursed at her and that he grabbed L.R.J.'s arms. At the time of this incident, appellant had three prior convictions for domestic-violence offenses within the preceding ten years. Appellant was charged with three counts of felony domestic assault in violation of Minn. Stat. § 609.2242, subd. 4 (2010).
At a pretrial hearing, appellant's counsel stated that they were close to agreeing to a plea bargain, which would provide that appellant would (1) plead guilty to one count of felony domestic assault while the other two counts would be dismissed; (2) receive conditional release pending sentencing; and (3) move for a downward-durational departure over the state's objection. Appellant stated that he was wary of the agreement because he did not want another felony on his record. The court commented that this worry was unfounded given appellant's significant criminal history and clarified that the state would oppose his request for a durational departure and seek a guidelines sentence. The court then gave appellant additional time to confer with his attorney.
When the parties came back on the record, the prosecutor explained appellant's options: he could take the deal, or he could go to trial and, if convicted, receive consecutive sentences and an aggravated departure because one victim was a vulnerable adult. Appellant's counsel explained that appellant had four criminal-history points and that, if he did not receive a downward-durational departure, he would be looking at 21 to 28 months in prison, with 14 months to serve on a 21-month sentence. Appellant had already served some of his sentence while in custody. The court stated: "So, that's really what—you know, that's potentially what you're looking at. If you get your points right, you're looking at sitting another twelve months." After further discussion, the court stated:
I guess your options are: If you enter a plea of guilty today to one count, then it looks like you're looking at, worst case scenario, 21 months; best case scenario would be placed on probation for, you know, X number of years. If not, then, you know, you take your chances . . . .
Appellant was given more time to discuss with his attorney privately and then announced he would accept the deal. The plea agreement was restated for the record, and appellant pleaded guilty and admitted to facts supporting the conviction.
At sentencing, appellant's counsel requested a downward-durational departure, seeking probation. The state opposed the departure request. The district court denied the request and sentenced ...