Ramsey County District Court File No. 62-K5-04-002593
Lori Swanson, Attorney General, St. Paul, Minnesota; and
John Choi, Ramsey County Attorney, Thomas R. Ragatz, Assistant County Attorney, St. Paul, Minnesota (for appellant)
Drake D. Metzger, St. Louis Park, Minnesota (for respondent)
Considered and decided by Connolly, Presiding Judge; Larkin, Judge; and Hooten, Judge.
When ruling on a motion for plea withdrawal under Minn. R. Crim. P. 15.05, subd. 2, the district court must give due consideration to the defendant's reasons in support of the motion, as well as any potential prejudice to the prosecution.
In this pretrial appeal, the state challenges the district court's decision granting respondent's motion to withdraw his guilty plea. The state argues that the decision has a critical impact on its ability to successfully prosecute respondent and that the district court abused its discretion in granting the motion. Because the critical-impact standard is met and the district court misapplied the law when granting respondent's motion for plea withdrawal, we reverse and remand.
On July 9, 2004, appellant State of Minnesota charged respondent Luis Armando Cubas with third-degree sale of a controlled substance. On September 3, Cubas appeared before the district court, in custody, and entered a guilty plea pursuant to a plea agreement. Under the plea agreement, the state agreed to "a dispositional departure to a stayed sentence" and "to release [Cubas] pending sentencing." Cubas agreed to plead guilty and "not to contest or appeal the custody point that [he] expecte[d] to be assigned" under the sentencing guidelines. Cubas further agreed that if he did not appear for sentencing, the district court would not be bound by the agreement and that he would "be sent straight to prison." At the conclusion of the September 3 hearing, the district court scheduled sentencing for October 13 and released Cubas. Cubas did not appear for sentencing, and the district court issued a warrant for his arrest. Cubas was not arrested on the warrant until April 2013.
After his arrest and prior to sentencing, Cubas moved to withdraw his guilty plea. In his written motion, Cubas asserted that it would be fair and just to allow him to withdraw his guilty plea because his plea agreement included the "provision that [he] agree not to contest or appeal the inclusion of a custody status point in the calculation of his criminal history score." Cubas's motion noted that "[a]n agreement between the state and a defendant, requiring a defendant to waive all right to appellate review in exchange for a reduced sentence is invalid as a matter of public policy, and violate[s] a defendant's right to due process under the rationale of Spann v. Minnesota, 704 N.W.2d 486 (Minn. 2005)." And the motion asserted that "[t]he appropriate remedy is to allow [Cubas] to withdraw his plea of guilty and then either stand trial or negotiate a valid, enforceable plea agreement."
At the motion hearing in district court, Cubas argued that "the logic and rationale of Spann requires the [c]ourt to permit him to withdraw the plea." The state opposed Cubas's motion. The state argued that, under Spann, Cubas would still have the right "to appeal or contest any part of his sentence, including the custody point that was awarded to him, " regardless of the waiver provision in the plea agreement, because "a defendant's waiver of his right to appeal under a plea agreement is invalid and unenforceable." The state further argued that "[a]llowing [Cubas] to withdraw his guilty plea would result in a significant prejudice to the [s]tate" because "drug evidence has been destroyed, [and] witnesses' memories of the events have likely faded" due to Cubas "absconding from this court for ...