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State v. Cox

Court of Appeals of Minnesota

December 30, 2013

State of Minnesota, Respondent,
v.
Tamara Lee Cox, Appellant.

UNPUBLISHED OPINION

Martin County District Court File No. 46-CR-12-885.

Lori Swanson, Attorney General, St. Paul, Minnesota; and Elizabeth W. Bloomquist, Fairmont, Minnesota (for respondent)

T. Oliver Skillings, New Ulm, Minnesota (for appellant)

Considered and decided by Halbrooks, Presiding Judge; Larkin, Judge; and Huspeni, Judge.

HUSPENI, Judge [*]

Appellant challenges the district court's denial of her motion to withdraw her guilty plea on the basis that the plea (1) was not intelligently made because the district court did not expressly follow the requirements of Minn. R. Crim. P. 15.02 when taking a plea from an unrepresented defendant and (2) it was fair and just to permit withdrawal before sentencing when the state did not demonstrate prejudice. We reverse and remand.

FACTS

Appellant Tamera Lee Cox was charged with violating a harassment restraining order, under Minn. Stat. § 609.748, subd. 6(b) (2012). She pleaded guilty at her first appearance and was unrepresented by counsel. Before Cox entered her guilty plea, the district court advised her of the charge and that she had a right to "speak with an attorney." When the district court asked if she wanted to talk to an attorney, Cox responded, "No." The district court then asked Cox if she pleaded guilty or not guilty, and Cox responded, "Guilty."

To establish the factual basis for the plea, the district court asked Cox if she knew there was a restraining order. Cox answered, "I didn't know knocking on my window was . . . ." The district court interrupted her and repeated the question. Cox answered that she did but that she "did not know knocking on the window was in violation." Cox explained that she knocked on the window because the neighbor was outside making faces at her son and holding a stick in his hand, which she thought was threatening, so she knocked on the window to let him know she was watching him.

Cox retained counsel and moved to withdraw her guilty plea before sentencing. She argued that withdrawal was necessary under the manifest-injustice standard because she had not been advised of her rights under Minn. R. Crim. P. 15.02, subd. 1, and her guilty plea was, therefore, invalid. Cox also sought withdrawal under the fair and just standard for plea withdrawal before sentencing. The district court denied the motion, holding that Cox's plea was voluntary, accurate, and intelligent and that the reasons for withdrawing the plea did not outweigh the burden withdrawal would place on the state.

DECISION

"A criminal defendant has no absolute right to withdraw a guilty plea once entered." Perkins v. State, 559 N.W.2d 678, 685 (Minn. 1997). "[T]he Minnesota Rules of Criminal Procedure allow a defendant to seek to withdraw a guilty plea in two circumstances." State v. Theis, 742 N.W.2d 643, 646 (Minn. 2007). First, a district court must permit guilty-plea withdrawal at any time, even after sentencing, if "withdrawal is necessary to correct a manifest injustice." Minn. R. Crim. P. 15.05, subd. 1. A manifest injustice occurs if a guilty plea is invalid. Theis, 742 N.W.2d at 646. In order to be valid, a guilty plea must be voluntary, accurate, and intelligent. Perkins, 559 N.W.2d at 688. A plea that does not meet these requirements is invalid and withdrawal is required. Theis, 742 N.W.2d at 646. Second, a district court has discretion to allow a defendant to withdraw a guilty plea before sentencing if the defendant proves that "it is fair and just to do so." Minn. R. Crim. P. 15.05, subd. 2. "Although this standard is less demanding than the manifest injustice standard, it does not allow a defendant to withdraw a guilty plea for ‛simply any reason.'" Theis, 742 N.W.2d at 646 (quoting State v. Farnsworth, 738 N.W.2d 364, 372 (Minn. 2007)).

The validity of a guilty plea under the manifest-injustice standard is a question of law that is reviewed de novo on appeal. See State v. Raleigh, 778 N.W.2d 90, 94 (Minn. 2010). But withdrawal under the fair-and-just standard is reviewed for an abuse ...


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