County District Court File No. 62-CR-15-7163
Swanson, Attorney General, St. Paul, Minnesota; and John
Choi, Ramsey County Attorney, Adam E. Petras, Assistant
County Attorney, St. Paul, Minnesota (for respondent)
Cathryn Middlebrook, Chief Appellate Public Defender, Michael
McLaughlin, Assistant Public Defender, St. Paul, Minnesota
Considered and decided by Worke, Presiding Judge; Ross,
Judge; and Kirk, Judge.
misadvice on a collateral consequence of a conviction renders
a guilty plea constitutionally invalid and manifestly unjust
when such misadvice amounts to ineffective assistance of
Joe Anthony Darnell Ellis-Strong challenges his conviction of
first-degree criminal sexual conduct, arguing that the
district court erred in denying his presentence motion to
withdraw his guilty plea because he was denied effective
assistance of counsel. Because Ellis-Strong's trial
counsel affirmatively misadvised him concerning the length of
the predatory-offender registration period, we conclude that
counsel's performance fell below an objective standard of
reasonableness. We reverse, because if Ellis-Strong can
successfully show ineffective assistance of counsel, his
guilty plea would be manifestly unjust. However, because it
is unclear from the record if Ellis-Strong was prejudiced, we
remand for a postconviction hearing.
September 2015, Ellis-Strong was charged with first-degree
criminal sexual conduct (CSC), in violation of Minn. Stat.
§ 609.342, subd. 1(a) (2014), because of an incident of
sexual penetration of a minor, alleged to have occurred in
was scheduled for March 8, 2016. Instead of going to trial on
March 8, Ellis-Strong entered a "straight plea" of
guilty to the first-degree CSC charge without a plea
agreement with the state. Ellis-Strong understood that while
there was no plea agreement, he would be able to argue for a
downward durational departure at sentencing and the state
would seek a guidelines sentence of 180 months.
the plea colloquy, Ellis-Strong's trial counsel asked:
"And you know that you will have to register as a sex
offender for 10 years as well?" Ellis-Strong replied,
sentencing hearing, Ellis-Strong moved to withdraw his guilty
plea. The basis for the motion, according to
Ellis-Strong's trial counsel, was that
at the time of the plea, Mr. Ellis-Strong was told by me and
by the State, there was lengthy conversation about the length
of his [predatory-offender] registration period. Everyone
thought it was 10 years. That's what he was told.
That's what he believed. That's what he understood.
Since that time we learned that we were all wrong. We
understand the status of the case law, which says that
registration is a collateral issue. And usually in those
cases the court is talking about whether the Defendant had to
register or not. This case is a little different because he
was advised. There is no question that he was going to
register. The question was the length of time.
trial counsel stated that based on the inaccurate advice
concerning the length of the registration period,
Ellis-Strong was denied the opportunity to "at least
negotiate pleading guilty under a different section under
[the CSC statute], which would have required 10 years [of
registering]." The state responded that (1) Ellis-Strong
made a straight plea, without a plea agreement, and (2) the
registration matter was "collateral" according to
established caselaw. Ellis-Strong's trial counsel
conceded that Minnesota caselaw viewed predatory-offender
registration as a collateral consequence, but stated that
there is no caselaw addressing whether the length of the
registration period would fall under a reason or basis to
withdraw a plea.
district court denied the motion, finding that the plea was
entered knowingly with a written plea petition and that
Ellis-Strong entered the plea of his own free will after
having sufficient time to consult with his attorney. The
district court granted a downward durational departure and
imposed a 147-month sentence.