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State v. Ellis-Strong

Court of Appeals of Minnesota

June 19, 2017

State of Minnesota, Respondent,
v.
Joe Anthony Darnell Ellis-Strong, Appellant.

         Ramsey County District Court File No. 62-CR-15-7163

          Lori 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 (for appellant)

          Considered and decided by Worke, Presiding Judge; Ross, Judge; and Kirk, Judge.

         SYLLABUS

         Affirmative 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 counsel.

          OPINION

          KIRK, Judge.

         Appellant 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.

         FACTS

         In 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 December 2014.

         Trial 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.

         During 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, "Yes."

         At his 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.

         Ellis-Strong's 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.

         The 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.

         Ellis-Strong ...


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