As this is the first full case Ascheman & Smith will be presenting in I will explain my thoughts a little. We want the blog at Ascheman & Smith to be a resource for clients as well as attorneys. Therefore, we will be presenting some of the more recent Minnesota caselaw along with our basic summary of the situation, and what it means for our clients.
In an excellent case for our first release, this case deals with the unfortunate death of Ramsey County probation officer Howard Porter. Mr. Raleigh was one of the defendants convicted of the murder, for which he is now appealing. An appeal for a first-degree murder goes straight the the Minnesota Supreme Court. In the present case Mr. Raleigh appealed his first-degree murder convictions on the grounds that his plea was invalid. There are two standards for which a defendant might be able to withdraw his plea, "manifest injustice," or "fair and just" standards.
In this case Mr. Raleigh attempted to withdraw his plea on the grounds that the withdrawal was necessary to correct a "manifest injustice" and because it would be "fair and just" to do so.
To show that the withdrawal is necessary to correct a "manifest injustice," Mr. Raleigh was required to show that his plea was inaccurate, involuntary, or unintelligent. In the present case, Mr. Raleigh was unable to make this showing.and his motion was denied.
To show that the withdrawal of his plea would be "fair and just," Mr. Raleigh was required to present a reason to the court to support his withdrawal, and overcome the prejudice that granting the motion would cause to the prosecution who relied on the plea. In the present case, while the prosecution was unable to convince the district and the Minnesota Supreme Court that there was prejudice to the prosecution, Mr. Raleigh was also unable to show that there was a reason why the withdrawal would be "fair and just."
I hope you enjoyed our first "Blog Case Analysis," please remember that the interpretation and analysis presented here is not intended to be legal advice. If you are seeking legal advice please contact us for a free consultation and actual examination the issues that your case may present.
Landon J. Ascheman, Esq.
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STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN SUPREME COURT
Filed: Feb 4, 2010
State of Minnesota, Respondent,
S Y L L A B U S
Appellant failed to show hisguilty plea to first-degree premeditated murder was invalid; thus, appellant isnot entitled to withdraw his plea to correct a “manifest injustice” under Minn.R. Crim. P. 15.05, subd. 1.
The district court did notabuse its discretion in denying appellant’s motion to withdraw his guilty pleato first-degree premeditated murder because appellant failed to advancesubstantiated reasons why withdrawal was “fair and just” under Minn. R. Crim.P. 15.05, subd. 2.
O P I N I O N
AppellantRashad Arthur Raleigh pled guilty to first-degree premeditated murder for thedeath of Howard Porter. The issue inthis case is whether the district court should have granted appellant’s presentencemotion to withdraw his plea under either the “manifest injustice” or “fair andjust” standard of Minn. R. Crim. P. 15.05, subds. 1, 2. The district court denied appellant’s motionto withdraw his plea under both standards.We affirm.
On January 24, 2008, aHennepin County grand jury indicted Raleigh on one count of first-degreepremeditated murder and one count of first-degree felony murder for the deathof Howard Porter.
At his plea hearing, Raleighaffirmed the following facts regarding Porter’s death. On May 18, 2007, Raleigh, Tonya Washington,and Fredquinzo King were drinking and using drugs at a house in St. Paul. The three decided to have Washington go outand bring a man back to the house, and while Washington performed an act ofprostitution with the man, Raleigh and King would rob him. Washington left and returned with a man who,according to Raleigh, was driving a “fancy” car. During sexual activity between Washington andthe man, Raleigh and King entered the room to rob him. Raleigh had a gun. The man resisted and Raleigh hit him in thehead. King also hit the man in the headwith a chair or stool. Raleigh and Kingbeat the man until he no longer resisted.
Raleigh and King then wentoutside to look in the man’s car. Theydiscovered that the man was Howard Porter, a Ramsey County probationofficer. Not wanting Porter to identifythem, the two returned to the house and assaulted Porter again to “finish himoff.” Believing Porter to be dead, Raleighand King drove Porter to North Minneapolis, dumped him in an alley, and leftthe car elsewhere. Porter was, in fact,alive when the men dumped him in the alley.He was found and taken to the hospital where he died one weeklater. Raleigh does not dispute that theblows to Porter’s head administered at the house in St. Paul on May 18, 2007,caused Porter’s death.
On November 21, 2007,Raleigh was charged by complaint with second-degree murder in Hennepin CountyDistrict Court. Two months later, agrand jury indicted Raleigh on one count of first-degree premeditated murderand one count of first-degree felony murder.
On August 11, 2008, Raleighpled guilty to first-degree premeditated murder on the agreement that the Statewould dismiss his felony murder charge and not prosecute him for a triplehomicide in Ramsey County for which he was also under investigation. Raleigh’s counsel was present at the plea hearing. During the hearing, Raleigh’s attorney askedhim a series of questions to support the plea.Through this questioning, Raleigh confirmed that he had signed apetition to plead guilty on August 6, 2008, after reviewing the plea with hisattorney and an investigator. Raleighfurther confirmed that he understood entering the plea meant he waived hisrights to address irregularities at his grand jury proceeding, have a jurytrial, and exercise his Fifth Amendment rights.Raleigh also confirmed that it was “never [his] intention” to have hiscase tried on “some lesser degree of homicide” and that he understood hissentence would be life imprisonment without the possibility of release, the“most severe punishment the State of Minnesota can give anyone.” He confirmed that he understood the plea didnot prevent federal charges from being filed against him. Last, Raleigh confirmed that he understoodthat it is “highly unusual for someone to plead guilty to a lifesentence.” The court then asked Raleighif he had a “full opportunity to discuss [his] case” with his attorney and ifhe was satisfied with his attorney’s work; Raleigh confirmed that he was. Next, Raleigh’s attorney questioned him as tothe facts of the murder. Finally, thecourt accepted Raleigh’s plea.
In the days immediatelyfollowing the plea hearing, Raleigh questioned his plea in a series of phonecalls to members of his family. Raleighalso claims he heard voices and experienced trouble sleeping after his plea; herequested to see a psychiatrist, with whom he met on August 20, 2008. Raleigh moved orally to withdraw his guiltyplea, and at an August 29, 2008, hearing the district court heard andconsidered the motion.
Raleigh’s attorney argued atthe motion hearing that the court should permit withdrawal because stress, improperpressure to plead guilty, mental health issues, and not understanding theplea’s consequences governed Raleigh’s decision to plead guilty. The State vigorously opposed the motion,arguing that Raleigh failed to present any evidence to authorize withdrawal andthat Raleigh’s arguments were insufficient for the court to find that Raleighmisunderstood the consequences of his plea or experienced mental healthproblems. The State further observedthat at the plea hearing the court went to great lengths to ensure Raleighunderstood the plea’s consequences. Thedistrict court denied Raleigh’s motion to withdraw his plea, noting thatRaleigh failed to submit any evidence to support the withdrawal motion. In denying Raleigh’s motion, the court held thatthe plea was valid, that withdrawal would prejudice the State, and that Raleighfailed to advance reasons why withdrawal would be “fair and just.” This appeal followed.
A defendant has no absoluteright to withdraw a guilty plea after entering it. Perkinsv. State, 559 N.W.2d 678, 685 (Minn. 1997).Withdrawal is permitted in two circumstances. First, a court must allow withdrawal of aguilty plea if withdrawal is necessary to correct a “manifest injustice.” Minn. R. Crim. P. 15.05, subd. 1. Second, a court may allow withdrawal any timebefore sentencing if it is “fair and just” to do so. Minn. R. Crim. P. 15.05, subd. 2. Raleigh argues the district court erred bynot granting his withdrawal motion under either standard.
We first examine whetherRaleigh was entitled to withdraw his plea because withdrawal was necessary to avoida manifest injustice. According to Minn.R. Crim. P. 15.05, subd. 1, “The court shall allow a defendant to withdraw aplea of guilty upon a timely motion and proof to the satisfaction of the courtthat withdrawal is necessary to correct a manifest injustice.” A manifest injustice exists if a guilty pleais not valid. State v. Theis, 742 N.W.2d 643, 646 (Minn. 2007). To be constitutionally valid, a guilty pleamust be accurate, voluntary, and intelligent.North Carolina v. Alford, 400U.S. 25, 31 (1970); State v. Trott,338 N.W.2d 248, 251 (Minn. 1983). Adefendant bears the burden of showing his plea was invalid. Alanisv. State, 583 N.W.2d 573, 577 (Minn. 1998).Assessing the validity of a plea presents a question of law that wereview de novo. See State v. Rhodes, 675 N.W.2d 323, 326 (Minn. 2004).
The accuracy requirementprotects a defendant from pleading guilty to a more serious offense than that forwhich he could be convicted if he insisted on his right to trial. Trott,338 N.W.2d at 251. To be accurate, aplea must be established on a proper factual basis. Statev. Ecker, 524 N.W.2d 712, 716 (Minn. 1994).The district court typically satisfies the factual basis requirement byasking the defendant to express in his own words what happened. Trott,338 N.W.2d at 251. The court should beparticularly wary of situations in which the factual basis is established byasking a defendant only leading questions.Ecker, 524 N.W.2d at 716. Still, a defendant may not withdraw his pleasimply because the court failed to elicit proper responses if the recordcontains sufficient evidence to support the conviction. SeeState v. Nelson, 311 Minn. 109, 110, 250 N.W.2d 816, 817 (1976).
Raleigh challenges theaccuracy of his plea on two points.First, he argues the facts do not establish the element of premeditation. “Premeditation” means to “consider, plan orprepare for, or determine to commit, the act referred to prior to itscommission.” Minn. Stat. § 609.18(2008). To prove premeditation, the factsmust establish “ ‘that some appreciable period of time passed after thedefendant formed the intent to kill, during which the statutorily requiredconsideration, planning, preparation, or determination took place.’ ” SeeState v. McArthur, 730 N.W.2d 44, 49 (Minn. 2007) (quoting State v. Moua, 678 N.W.2d 29, 39 (Minn.2004)). At the plea hearing, Raleighgave an affirmative response to this question from his attorney:
Andjust so we’re clear here, [the beating] happened not only before you went outto look at the car, but that actually was what you had in mind when you cameback from the car, to finish [Porter] off?
This exchange reveals that Raleigh decided to killPorter upon discovering Porter’s identity in Porter’s car; he formed thestatutorily required determination to kill Porter in the “appreciable time” ittook him to return to the house to beat Porter a second time to “finish [Porter]off.” Accordingly, the factual basis wassufficient to establish premeditation.
Raleighfurther argues that his plea was not accurate because he answered only leadingquestions throughout the plea hearing. Therecord confirms that Raleigh never stated in his own words what happened and throughoutthe plea hearing the district court asked Raleigh no questions. Instead, the court established the factualbasis for the plea by permitting defense counsel to ask Raleigh a series ofleading questions.
We have long discouraged thispractice. In State v. Hoaglund, we stated: “It is to be hoped that the trial judge, in[accepting a plea], will ask the questions with respect to the factual basisfor the crime so as to avoid the rather common inclination of counsel to elicitthese facts by leading questions.” 307Minn. 322, 326, 240 N.W.2d 4, 6 (1976). Weelaborated on the preferred questioning method in State v. Trott,stating:
Theusual way in which the factual basis requirement is satisfied is for thecourt to ask the defendant to express in his own words what happened. The defendant’s statement usually willsuggest questions to the court which then, with the assistance of counsel, caninterrogate the defendant in further detail.
338 N.W.2d at 251(citation omitted). Eleven years later,we addressed the topic again in Shorterv. State, 511 N.W.2d 743, 744-45, 747 (Minn. 1994). In Shorter,we noted that only the defense counsel questioned Shorter, that Shortergenerally gave only yes or no answers, that the judge did not question Shorter,and that Shorter was never asked to describe the incident that gave rise to thecharge. Id. at 744-45. In holdingthat Shorter was entitled to withdraw his plea to correct a manifest injustice,we expressed the following concern regarding the plea hearing proceedings:
We also have misgivings regarding the trial court’sacceptance of Shorter’s plea. We find ittroubling that the court did not conduct any questioning of the defendant,particularly after the defense attorney merely asked leading questions requiringonly that the defendant acknowledge the state’s evidence as to key elements ofthe crime. We have previously statedthat the trial court bears the primary responsibility to advise and interrogatethe defendant in sufficient detail to establish an adequate factual basis forthe plea. In reversing the judgment ofconviction upon a guilty plea in Hoaglund,we stated that we hoped that trial judges would ask questions with respect tothe factual basis for the crime so as to avoid the inclination of counsel toelicit those facts through leading questions.The court in this case asked no questions at all and based itsacceptance of the plea on just such leading questions.
Id. at 747 (citations omitted).Later thatyear, we cited Shorter in Ecker, reiterating that “we again discouragethe use of leading questions to establish a factual basis.” 524 N.W.2d at 717.
Hoaglund, Trott, Shorter, and Ecker span two decades, reflect avariety of charges, and include both Alfordand non-Alford pleas. Together, the cases make clear that wegenerally discourage the practice of establishing a guilty plea’s factual basisby permitting counsel to ask leading questions of a defendant, with the courtremaining silent. Here, we discouragethat practice yet again and encourage district courts to take an active role inasking direct questions of defendants during plea hearings.
Ultimately,the accuracy requirement ensures that a defendant does not plead guilty to acrime more serious than that of which he could be convicted if he elected to goto trial. Trott, 338 N.W.2d at 251. Raleigh’splea satisfies this objective because the answers Raleigh gave to counsel’squestions establish that he formed the statutorily required determination tokill Porter in the time it took to return to the house to beat Porter a secondtime. The answers he gave established premeditation,the only element of the crime Raleigh asserts was not factuallyestablished. Furthermore, as noted, thefactual basis for Raleigh’s plea is sufficient, despite its disfavoredformat. Thus, Raleigh’s challenges to boththe form and the substance of the accuracy of his plea fail, and we hold thatRaleigh’s plea was accurate.
To determine whether a pleais voluntary, the court examines what the parties reasonably understood to bethe terms of the plea agreement. State v. Brown, 606 N.W.2d 670, 674(Minn. 2000). The voluntarinessrequirement ensures a defendant is not pleading guilty due to improper pressureor coercion. Trott, 338 N.W.2d at 251.Whether a plea is voluntary is determined by considering all relevantcircumstances. State v. Danh, 516 N.W.2d 539, 544 (Minn. 1994) (citing Brady v. United States, 397 U.S. 742,749 (1970)).
Raleigh claims his plea wasinvoluntary in two ways. First, Raleighargues he was under extreme stress and not thinking rationally when he enteredhis plea. He urges that he must havebeen improperly pressured because pleading guilty to an offense punishable by lifewithout release to avoid additional life sentences is illogical. Raleigh offers no further explanation of howstress, irrational thinking, improper pressure, or coercion influenced his pleadecision, nor does he cite any authority permitting a plea withdrawal underthese circumstances. Indeed, the recordindicates that it was Raleigh who suggested the plea. Phone records of conversations betweenRaleigh and various family members intimate that Raleigh may have beenmotivated to plead guilty to avoid the stress of trial and ongoing publicitysurrounding the murder. Finally, bothcounsel and the court made Raleigh aware of the unusual nature of his plea. These facts show acceptance and understandingof the plea, not improper pressure or coercion.Thus, neither stress nor irrational thinking rendered Raleigh’s pleainvoluntary.
Second, Raleigh argues hepled guilty out of fear of receiving the death penalty. Again, he offers no support in the record forthis argument. Phone records reveal thatRaleigh was concerned about federal charges but not that he believed the pleaprotected him from federal charges.Moreover, at the plea hearing, Raleigh’s attorney asked: “And it’s clear, is it not, that the U.S.Attorney’s office, the federal court system, is not bound by anything we do orsay here today, you understand that?”Raleigh answered: “Yes, Ido.” Based on this exchange, Raleighcould not have reasonably believed his plea was necessary to avoid federalcharges, including any charges punishable with the death penalty. Accordingly, Raleigh failed to show his pleawas involuntary.
The intelligence requirement ensures that a defendant understands thecharges against him, the rights he is waiving, and the consequences of hisplea. State v. Trott, 338N.W.2d 248, 251 (Minn. 1983).“Consequences” refers to a plea’s direct consequences, namely themaximum sentence and fine. Alanis v. State, 583 N.W.2d 573, 578(Minn. 1998).
Raleigh makes no claim thathe misunderstood the charges against him or the rights he waived; he contendsonly that he misunderstood the consequences of his plea. Here, the consequence of pleading guilty tofirst-degree premeditated murder is a sentence of life without the possibilityof release. Minn. Stat. § 609.106, subd.2(1) (2008). The record is clear thatRaleigh gave an affirmative answer to this question from his attorney: “Whenwe come back for sentencing, you’re going to get a life without parolesentence, do you understand that?”Raleigh points to nothing in the record to contradict his answer. Therefore, we conclude that Raleighunderstood the direct consequence of his plea—a sentence of life without thepossibility of release. Because heunderstood the plea’s consequences, we hold that Raleigh’s plea wasintelligent.
Because Raleigh has notshown his plea to be inaccurate, involuntary, or unintelligent, Raleigh hasfailed to show his plea was invalid. Heis therefore not entitled to withdraw his plea to “correct a manifest injustice”under Minn. R. Crim. P. 15.05, subd. 1.
We turn to the question of whether the district courtshould have granted Raleigh’s plea withdrawal motion under the “fair and just”standard of Minn. R. Crim. P. 15.05, subd. 2.The rule reads:
Inits discretion the court may also allow the defendant to withdraw a plea at anytime before sentence if it is fair and just to do so, giving due considerationto the reasons advanced by the defendant in support of the motion and anyprejudice the granting of the motion would cause the prosecution by reason ofactions taken in reliance upon the defendant’s plea.
The “fair and just” standard requires district courtsto give “due consideration” to two factors: (1) the reasons a defendantadvances to support withdrawal and (2) prejudice granting the motion wouldcause the State given reliance on the plea.Id. A defendant bears the burden of advancingreasons to support withdrawal. Kim v. State, 434 N.W.2d 263, 266 (Minn.1989). The State bears the burden ofshowing prejudice caused by withdrawal. State v. Wukawitz, 662 N.W.2d 517, 527(Minn. 2003). We review a districtcourt’s decision to deny a withdrawal motion for abuse of discretion, reversingonly in the “rare case.” Kim, 434 N.W.2d at 266.
Wefirst review the district court’s assessment of the reasons Raleigh gave to supportwithdrawal of his plea. At the hearing,Raleigh asserted that the court should grant withdrawal because he was understress, felt pressured to plead guilty, and did not fully appreciate orunderstand the consequences of his plea.Yet Raleigh failed to provide any evidentiary support for the reasons headvanced. The court at the pleawithdrawal hearing provided Raleigh the opportunity to address the court, buthe inexplicably declined. Because Raleigh failed to substantiate thereasons he advanced to support withdrawal, the district court could onlyconsider Raleigh’s argument in the context of the record and evidence offeredby the State. Nothing in therecord reveals that Raleigh felt pressured to plead guilty; to the contrary,the plea hearing transcript indicates that he suggested the plea and thatcounsel and the court emphasized to Raleigh how unusual his plea was. Similarly, nothing in the record shows thatRaleigh did not understand the consequence, namely the corresponding sentence,of his plea. As previously discussed,Raleigh affirmed that he understood he was accepting a sentence of life withoutthe possibility of release. Raleighoffers no other reasons why withdrawal would be “fair and just,” and we holdhim to the reasons advanced. BecauseRaleigh failed to provide any valid reason why withdrawal would be “fair andjust,” the district court did not abuse its discretion in concluding thatRaleigh failed to advance a credible reason to support withdrawal of hisplea.
Wenext review the district court’s assessment of the potential prejudice to theState that would be caused by withdrawal.The court concluded that the State would suffer “serious prejudice” ifthe motion to withdraw was granted. Thecourt noted that it had been almost 16 months since the alleged crime; memoriesfade and witnesses become unavailable. Two witnesses for the State had alreadydied. The court relied on theprosecutor’s representation that the State had intended to try Raleigh first,and that since the time of Raleigh’s guilty plea, all of the State’s effortshad been focused on the trial of King.The court further relied on the prosecutor’s representation that acontinuance to try Raleigh first would result in witnesses “becoming moreuncooperative and more witnesses dying, moving or otherwise becomingunavailable.” The court also noted thatwithdrawal would prejudice the State by affecting motions regarding the joinderor severance of King’s and Raleigh’s trials.Finally, the court noted that due to Raleigh’s plea, the State had turnedits focus to King’s trial and stopped searching and interviewing witnesses forRaleigh’s case.
Webelieve the prejudice to the State was overstated by the prosecutor and thecourt. Raleigh’s motion was, withoutquestion, timely. He determined towithdraw his plea within days of entering it.The State could easily have resumed handling its joinder or severancemotions and preparing for trial. Indeed,the State had continued to prepare and secure witnesses for King’s trial, whichwas factually nearly identical to Raleigh’s case. The deaths of two witnesses and the 16 monthsbetween the time of the alleged crime and the motion to withdraw were unrelatedto Raleigh’s plea.
Yet, even if the prejudiceto the State was overstated, we do not believe the district court abused itsdiscretion in denying Raleigh’s motion to withdraw his plea. The district court noted that even if therewere no prejudice to the State, the court would still have denied Raleigh’smotion because Raleigh failed to advance reasons why withdrawal was “fair andjust.” Given that Raleigh failed toadvance substantiated reasons for withdrawal of his plea, we hold that thedistrict court did not abuse its discretion in denying Raleigh’s motion towithdraw his guilty plea under the “fair and just” standard of Minn. R. Crim.P. 15.05, subd. 2.
Accordingly,we affirm the district court’s decision to deny Raleigh’s motion to withdrawhis guilty plea to first-degree premeditated murder under either the “manifestinjustice” or the “fair and just” standard.