State v. Wolske

Decision Date28 June 1968
Docket NumberNo. 40471,40471
Citation280 Minn. 465,160 N.W.2d 146
PartiesSTATE of Minnesota, Respondent, v. Benjamin Edward WOLSKE, Appellant.
CourtMinnesota Supreme Court

Syllabus by the Court

1. A judgment of conviction upon a plea of guilty may be set aside upon a timely motion to withdraw the plea where defendant proves that withdrawal is necessary to correct a manifest injustice.

2. Where it is established that a plea of guilty was entered in reliance upon a promise by the prosecutor to seek dismissal of other pending charges and such promise is not fulfilled, resulting in a withholding of the concessions contemplated by a plea agreement, a manifest injustice occurs and withdrawal should be allowed.

3. Where defendant was convicted of the crime of carnal knowledge upon his plea of guilty entered in reliance upon the prosecutor's promise to seek dismissal of two pending charges of incest and the prosecutor failed to seek dismissal following Whitney E. Tarutis, Bemidji, for appellant.

defendant's plea as contemplated by a plea agreement, the defendant is entitled to withdraw his plea and to enter a plea of not guilty.

Douglas M. Head, Atty. Gen., David Byron and Alan M. Schlesinger, St. Paul, John L. Plattner, County Atty., Walker, for respondent.

Heard before KNUTSON, C.J., and OTIS, ROGOSHESKE, SHERAN, and PETERSON, JJ.

OPINION

ROGOSHESKE, Justice.

Defendant appeals from a judgment of conviction of the crime of carnal knowledge of a female child, 17 years of age, 1 and from an order denying his motion to withdraw a plea of guilty and enter a plea of not guilty to the indictment charging that offense. 2

In this appeal, defendant makes broad claims of denial of constitutional rights with respect to the trial court's refusal to afford him an evidentiary hearing on his withdrawal motion and the lack of or inadequacy of representation by counsel at all stages of the proceedings resulting in his conviction. Although we find these claims to be without merit and many of the facts claimed upon which they are asserted are unsupported by the record, it developed on oral argument that a question of first impression which we are compelled to answer on this appeal is whether a defendant is entitled to withdraw a plea of guilty where the plea was entered in reliance upon a promise by the prosecuting attorney to seek dismissal of other pending charges and such promise was unfulfilled, resulting in a withholding of the charge concessions contemplated by a plea agreement.

Defendant was arrested and charged with carnal knowledge of a 17-year-old female child and two counts of incest involving his daughters, ages 14 and 15. Four days later, after his appearance before the municipal court and before counsel was appointed or a scheduled preliminary hearing was held, the grand jury returned indictments for these offenses. These indictments superseded the proceedings pending in the municipal court. Thereafter, defendant appeared for arraignment before the district court upon the carnal knowledge charge. After ascertaining defendant's eligibility, the court appointed counsel, who was present in the courtroom and who, at the suggestion of the court, thereupon conferred with defendant. Immediately thereafter during the noon recess, defendant's counsel and the prosecuting attorney engaged in plea negotiations. The record is undisputed that a plea agreement was reached whereby the prosecuting attorney promised to 'move the District Court for the dismissal of these (incest) charges if Benjamin Wolske would plead guilty to the crime of carnal knowledge.' Defendant agreed and, as acknowledged and reported by his defense counsel, 'was very relieved' and 'felt he was being fairly treated.' Thereupon, defendant tendered his plea of guilty, and the court, assured by explanations and questions addressed to defendant personally that the plea was intelligently and voluntarily made and that a factual basis therefor existed, accepted his plea. Defendant was then adjudged guilty and, after a presentence investigation, sentenced to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 7 years with a recommendation that he be considered for parole at his first hearing before the Adult Corrections Commission. 3

The existence of the plea agreement was not made known to the sentencing court until defendant filed his motion to withdraw his plea after his commitment to prison. At the hearing on the motion, defendant's primary claims were that he was denied 'effective' assistance of counsel and that he was 'innocent.' He also asserted that he pled guilty after he was 'told by his court-appointed counsel that the Court would suspend the sentence and grant immediate probation.' On refuting this latter claim, the affidavits of both the prosecuting attorney and defense counsel expressly denied any promise to recommend a suspended sentence and candidly disclosed that the plea was tendered pursuant to the plea agreement set out above. 4

It is further undisputed that when defendant entered his guilty plea, the prosecuting attorney, for reasons not disclosed by the record, did not thereupon seek dismissal of the incest charges as contemplated by the plea agreement. 5

The sole question, therefore, with which we are concerned is: Where there has been a plea agreement and the prosecution does not fulfill its part of the agreement, should a defendant after judgment but upon timely motion be allowed to withdraw his plea of guilty? We hold that withdrawal should be allowed under such circumstances. Although we do so reluctantly in this case, we do so primarily as a necessary condition of our acceptance and approval of the practice of plea negotiations and agreements commonly employed by prosecutors and defense counsel in this and other jurisdictions in the disposition of a large percentage of criminal cases. State v. Johnson, 279 Minn. 209, 156 N.W.2d 218.

Even though Minn.St. 630.29 provides that the court 'may permit' a guilty plea to be withdrawn '(a)t any time before judgment,' we have long held that withdrawal drawal after judgment of conviction may be allowed in the discretion of the court. State v. Olson, 115 Minn. 153, 131 N.W. 1084; State v. Harding, 260 Minn. 464, 110 N.W.2d 463. This rule authorizing withdrawal in the discretion of the court after sentence admittedly offers little practical guidance in the disposition of this case, since the question presented involves policy considerations regarding both our acceptance of plea agreements generally and our approval of the agreement reached in this case. Rule 32(d), Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, 6 which allows withdrawal after imposition of sentence to correct 'manifest injustice' and which is regarded by some states as a model rule of procedure, 7 appears similarly deficient. In early 1967, the Advisory Committee on the Criminal Trial of the American Bar Association Project on Minimum Standards for Criminal Justice, in a report entitled Standards Relating to Pleas of Guilty (tentative draft), tendered comprehensive recommendations covering procedural problems in this aspect of criminal justice. Included are proposed standards for procedures to be followed regarding the withdrawal of a plea of guilty and also standards to govern the practice of plea discussions and agreements, several of which were quoted with approval in State v. Johnson, supra. 8 We regard these proposals valuable guidelines from a responsible source. As indicated in Johnson and other cases, we have referred to them as authoritative, and, when persuaded, we intend to adopt them in order to bring our procedure into conformity with those recommendations which are found to improve the administration of justice.

Section 2.1 of the standards, entitled 'Plea withdrawal,' which we quote in full, provides:

'(a) The court should allow the defendant to withdraw his plea of guilty or nolo contendere whenever the defendant, upon a timely motion for withdrawal, proves that withdrawal is necessary to correct a manifest injustice.

'(i) A motion for withdrawal is timely if made with due diligence, considering the nature of the allegations therein, and is not necessarily barred because made subsequent to judgment or sentence.

'(ii) Withdrawal is necessary to correct a manifest injustice whenever the defendant proves that:

'(1) he was denied the effective assistance of counsel guaranteed to him by constitution, statute, or rule;

'(2) the plea was not entered or ratified by the defendant or a person authorized to so act in his behalf;

'(3) the plea was involuntary, or was entered without knowledge of the charge or that the sentence actually imposed could be imposed; or

'(4) he did not receive the charge or sentence concessions contemplated by the plea agreement and the prosecuting attorney failed to seek or not to oppose these concessions as promised in the plea agreement.

'(iii) The defendant may move for withdrawal of his plea without alleging that he is innocent of the charge to which the plea has been entered.

'(b) In the absence of a showing that withdrawal is necessary to correct a manifest injustice, a defendant may not withdraw his plea of guilty or nolo contendere as a matter of right once the plea has been accepted by the court. Before sentence, the court in its discretion may allow the defendant to withdraw his plea for any fair and just reason unless the prosecution has been substantially prejudiced by reliance upon the defendant's plea.'

As pointed out by the commentary accompanying this standard, courts have allowed withdrawal if upon timely motion defendant proves that his plea of guilty was entered in reliance upon promises by the prosecutor to seek dismissal of other pending charges or to recommend leniency of sentence and such promises are not kept. 9 The principal reason advanced to support § 2.1(a)(ii)(4) of the standard is that, equally with the other factual situations covered in § 2.1, when the benefits of a plea...

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