State of Minnesota, Respondent, vs. Daniel Scott Hodge, Appellant.
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This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. Â§ 480A.08, subd. 3 (2012).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
State of Minnesota,
Daniel Scott Hodge,
Filed August 19, 2013
Reversed and remanded
Faribault County District Court
File No. 22-CR-11-125
Lori Swanson, Attorney General, St. Paul, Minnesota; and
Troy Timmerman, Faribault County Attorney, Lamar Piper, Assistant County Attorney,
Blue Earth, Minnesota (for respondent)
David W. Merchant, Chief Appellate Public Defender, F. Richard Gallo, Jr., Assistant
Public Defender, St. Paul, Minnesota (for appellant)
Considered and decided by Hudson, Presiding Judge; Stoneburner, Judge; and
Appellant challenges his Alford plea to misdemeanor assault, arguing that the plea
was not accurately made because the record fails to establish that the district court, on
independent review, verified a strong factual basis for the plea and the defendantâs
agreement that the likely evidence would be sufficient to convict. Because the district
court failed to sufficiently articulate its review of the factual basis for appellantâs plea,
and appellantâs statements were inadequate to support the plea, we reverse and remand
for proceedings consistent with this opinion.
The state charged appellant Daniel Hodge with one count of felony domestic
assault, one count of second-degree assault, and one count of gross-misdemeanor
domestic assault, as a result of a 2011 incident at appellantâs residence in Wells in
Faribault County. The state alleged that when a police officer responded to a domestic
call, appellantâs wife, S.H., told the officer that, during an argument, appellant had
grabbed her by the hair, brought a knife to her throat, and threatened to kill her.
The matter was initially scheduled for jury trial in November 2011, but was
continued twice at the stateâs request. At a rescheduled hearing, the state offered to
permit a plea to a misdemeanor-level offense. Appellant indicated displeasure with his
attorney and the prosecutionâs handling of the case. He also asked the district court judge
to recuse, based on past contact with the judge. The district court told appellant that he
could discharge his attorney and represent himself, but no other public defender would be
appointed, and he would treat appellantâs concern as a motion to remove him for cause.
Another judge issued an order denying the pro se motion to remove.
Appellant then sent an e-mail to the judge seeking to exclude certain evidence and
alleging that Faribault police were harassing him and engaging in misconduct. Later the
same day, he appeared at a hearing with his attorney, who informed the district court that
appellant was willing to enter an Alford plea to a charge of misdemeanor assault-fear in
violation of Minn. Stat. Â§ 609.224, subd. 1(1) (2010), with no executed jail time, fine, or
On the record, the prosecutor asked appellant whether he was entering the plea
based on his belief that the stateâs evidence would be sufficient to convict him if a trial
were held. Appellant replied, âWell, thatâs some of the things I donât agree with, but
yes.â The district court also asked appellant whether he understood that the state would
introduce certain evidence at trial; appellant stated that he understood that the responding
officer would âtest-i-lie, or whatever you call it.â Appellant agreed that, if the jury
believed that testimony, the stateâs evidence would be sufficient to convict him.
The prosecutor questioned appellant:
PROSECUTOR: [D]o you understand that if the case
progressed to trial the state would call witnesses . . . and that
they could testify that on February 25, 2011 within the city
limits of Wells you committed an act that caused [S.H.] to be
fearful that you could inflict bodily harm upon her,
specifically they might testify that you and [S.H.] were
having an argument over I think the fact that there was some
chocolate in the ice that came out of the icemaker?
PROSECUTOR: And that as that argument progressed it
became physical andâ
APPELLANT: It did not become physical.
PROSECUTOR: And you made some threats to her?
APPELLANT: Perceived. She perceived threats that werenât
PROSECUTOR: Okay. Well, itâs up to you. You have the
option here. You can agree that the jury could agree with that
evidence and convict you or you could argue your case. . . .
If you want the benefit of the plea bargain today then you will
have to agree that the jury couldâ
APPELLANT: Could convict me.
PROSECUTOR: Could convict you, and are you agreeable
that a jury could convict you?
The district court then questioned appellant:
THE COURT: Mr. Hodge, with the Alford plea I have to ask
you these questions. Do you believe that based upon the
evidence that [the prosecutor] would present to a jury, that
applying the presumption of innocence and the requirement
of proof beyond a reasonable doubt that a jury would find you
guilty of the amended charge of committing an act with intent
to cause fear?
THE COURT: Based upon that the District Court finds there
is sufficient evidence to support a jury verdict of guilty and
that the plea is voluntarily, knowingly and intelligently
The district court accepted the plea to misdemeanor assault, dismissed the other
charges, and sentenced appellant to three days in jail, with credit for three days served.
Appellant, who did not seek to withdraw his plea in district court, challenges the
sufficiency of the factual basis for the plea on appeal.
A defendant does not have an absolute right to withdraw a guilty plea. State v.
Farnsworth, 738 N.W.2d 364, 371 (Minn. 2007). But a defendant may withdraw a guilty
plea at any time, even after sentencing, if âwithdrawal is necessary to correct a manifest
injustice.â Minn. R. Crim. P. 15.05, subd. 1. Manifest injustice exists when a guilty plea
is invalid, which occurs when a guilty plea is not accurate, voluntary, and intelligent.
State v. Theis, 742 N.W.2d 643, 646 (Minn. 2007). A plea is accurate if a proper factual
basis has been established. State v. Ecker, 524 N.W.2d 712, 716 (Minn. 1994). This
occurs when sufficient facts exist on the record to support a conclusion that the
defendantâs conduct satisfies the charge to which he is pleading guilty. State v. Iverson,
664 N.W.2d 346, 349 (Minn. 2003). We review the validity of a plea de novo. State v.
Raleigh, 778 N.W.2d 90, 94 (Minn. 2010).
Appellant argues that his Alford plea was not intelligently made because the record
does not establish a sufficient factual basis for the plea. The state initially maintains that
this issue is not ripe for review because appellant did not move for plea withdrawal in
district court. But the Minnesota Supreme Court has stated that, âby pleading guilty, a
defendant does not waive the argument that the factual basis of his guilt was not
established.â Iverson, 664 N.W.2d at 350. A defendant âis free to simply appeal directly
from a judgment of conviction and contend that the record made at the time the plea was
entered is inadequateâ to establish the requirements of a valid plea. Brown v. State, 449
N.W.2d 180, 182 (Minn. 1989). Therefore, we may consider the merits of appellantâs
challenge to the factual basis of his plea even though he did not seek to withdraw his plea
in district court. See Iverson, 664 N.W.2d at 350.
An Alford plea is a guilty plea under which a defendant maintains his innocence
but acknowledges that the record establishes his guilt and that he reasonably believes that
the state has sufficient evidence to secure a conviction. North Carolina v. Alford, 400
U.S. 25, 37â38, 91 S. Ct. 160, 167â68 (1970); see also State v. Goulette, 258 N.W.2d
758, 761 (Minn. 1977) (adopting Alford pleas in Minnesota). An Alford plea therefore
allows a defendant to plead guilty without expressly admitting the factual basis for his
guilt. Alford, 400 U.S. at 37, 91 S. Ct. at 167; Goulette, 258 N.W.2d at 761.
â[B]ecause of the inherent conflict in pleading guilty while maintaining
innocence,â district courts must carefully scrutinize the factual basis of an Alford plea.
Theis, 742 N.W.2d at 648â49. â[I]t is absolutely crucial that when an Alford-type plea is
offered the trial court should not cavalierly accept the plea but should assume its
responsibility to determine whether the plea is voluntarily, knowingly, and
understandingly made, and whether there is a sufficient factual basis to support it.â
Goulette, 258 N.W.2d at 761; see also Ecker, 524 N.W.2d at 716 (stating the district
courtâs responsibility to ensure that the record establishes an adequate factual basis for
The supreme court has expressed its preference for the district court to review the
factual basis of an Alford plea based on discussing the evidence on the record with the
defendant at the plea hearing. Theis, 742 N.W.2d at 649.
This discussion may occur through an interrogation of the
defendant about the underlying conduct and the evidence that
would likely be presented at trial; the introduction . . . of
witness statements or other documents, or the presentation of
abbreviated testimony from witnesses likely to testify at trial;
or a stipulation . . . to a factual statement in . . . documents
submitted to the court.
Id. (citations omitted).
When the district court accepts an Alford plea, â[t]he strong factual basis and the
defendantâs agreement that the evidence is sufficient to support his conviction provide the
court with a basis to independently conclude that there is a strong probability that the
defendant would be found guilty of the charge to which he pleaded guilty . . . .â Id. The
factual basis of an Alford plea is adequate when the record contains sufficient facts âto
support a conclusion that a defendantâs conduct falls within the charge to which he
desires to plead guilty.â Iverson, 664 N.W.2d at 349 (quotation omitted). Therefore,
because appellant entered an Alford plea to the offense of misdemeanor assault-fear, the
district court was required to independently conclude, based on his statements and the
record before the court, that a strong probability existed that a jury would find that he had
committed an act with intent to cause fear in S.H. of death or immediate bodily harm.
Minn. Stat. Â§ 609.224, subd. 1(1); Theis, 742 N.W.2d at 649. But the record does not
show that the district court conducted a particularized review of evidence that would
support a factual basis for the plea. See Goulette, 258 N.W.2d at 761 (stating that the
district court âshould assume its responsibility to determine . . . whether there is a
sufficient factual basis to support [an Alford plea]â). Although the record contains the
complaint, a police report, and a transcript of a police interview with S.H., the attorneys
did not refer to these documents when examining appellant, nor did the district court state
that it had reviewed this evidence in reaching its conclusion to accept the plea. The
district court and the parties also failed to use other recommended methods of presenting
and confirming a factual basis for the plea, such as abbreviated witness testimony or
stipulated facts. See Theis, 742 N.W.2d at 649.
In addition, the district courtâs review of an Alford plea must encompass the
defendantâs acknowledgment that the likely evidence would be sufficient to support a
finding of guilt. Id. Here, although appellant made a bare admission that, based on the
proffered evidence, the jury would find him guilty, he also denied that his argument with
S.H. became physical and stated that no threats had been made, but that S.H. only
Taken as a whole, appellantâs equivocal statements, which
acknowledged the probability of a conviction but also denied the existence of facts
required to prove that conviction, do not support the adequacy of an Alford plea. Under
these circumstances, appellantâs Alford plea was fatally deficient, the district court
accepted the plea in error, and appellant is entitled to withdraw his guilty plea.
Reversed and remanded.