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Toby Johnson was indicted for intentional murder while committing a kidnapping, murder in the second degree, and kidnapping. Pursuant to a plea agreement, the State amended the first count to aiding and abetting first-degree murder. Johnson then pleaded guilty to counts one and two. Johnson was sentenced to life in prison with a possibility of parole after thirty years. The postconviction court denied Johnson's petition for postconviction relief, and the Supreme Court affirmed. Later, Johnson filed a motion to correct or reduce his sentence, alleging that his guilty plea was invalid for several reasons. The district court concluded that the sentencing court had erred during the sentencing hearing by citing to the second-degree murder statute when imposing a sentence for first-degree murder. As to Johnson's other reasons for requested relief, the court concluded that the Supreme Court's rule from State v. Knaffla barred Johnson from raising claims that were not raised in his first petition for postconviction relief. On appeal, the Supreme Court affirmed the postconviction court's denial of Johnson's motion challenging the validity of his guilty plea, holding that Johnson's petition was untimely and should not be considered on the merits.Receive FREE Daily Opinion Summaries by Email
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN SUPREME COURT
Toby Earl Johnson, petitioner,
Filed: August 10, 2011
Office of Appellate Courts
State of Minnesota,
John L. Lucas, Minneapolis, Minnesota, for appellant.
Lori Swanson, Attorney General, St. Paul, Minnesota; and
Michael K. Junge, McLeod County Attorney, Glencoe, Minnesota, for respondent.
Appellant’s petition for postconviction relief is denied on the ground that it is
time-barred under Minn. Stat. § 590.01 (2010).
Considered and decided by the court without oral argument.
Appellant Toby Earl Johnson was indicted September 22, 1999, on three felony
counts for the murder of R.P.: murder in the first degree—intentional murder while
committing a kidnapping (Minn. Stat. § 609.185(a)(3) (2010)); murder in the second
degree—intentional murder (Minn. Stat. § 609.19, subd. 1(1) (2010)); and kidnapping
(Minn. Stat. § 609.25, subd. 1(3) (2010)).
On April 10, 2000, Johnson and the State presented a plea agreement to the district
court. Pursuant to the agreement, the State amended count one from first-degree murder
to aiding and abetting first-degree murder (in violation of Minn. Stat. §§ 609.05, .185(1)
(2010)) on the belief that Johnson would plead guilty to the amended count one as well as
count two.1 Johnson then pleaded guilty to both amended count one and count two. The
plea agreement stated that Johnson would be sentenced on count two and receive a 30- to
36-year sentence if, in the “sole discretion” of the State, Johnson provided “useful”
information about R.P.’s murder, specifically that two people in prison had ordered the
If Johnson did not provide adequate information, then the State would
recommend the court sentence Johnson on the amended count one charge, resulting in a
sentence of life in prison with the possibility of parole after 30 years. The court accepted
the guilty pleas. On May 26, 2000, the court, pursuant to the State’s recommendation
that Johnson had not provided “useful information,” sentenced Johnson on amended
count one, resulting in a sentence of life in prison with the possibility of parole after 30
The record also suggests that count two was amended to aiding and abetting
second-degree murder. As this issue is not critical to our decision, we need not address
this factual discrepancy here but rather leave it open for the district court to clarify if
On May 2, 2001, Johnson filed a petition for postconviction relief. Johnson
contended, in relevant part, that the plea agreement was invalid because, “for a number of
reasons” that were not stated, the agreement violated the separation of powers doctrine.
Johnson argued that the agreement improperly vested the right to determine the proper
sentence with the prosecutor, usurping the court of its constitutional powers.
postconviction court denied the petition, concluding that the sentencing court still
retained its constitutionally endowed authority to accept Johnson’s guilty plea and
imposed the statutorily mandated prison sentence.
On appeal, we affirmed the
postconviction court’s denial of the petition, agreeing with the court’s assessment that the
terms of the plea agreement did not violate the separation of power doctrine. Johnson v.
State, 641 N.W.2d 912, 918 (Minn. 2002).
In April 2010, Johnson filed a motion to correct or reduce his sentence pursuant to
Minn. R. Crim. P. 27.03, subd. 9. Under Rule 27.03, subd. 9, a “court may at any time
correct a sentence not authorized by law” so long as “the court does not increase the
period of confinement.” In the motion, Johnson alleged that the guilty plea was invalid
for three reasons: (1) Johnson’s plea agreement lacked a sufficient factual basis for the
crime on which he was sentenced; (2) Johnson did not know the terms of the plea
agreement prior to the guilty plea hearing; and (3) the court sentenced Johnson for firstdegree murder but cited to the second-degree murder statute. Johnson also contended
that his sentence should be reduced because it is “disproportionate not only to the factual
basis at the plea hearing but to the punishments received by other members of the group
[that killed the victim].”
The district court concluded that the sentencing court had erred during the
sentencing hearing by citing to the second-degree murder statute when imposing a
sentence for first-degree murder. Accordingly, the postconviction court corrected the
sentence pursuant to Minn. R. Crim. P. 27.03, subd. 10, to reflect the appropriate firstdegree murder statute. The court also found that Johnson’s plea was knowing, intelligent,
and voluntary because, “[a]t the plea hearing, [Johnson] was aware of the information the
State sought that could reduce the sentenced charge.” As to the other two reasons for
Johnson’s requested relief, the district court concluded that the motion was properly
treated as a postconviction proceeding. As such, the court concluded that our rule from
State v. Knaffla, 309 Minn. 246, 243 N.W.2d 737 (1976), barred Johnson from raising
claims that were not raised in, but “that should have been known” at the time of, his first
petition for postconviction relief. Reed v. State, 793 N.W.2d 725, 729-30 (Minn. 2010)
(citing King v. State, 649 N.W.2d 149, 156 (Minn. 2002)).
On appeal, Johnson contends that the district court erred in concluding his claims
challenging the validity of his conviction were Knaffla-barred and, alternatively, seeks to
have his sentence reduced in the interests of justice. Because he obtained relief on the
sentencing issue, Johnson does not continue to claim that the court imposed an illegal
sentence. The only remaining issues in the case concern the validity of his guilty plea.
On appeal, Johnson challenges the validity of his conviction in a proceeding captioned as
a Rule 27.03 motion to correct a sentence not authorized by law. Thus, we must first
determine if his motion is a proper vehicle by which to challenge his conviction.
The interpretation of a procedural rule is subject to de novo review. State v.
Rourke, 773 N.W.2d 913, 923 (Minn. 2009) (citing State v. Barrett, 694 N.W.2d 783, 785
(Minn. 2005)). Minnesota Rule of Criminal Procedure 27.03, subd. 9, provides that a
“court may at any time correct a sentence not authorized by law” so long as “the court
does not increase the period of confinement.” However, the plain language of the rule
does not allow a defendant to challenge his conviction. In contrast, Minn. Stat. § 590.01
(2010), provides that a petition for postconviction relief under Minn. Stat. § 590.01, subd.
1, “must be used exclusively . . . unless it is inadequate or ineffective to test the legality
of the conviction, sentence or other disposition.” Minn. Stat. § 590.01, subd. 2. As
Johnson has not argued a petition for postconviction relief would be “inadequate or
ineffective,” Johnson’s exclusive remedy for review of his claims is in a proceeding for
postconviction relief, not in a proceeding to correct a sentence under Rule 27.03, subd. 9.
Rather than requiring Johnson to restate his claim in another proceeding, we may
still “consider the substance of the parties’ arguments” and review Johnson’s claim as a
petition for postconviction relief. See Mendota Golf, LLP v. City of Mendota Heights,
708 N.W.2d 162, 179 (Minn. 2006) (“[R]ather than requiring [the party] to restate its
claims in a declaratory judgment action, we will consider the substance of the parties’
arguments . . . .”). Accordingly, we apply the provisions governing petitions for
postconviction relief, namely, Minn. Stat. § 590.01. Section 590.01, subdivision 1, states,
in relevant part:
Except at a time when direct appellate relief is available, a person convicted
of a crime, who claims that:
(1) the conviction obtained or the sentence or other disposition made
violated the person’s rights under the Constitution or laws of the United
States or of the state . . . .
may commence a proceeding to secure relief by filing a petition in the
district court in the county in which the conviction was had to vacate and
set aside the judgment and to discharge the petitioner or to resentence the
petitioner or grant a new trial or correct the sentence or make other
disposition as may be appropriate. A petition for postconviction relief after
a direct appeal has been completed may not be based on grounds that could
have been raised on direct appeal of the conviction or sentence.
Minnesota Statutes § 590.01, subd. 4(a), however, prohibits the filing of a petition “more
than two years after the later of: (1) the entry of judgment of conviction or sentence if no
direct appeal is filed; or (2) an appellate court’s disposition of petitioner’s direct appeal.”
The subdivision contains several exceptions to the statutory time limitation, such as for
newly discovered evidence, a change in the law, or the filing was precluded by a mental
disease. Id., subd. 4(b). When originally enacted in 2005, subdivision 4 contained a
provision that required a person convicted of a crime prior to the statute’s effective date
of August 1, 2005, to file a petition for postconviction relief before July 31, 2007. Act of
June 2, 2005, ch. 136, § 13, 2005 Minn. Laws. 901, 1097-98. Any petition filed after that
date is time-barred according to subdivision 4 unless one of the exceptions applies. Id.
Here, Johnson was convicted and had his petition for postconviction relief denied
prior to the enactment of the statutory time bar of section 590.01, subdivision 4.
Accordingly, Johnson had until July 31, 2007, to file his petition to challenge the validity
of his conviction. Instead, Johnson filed his motion challenging the validity of his
conviction on April 28, 2010, a date well outside the statutory timeframe. A review of
his petition demonstrates that his claims do not satisfy any of the statutory exceptions to
the time bar provided in Minn. Stat. § 590.01, subd. 4(b); thus, we conclude that his
petition is untimely and should not be considered on the merits. See Stewart v. State, 764
N.W.2d 32, 34 (Minn. 2009) (citing Ortiz v. Gavenda, 590 N.W.2d 119, 122 (Minn.
1999)). Consequently, we affirm the postconviction court’s denial of Johnson’s motion
challenging the validity of his guilty plea.