Starbuck man can withdraw criminal sexual conduct guilty plea, appeals court rules
GLENWOOD--Ryan Emmett Moore is currently serving a 15-year prison sentence for an alleged sexual assault. But soon, he'll be back in a Pope County courtroom.
GLENWOOD-Ryan Emmett Moore is currently serving a 15-year prison sentence for an alleged sexual assault. But soon, he'll be back in a Pope County courtroom.
The Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled earlier last week that Moore may withdraw his 2013 guilty plea to first-degree criminal sexual conduct.
Moore, 38, of Starbuck, had been charged in 2011 with first and third-degree criminal sexual conduct, accused of assaulting a woman he had known for 20 years after smoking methamphetamine.
In 2013, Moore pleaded guilty to first-degree criminal sexual conduct. But it was an Alford Plea, which is when a defendant does not admit guilt, but acknowledges that there is strong evidence against them that would likely result in a conviction.
On Tuesday, a panel of three appellate judges ruled that there was not a factual basis for Moore's Alford plea.
Moore, they wrote in an opinion accompanying the ruling, did not enter into the plea because of the strength of evidence against him, but because he could have faced a more severe prison sentence if convicted by a jury.
Moore's original plea did not call for any prison time. He had been given a stay of adjudication on the charge as part of his plea agreement, which meant that the conviction would not be entered as long as he met probation requirements.
He was sentenced to the 15 years in prison after an alleged probation violation in 2015.
Appellate judges wrote this week that there were problems with Moore's plea colloquy, which is a conversation at a court hearing between a judge and a criminal defendant before the defendant enters into a plea agreement.
"The plea colloquy did not address the requirement of proof beyond a reasonable doubt," Appellate Judge Roger Klaphake wrote. "There was not a strong factual basis for the plea."
Though not rare, courts are trained to accept the Alford plea with more caution than a standard plea because of the maintenance of innocence with the plea, according to State v. Goulette, the 1977 case that spurred Minnesota to adopt the plea.
Because the defendant has to acknowledge the strong evidence against them in an Alford plea, that evidence must be emphasized.
Klaphake wrote that the prosecution's evidence was not. At his sentencing hearing, defense counsel representing Moore had actually mentioned that it was "questionable about whether or not the offense could be proven," according to the appellate opinion. In previous hearings, Moore's attorney had raised the possibility that the victim had lied about the assault to gain access to pain medication.
Judge Charles Glasrud had reportedly told Moore that the sentencing that he had gotten a good plea deal "just leaving aside the factual difficulties of the case."
Under the legal standard "proof beyond a reasonable doubt," if any legal conclusion can be drawn from the facts of a case other than that the defendant committed the crime, then they should not be convicted.
The Court of Appeals decision did not find Moore not guilty. Rather, it allowed him to withdraw his plea because it was submitted under incorrect circumstances.
Moore's case will essentially go back to where it was at before his 2013 guilty plea, according to Pope County Attorney Neil Nelson. Moore will now be able to either re-negotiate a plea agreement or go forward to a jury trial.
"I was disappointed with the appeals court decision, certainly," Nelson said.
A Pope County judge had originally denied Moore post-conviction relief, which led to this appeal and subsequent appellate court order.
The prosecution has the ability to challenge this ruling in the Minnesota Supreme Court, but Nelson says he does not know yet if they will move forward with that.
No new hearings have been set for Moore in Pope County District Court.