The first step in
Sen. Larry Craig's attempt to wipe away his guilty plea
in an airport sex sting has nothing to do with whether an
undercover policeman misunderstood Craig's actions in
a bathroom stall.
Wednesday's hearing in Minneapolis is all about whether
Craig's attorneys can convince Judge Charles Porter that the
Idaho senator's plea was a mistake.
gotten lots of justice and fairness,'' said Mary Jane
Morrison, a professor in criminal law at Hamline University.
''A court will view this as taking not just a second
bite at the apple, but a fourth and fifth bite.
Because he had the right to refuse to plead in the
first place and put the state to its proof. He had the right
to have an attorney help him figure out what was in
his best interest.''
Craig won't be
attending the hearing, according to Judy Smith, a
spokeswoman for Craig attorney Billy Martin. In Washington
on Wednesday, Craig said he hoped the hearing would
''allow me to prove my innocence.''
Craig has said
his foot-tapping, hand gestures, and looks into a bathroom
stall were misconstrued by the police officer conducting a
sting for bathroom sex at the airport. Craig's
attorneys wrote that he pleaded guilty to misdemeanor
disorderly conduct because he feared his June 11
arrest would trigger a story by an Idaho newspaper that had
been investigating his sexual orientation. Craig has
denied that he is gay.
that he intends to resign from the Senate on September
30, but a spokesman has said there is a slight chance he may
keep his seat if he can withdraw his plea.
are trying to prove that letting the senator's plea
stand would be a ''manifest injustice.'' The term isn't
defined in the law but is generally left up to judges
to determine on a case-by-case basis, legal experts
said. If the plea is withdrawn, prosecutors could
should be reopened in part because he never appeared in
court before pleading guilty, his attorneys argued.
In plea bargains
in open court, judges walk the defendant through
testimony about precisely which actions violated the law.
Craig mailed in a written plea agreement that admitted
disorderly conduct, but the agreement did not describe
exactly what he did that was illegal. Craig's
attorneys argued that a judge's inquiries would have
prevented Craig from pleading guilty because it would
have become clear that he hadn't done anything
defense attorney Joe Friedberg said that argument is a lot
better than the one that Craig was panicked into a guilty
''The only shot
he's got is if the judge determines that there's no
factual basis for the plea,'' he said. ''I don't think that
a factual basis is set forth in that plea, and I think
that it should be voided. None of his stress...makes
it's not uncommon for judges to demand less detail in
careful on felony [cases], and they're not so careful on
misdemeanors,'' she said.
prosecutor Christopher Renz argued in court papers that
thousands of guilty pleas are entered the same way.
If Porter refuses
to allow Craig to withdraw his guilty plea, the senator
can take it to the state's court of appeals. On Tuesday that
court ruled against a different defendant who wanted
to withdraw his guilty plea for criminal sexual
conduct because he said he didn't understand part of his
In that case the
appeals court ruled it was up to the trial court to
decide whether to allow pleas to be withdrawn. (Joshua