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Craig Could Attempt to Reverse Guilty Plea Under Minnesota Law

The political fallout from Sen. Larry Craig’s (R-Idaho) June arrest by an undercover police officer investigating lewd acts in an airport restroom is just beginning, even as the legal case against Craig ended earlier this month with the Senator pleading guilty to a misdemeanor disorderly conduct charge.

Craig said in a statement in Idaho on Tuesday that he continues to regret his decision earlier this month to plead guilty to disorderly conduct.

“I regret my decision to plead guilty and the sadness that decision has brought to my wife, family, friends, staff and fellow Idahoans,” Craig said in his statement.

But depending on how strongly Craig now feels about his guilty plea, he may have a legal avenue still available to him.

Under Minnesota law, the Senator could file a motion requesting the withdrawal of the guilty plea. According to University of Minnesota Law School professor Steve Simon, Craig would have to allege “a manifest injustice” in that motion, which he would have to file with the Hennepin County District Court judge who presided over his case.

“He would have to allege some defect in the plea process,” Simon said on Tuesday. “In other words that there was an inadequate factual basis or that his rights were not explained.”

But Craig’s plea petition clearly advised him of his trial and associated rights, said Simon, who reviewed the documents released by the court. “In addition he admits in the plea petition that he engaged in behavior that ‘he knew or should have known would arouse alarm or resent in others.’”

Simon said he would be “very, very surprised” if Craig did file such a motion.

He said he saw nothing in the information he’s seen on the incident that would indicate a “manifest injustice” took place.

“There is a pretty high standard to meet to be allowed to withdraw a guilty plea, and you can understand why. You can compare it to buyer’s remorse or guilty pleader’s remorse,” Simon said.

Craig was arrested by an undercover police officer who accused the Senator of seeking lewd acts in a men’s bathroom in the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport.

Simon said trying to reverse his guilty plea also could easily backfire on the Senator.

Craig “obtained a clear benefit from this disposition in that the most serious charge, interference with privacy, was dismissed. This charge is frequently used to prosecute window peepers, although the language of the statute clearly covers public toilet stalls, where the average person expects privacy.”

Simon said that if Craig were to bring a motion to withdraw his plea to the disorderly conduct charge, then the interference with privacy charge could be resurrected “and he would have to challenge and defend against both charges if he went to trial.”

Craig spokesman Dan Whiting said in an e-mail Tuesday that the Senator “won’t be releasing any legal options today.”

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