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Matakis seeks to withdraw guilty plea, court denies petition

Jason Matakis, convicted of criminal sexual conduct, sought to withdraw his guilty plea.

Tuesday, the Minnesota Court of Appeals agreed with a lower court’s decision to dismiss the petition. The appeals court stated the petition failed to allege facts to provide grounds for relief.

Matakis stated he completed the petition, which was nearing a deadline, without benefit of legal counsel because the attorney was unable to meet with him. The petition promised to provide facts in a forthcoming affidavit.

Matakis was charged in Crow Wing County for six counts of criminal sexual conduct for sexually abusing a family member from age 9 to 11.

Matakis entered an Alford guilty plea to one count of criminal sexual conduct in March 2011. The plea came after investigators recorded telephone conversations in which Matakis admitted to the sex acts, the court reported. In district court, Matakis acknowledged his plea was voluntary. Additional statement from witnesses were also filed, all indicating Matakis had engaged in the alleged criminal conduct, the court stated. The statements and recordings of Matakis’ conversations “provided the factual basis for his guilty plea,” the appeals court stated.

The district court accepted Matakis’ plea. On May 12, 2011, he was sentenced to a mandatory minimum of 144 months. He did not directly appeal.

On May 8, 2013, he filed a petition for postconviction relief. The two-year statutory period to file the petition was set to expire on May 11, 2013.

When the postconviction court rejected Matakis’ petition without an evidentiary hearing, he appealed. The issue before the appeals court was whether the postconviction court abused its discretion by summarily denying the petition.

“His petition sought the district court’s permission to withdraw his guilty plea because it had allegedly not been ‘knowing, voluntary or intelligent,’ the appeals court reported. “But the petition did not include any factual allegations that would substantiate the claim that his plea was involuntary or unknowing.”

Instead, the court reported, the petition declared Matakis’ legal counsel encountered scheduling conflicts with the correctional facility where he is incarcerated.

“The conflicts supposedly precluded his counsel from ‘finaliz[ing the relevant documentation] prior to’ filing the petition, but counsel promised to provide the records, an affidavit from Matakis, and a memorandum of law at a later date,” the court reported.

In its summary of the case, the appeals court stated postconviction courts must have an evidentiary hearing unless records conclusively show the petitioner is not entitled to relief. On the other hand, the petitioner is required to include a statement of facts and the grounds for the petition unless they can’t reasonably have been included.

“The district court therefore appropriately denies a petition without an evidentiary hearing when the petitioner makes only general allegations and does not furnish the court with affidavits or other supporting documents,” the appeals court reported.

Matakis argued an evidentiary hearing should have been held because his petition alleged sufficient facts establishing his plea was involuntary.

“We are not convinced,” the appeals court stated.

The court agreed a defendant who pleads guilty may challenge his guilty plea, but stated to succeed the defendant must show the plea was not “knowing, voluntary, or intelligent.”

Facts to support the postconviction challenge must be included, the court stated.

“This rule holds even when the petitioner alleges that he was mentally incompetent at the time he entered his guilty plea,” the court stated. “... The postconviction court correctly observed that his petition consisted of argumentative assertions and did not include even implausible factual allegations that could support the conclusion that his guilty plea was involuntary.

“The statute does not require Matakis immediately to file an affidavit, memorandum, or other supporting document along with the petition, although one of these may have helped his case. Simply providing a short statement of alleged facts that could be tested at an evidentiary hearing would have sufficed.”

Matakis’ petition contained one statement saying: “That the facts and grounds upon which this petition is based are as follows: Petitioner’s plea was not knowingly, voluntarily, and intelligently made where there is reason to question the accuracy of the factual basis underlying the plea and the circumstances under which he pled guilty suggest that it was not voluntarily entered.”

Matakis’ counsel asserted she was unable to meet with her client because of scheduling conflicts with the correctional facility. The court said that assertion can’t “overcome the statutory requirement to allege facts in the petition” and doesn’t rise to the exception that it couldn’t reasonably be included. The court stated Matakis had two years to draft and file the petition. Ample time, the court stated, to overcome prison-related scheduling issues and to inform the attorney of facts supporting the petition.

In addition, the appeals court noted, Matakis had a month between the petition and its dismissal to file an affidavit or amend the petition.

“Matakis bore the burden of pleading facts which, if true, would support his petition for postconviction relief,” the appeals court stated. “Because we conclude that his petition does not allege any facts necessary to justify the relief he seeks and its promise of a later pleading is insufficient, we hold that the postconviction court did not abuse its discretion by denying Matakis’s petition.”

Denton (Denny) Newman Jr.
I've worked at the Brainerd Dispatch with various duties since Dec. 7, 1983. Starting off as an Ad Designer and currently Director of Audience Development. The Dispatch has been an interesting and challenging place to work. I'm fortunate to have made many friends, both co-workers and customers.
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