Video: Judge: No quick ruling on Craig's plea request 

updated 9/26/2007 3:53:57 PM ET 2007-09-26T19:53:57

A judge considering Idaho Sen. Larry Craig's request to withdraw his guilty plea in an airport sex sting said Wednesday he probably wouldn't rule in the case until late next week, well past Craig's self-imposed deadline to resign from the Senate.

Hennepin County Judge Charles Porter heard arguments from Craig's attorneys and the prosecutor in the case, then said he wouldn't rule immediately.

Craig said earlier he planned to resign Sept. 30, then left the door open to remain on the job if he could successfully reverse his plea.

His attorney, Billy Martin, acknowledged the difficulty in getting the plea withdrawn, saying it is "near impossible, and it should be." But he said Craig's conduct was not criminal.

Prosecutor Christopher Renz said the timing of Craig's decision to withdraw his guilty plea was political. Craig was arrested in a Minneapolis airport bathroom June 11, then entered his plea Aug. 8. Craig said he panicked in entering his plea.

"He sat and was able to think about it a thousand miles away at his apartment on the Potomac. He called me about it" and could have called others if he needed advice, Renz said.

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.

Craig did not attending the hearing.

IMAGE: Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho
Caleb Jones  /  AP
Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, leaves his residence at a Yacht Club in Washington, Wednesday Sept. 26, 2007.

"He's already 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 announced that he intends to resign from the Senate on Sept. 30, but a spokesman has said there is a slight chance he may keep his seat if he can withdraw his plea.

Craig's attorneys 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 refile charges.

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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 illegal.

Minneapolis defense attorney Joe Friedberg said that argument is a lot better than the one that Craig was panicked into a guilty plea.

"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 any difference."

Morrison said it's not uncommon for judges to demand less detail in misdemeanor pleas.

"They're pretty careful on felony (cases), and they're not so careful on misdemeanors," she said.

Indeed, 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 plea.

In that case, the appeals court ruled it was up to the trial court to decide whether to allow pleas to be withdrawn.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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