Submitted, March 13, 2015
Appeal from United States District Court for the District of Minnesota - St. Paul.
For United States of America, Plaintiff - Appellee: Deidre Yvonne Aanstad, Kevin S. Ueland, Assistant U.S. Attorney, U.S. Attorney's Office, Minneapolis, MN.
Sheikh Bilaal Muhammad Arafat, Defendant - Appellant, Pro se, Springfield, MO.
For Sheikh Bilaal Muhammad Arafat, Defendant - Appellant: Jordan S. Kushner, Minneapolis, MN.
Before WOLLMAN and COLLOTON, Circuit Judges, and WHITE, District Judge.
WOLLMAN, Circuit Judge.
Sheikh Bilaal Muhammad Arafat pleaded guilty to one count of armed bank robbery without the benefit of a plea agreement. In a separate proceeding, he pleaded guilty to five additional counts of armed bank robbery pursuant to a plea agreement under Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 11(c)(1)(C). Arafat later moved to withdraw his guilty pleas, but the district court denied the motion and sentenced Arafat to 168 months of imprisonment, as contemplated in the plea agreement. On appeal, Arafat argues that the district court erred by refusing to allow him to withdraw his guilty pleas. We affirm.
Between January 2011 and January 2012, a serial bank robber dubbed " The Man in Black" committed thirty-one armed bank robberies across Minnesota. Arafat
was arrested on January 3, 2012, after the armed robbery of the Rolling Hills Bank and Trust in Brewster, Minnesota. In a post-arrest interview with law-enforcement officers, Arafat admitted to committing that robbery. A month later, a federal grand jury returned an indictment charging Arafat with thirteen counts of armed bank robbery in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2113(a) and (d), including the armed robbery of the Rolling Hills Bank and Trust.
While pre-trial proceedings were progressing, Arafat expressed dissatisfaction with his appointed counsel and requested permission to represent himself. A magistrate judge held a hearing and, after the requisite inquiry and advisement, granted Arafat's motion to proceed pro se with appointed stand-by counsel. See Faretta v. California, 422 U.S. 806, 835, 95 S.Ct. 2525, 45 L.Ed.2d 562 (1975) (requiring court to satisfy itself that defendant knows and understands the dangers and disadvantages of self-representation and that his waiver of right to counsel is knowing, voluntary, and intelligent). Arafat successfully moved to sever the counts charged in the indictment into three groups--Count 1, Counts 2 through 8, and Counts 9 through 13--to be tried in three separate proceedings. The district court ordered that the first trial on Count 1 of the indictment would begin on April 22, 2013.
On the day that the trial was scheduled to begin, Arafat notified the district court that he wished to plead guilty to Count 1 even though he had not entered into a plea agreement with the government. Because Arafat had asserted in earlier filings with the district court that he felt coerced to plead guilty, the court engaged in a lengthy discussion with Arafat to ensure that his guilty plea to Count 1 was not coerced but was, in fact, knowing and voluntary. After some vacillation based, in part, on his belief that the toy gun used in the robberies was not a " dangerous weapon" under § 2113(d), Arafat ultimately agreed that he " could be found guilty of [§ ] 2113(d)" and stated that he was " proceeding to voluntarily and fully, without any other outside forces or coercion, plead guilty as charged." Once Arafat formally entered his plea of guilty, the district court made the findings required by Rule 11 and accepted Arafat's guilty plea, stating, " Therefore, sir, I accept your plea of guilty to Count 1 and find you guilty as charged." The district court then scheduled two separate trials for the remaining counts of the indictment.
Before the start of the next scheduled trial, Arafat and the government reached a plea agreement to resolve the remaining twelve counts of the indictment, as well as eighteen additional uncharged armed bank robberies. Arafat agreed to plead guilty to five counts of armed bank robbery and to admit responsibility for twenty-five additional charged and uncharged armed bank robberies. In return, the government agreed that the remaining seven counts of the indictment would be dismissed and that, pursuant to Rule 11(c)(1)(C), a 168-month sentence was appropriate. On May 6, 2013, Arafat appeared before the district court for a
change-of-plea hearing, at which the following exchange occurred:
THE COURT: Because once you enter this plea today, you cannot withdraw it. Do ...