Larry Craig

Overturning guilty plea could be tricky for Sen. Larry Craig

Sen. Larry Craig faces few easy choices if he seeks to undo his guilty plea to disorderly conduct after an encounter with an undercover policeman at a Minneapolis airport men's room, several legal experts say.

If the courts were to agree to discard the plea — and they usually don't in Minnesota — Craig could face again a second, more serious charge that is a euphemism for window peeping, a University of Minnesota law professor said.

But David Leroy, a former Idaho attorney general and Boise defense lawyer, said he would counsel Craig to try to get the plea set aside.

Craig said Tuesday that he agreed to the plea without benefit of legal counsel, which he now says was a mistake. He said he has hired a lawyer. He did not outline what options he's considering.

There may not be many.

Craig pleaded guilty to a low-level, catch-all misdemeanor charge of disorderly conduct — the same charge used to arrest people who play their boom boxes too loud, said Fred Morrison, interim dean of the University of Minnesota law school.

The second charge, "interference with privacy," was dismissed in a plea agreement.

Before overturning a plea agreement, Minnesota courts would want proof of a "manifest injustice," such as defendants not being informed of some rights, professors say.

If the courts were to dismiss Craig's plea, he could face trial on both of the original counts, said Steve Simon, a University of Minnesota law professor.

Interference with privacy is more serious than disorderly conduct, Simon said. It carries a $3,000 fine and up to a year in jail.

Under the agreement, Craig paid $575 and received a 10-day jail sentence, which was stayed, and a year of probation.

Leroy said, there may be room to challenge police statements about Craig sliding his foot so that it touched the officer's and reaching his hand into the policeman's stall.

The report doesn't give the relative position of the policeman's foot or the dimensions of the stall, Leroy said.

If a similar police report came to Leroy, he'd counsel his client, "You should plead not guilty and request a jury trial."

Bill Roberts: 377-6408

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