Judge denies Aspen man’s request to withdraw guilty plea
An Aspen man who pleaded guilty to burglary and indecent exposure charges last year will have to suffer the consequences of that action after a District Court judge refused Thursday to let him withdraw his plea.
District Judge Chris Seldin said that though Benjamin Morton, 30, didn’t have a lawyer at the time of his plea, he was still properly advised of the consequences of his guilty plea, including the fact that he’d have to register as a sex offender.
Allowing Morton to withdraw the plea would “make a mockery” of the court’s regular, detailed efforts to ensure defendants pleading guilty understand what they’re doing, Seldin said. The judge routinely goes through a lengthy series of questions to make sure defendants who plead guilty know the consequences of their actions and understand the rights they give up in such situations.
Seldin, who handled Morton’s case from beginning to end, said he was always under the impression that Morton was able to make rational, adult choices about his case.
“There was no reason to doubt that his answers to my questions were accurate and truthful,” Seldin said.
However, Morton’s lawyer, Michael Fox, said his client had a “fundamental misunderstanding” of what he’d done and what punishments he was in line to receive. Morton, who has a learning disability, didn’t even know what charges he’d pleaded guilty to, which was a just reason to allow the plea withdrawal, Fox said.
The judge disagreed.
Pitkin County sheriff’s deputies arrested Morton in May after a woman reported seeing him enter her apartment and masturbate in her roommate’s room. He later admitted the behavior to a deputy.
In October, he pleaded guilty to felony burglary and misdemeanor indecent exposure. The burglary plea was in exchange for a two-year deferred sentence, meaning the felony conviction would not appear on his record after two years provided he wasn’t charged with another crime.
The indecent exposure plea, however, came with no strings. That meant Morton would have to register as a sex offender for a minimum of 10 years, prosecutor Don Nottingham said.
Nottingham said he wrote in the plea paperwork he gave to Morton in October that he would have to register as a sex offender, and repeated that information in an email he sent him.
The May offense was not the first time Morton had been in trouble for his behavior.
In April 2018, Morton pleaded guilty to misdemeanor public indecency after Snowmass Village police arrested him for allegedly masturbating in a condominium complex hot tub. He received a year of unsupervised probation in that case. He was originally charged with indecent exposure when he was arrested.
Morton is scheduled to be sentenced under terms of his October plea deal next month.
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