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State of Iowa v. Jody Nolan Mccullah

February 13, 2013

STATE OF IOWA, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
v.
JODY NOLAN MCCULLAH, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Polk County, Douglas F. Staskal, Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Danilson, J.

Jody Nolan McCullah appeals from the district court's ruling on remand that he was competent to represent himself at his 2008 sexual abuse trial. AFFIRMED.

Heard by Eisenhauer, C.J., and Danilson and Bower, JJ.

Jody Nolan McCullah appeals from the district court's ruling on remand that he was competent to represent himself at his 2008 sexual abuse trial. Because the record supports the district court's conclusion that the defendant was competent to represent himself at trial, we affirm.

I. Background Facts and Proceedings.

The underlying facts leading to McCullah's convictions are set out in State v. McCullah, No. 08--0403, 2010 WL 5394747, at *1-7 (Iowa Ct. App. Dec. 22, 2010). McCullah had represented himself at trial. McCullah, 2010 WL 5394747, at *7. On appeal McCullah did not dispute he was competent to stand trial; however, he asserted the district court erred in not considering, sua sponte, his mental impairment in determining whether to grant his request to waive his right to counsel and to represent himself at trial, relying upon Indiana v. Edwards, 554 U.S. 164 (2008). See McCullah, 2010 WL 5394747, at *8.

Because the trial court had not had the benefit of Edwards, we remanded for a hearing "to determine whether McCullah was competent to represent himself at trial in light of the standards established in Edwards," restating what we had said in State v. Jason, 779 N.W.2d 66, 76 n.2 (Iowa Ct. App. 2009)

We emphasize that the issue to be decided on remand is not whether the defendant lacked the technical legal skill or knowledge to conduct the trial proceedings effectively without counsel. . . . That fact, however, has no bearing on whether he was competent to represent himself for purposes of Edwards. Rather, the determination of his competence or lack thereof must be predicated solely on his ability to "carry out the basic tasks needed to present his own defense without the help of counsel"; [Edwards, 554 U.S. at 175--76,]; notwithstanding any mental incapacity or impairment serious enough to call that ability into question. Of course, in making this determination, the trial court should consider the manner in which the defendant conducted the trial proceedings and whether he grasped the issues pertinent to those proceedings, along with his ability to communicate coherently with the court and the jury.

See McCullah, 2010 WL 5394747, at *10 n.3.

On remand, the district court*fn1 conducted a hearing, carefully reviewed the transcripts of the criminal trial, and found (1) McCullah was not suffering from a severe mental illness at the time of trial, (2) the trial judge was attentive to and satisfied that McCullah was competent to represent himself, and (3) McCullah's trial performance was not affected by mental illness.

McCullah challenges the district court's ruling, inviting us to adopt a more specific standard than enunciated in Edwards and Jason, but also arguing that the court incorrectly found him competent under the standard announced in Edwards.

II. Scope and Standard of Review.

We review constitutional claims de novo. State v. Oliver, 812 N.W.2d ...


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