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State of Iowa v. Larry Allen Bell

IN THE COURT OF APPEALS OF IOWA


May 15, 2013

STATE OF IOWA, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
v.
LARRY ALLEN BELL, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.

Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Scott County, Thomas H. Preacher (motion to dismiss), District Associate Judge, and Mark J. Smith (trial), Judge.

Per curiam.

Defendant appeals his conviction for driving while barred as a habitual offender. AFFIRMED.

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

On June 28, 2010, a police officer observed Larry Bell driving on a city street. Bell was arrested and charged with driving under suspension while barred as a habitual offender. See Iowa Code §§ 321.555(1), .561 (2009).

In August, Bell filed a pro se motion to dismiss. This motion is identical to the August dismissal motion Bell filed in criminal case AGCR331132, which was based on a June 26, 2010 traffic stop. A joint hearing on both motions was held on September 7, 2010. The court denied the motions to dismiss and appointed standby counsel.

Immediately prior to the October 18, 2010 jury trial, Bell argued his recently-filed "Motion for Mistake." He alleged the proceedings constituted a fraud by the State and the prosecuting attorney, and he also argued he had no contract and no dispute with the State of Iowa. The court denied his motion.

At trial, Bell did not contest that he was driving and that his state-issued driver's license had been barred. The State offered into evidence Bell's certified driving record. Bell objected and questioned the accuracy of the document. The court overruled his objection, noting Bell had not objected to the admissibility of the certified driving record during the final pretrial conference. The jury found Bell guilty of driving while barred as a habitual offender.

At the start of his December 1, 2010 sentencing hearing, Bell presented and argued his "Motion to Challenge the Jurisdiction of This Court and Dismiss for Lack of Jurisdiction." The court denied the motion. Bell was sentenced to an indeterminate term of incarceration not to exceed two years. The court ordered his sentence "to run concurrent with the sentence imposed in AGCR331132."*fn1

This appeal followed.

Bell first argues the court erred in admitting the certified copy of his driving record because the exhibit violates Bell's constitutional right to be confronted with the witnesses against him. Bell recognizes the certified abstract of his driving record is admissible under State v. Shipley, 757 N.W.2d 228, 231 (Iowa 2008), but argues we should overrule Shipley based on the more recent United States Supreme Court case, Melendez-Diaz v. Massachusetts, 557 U.S. 305 (2009).

We assume error is preserved. We review de novo. Shipley, 757 N.W.2d at 231. We find no merit to Bell's argument. The Melendez-Diaz case did not involve a copy of an existing governmental driving record. Accordingly, Shipley still governs. See Shipley, 757 N.W.2d at 237 n.2.*fn2

Bell, noting the arguments he presented at trial had no legal basis, next argues the court erred in failing to sua sponte order a mental competency evaluation in derogation of his due process rights. See Iowa Code § 812.3. The State argues there "is no doubt Bell holds an unorthodox and misguided perception of the State's authority to enforce the law against him. But such a misunderstanding of the law does not equate to incompetency to stand trial."*fn3

We assume error has been preserved. We review de novo. State v. Lyman, 776 N.W.2d 865, 873 (Iowa 2010). "We presume a defendant is competent to stand trial," and a defendant has the burden of proving incompetency by a preponderance of the evidence. Id. at 874.

Our de novo review of the record reveals no error. While Bell's claims and defenses were ultimately determined to be meritless, nothing suggests Bell's unconventional viewpoint resulted from a mental disorder, and the record does not demonstrate impairment of his ability to appreciate the charge, understand the process, or assist in his defense. See United States v. James, 328 F.3d 953, 955 (7th Cir. 2003) (stating many defendants articulate beliefs that have no legal support but such beliefs do not imply mental instability).

Bell has not shown the district court violated his constitutional rights by failing to suspend the proceedings and order a competency evaluation.

We affirm Bell's conviction for driving while barred as a habitual offender. AFFIRMED.


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