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Angel Vega-Sanchez v. State of Iowa

May 15, 2013

ANGEL VEGA-SANCHEZ, APPLICANT-APPELLANT,
v.
STATE OF IOWA, RESPONDENT-APPELLEE.



Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Webster County, Kurt L. Wilke, Judge.

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

Angel Vega-Sanchez appeals from the dismissal of his post-conviction relief application. AFFIRMED.

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

Angel Vega-Sanchez shot his wife in the head in front of witnesses and was convicted of first-degree murder. He appeals from the dismissal of his post-conviction relief application. We conclude Vega-Sanchez has failed to establish either trial or post-conviction counsel were ineffective and therefore affirm.

I. Background Facts and Proceedings.

The facts leading to Vega-Sanchez's first-degree murder conviction are set out in State v. Vega-Sanchez, No. 10-0116, 2011 WL 441677 (Iowa Ct. App. Feb. 9, 2011). We affirmed the conviction and his application for further review was denied by the supreme court.

On June 22, 2011, Vega-Sanchez filed an application for post-conviction relief, asserting that his right to contact the Mexican Consulate had been violated. He also argued his trial counsel was ineffective in failing to get an interpreter for him and in failing to call several witnesses.

A hearing was held on March 8, 2012, at which Vega-Sanchez testified, as did his trial counsel, James Koll, investigating officer Agent Larry Hedlund, and jail administrator Steve Ellefritz. The district court denied the post-conviction application concluding Koll's decision not to call certain witnesses was for strategic reasons; Vega-Sanchez did not require an interpreter because he spoke and understood English; and Vega-Sanchez did, in fact, contact the Mexican Consulate, which did not intervene in his trial.

Vega-Sanchez appeals.

II. Scope and Standards of Review.

Vega-Sanchez's appeal is based upon his claims of being denied a fair trial and ineffective assistance of counsel. "We typically review post-conviction relief proceedings on error. However, when the applicant asserts claims of a constitutional nature, our review is de novo." Ledezma v. State, 626 N.W.2d 134, 141 (Iowa 2001) (citations omitted). We give weight to the lower court's findings concerning witness credibility, but are not bound by them. Id.

III. Discussion.

On appeal, Vega-Sanchez claims that the district court erred in concluding his trial counsel was not ineffective in failing to obtain an interpreter and in failing to notify Vega-Sanchez of his right to contact the Mexican Consulate. Further, Vega-Sanchez contends the failure to inform him of his right to notify the Mexican Consulate is ineffective assistance of counsel per se and prejudice should be presumed. He also asserts post-conviction counsel was ineffective in failing to present witnesses and evidence showing how he was prejudiced by trial counsel's failure to notify him of his consular notification rights.

A. Interpreter. Vega-Sanchez contends that trial counsel was ineffective in failing to obtain an interpreter. To establish a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel, the applicant must prove (1) counsel failed to perform an essential duty, and (2) prejudice resulted. See id. at 142. Vega-Sanchez argues thatthe totality of circumstances suggests he required an interpreter to understand the proceedings and thus counsel was ineffective in failing to obtain a Spanish-language interpreter. See generally id. at 149-50 ("Without a competent and impartial interpreter to assist defendants in their understanding ...


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