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State v. Finney

Supreme Court of Iowa

July 5, 2013

STATE OF IOWA, Appellee,

On review from the Iowa Court of Appeals.

Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Pottawattamie County, Mark J. Eveloff, Judge.

The State seeks further review of a court of appeals decision vacating a criminal defendant's conviction and sentence.

Sean M. Conway of Dornan, Lustgarten & Troia, PC LLO, Omaha, Nebraska, for appellant.

Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, Darrel L. Mullins, Assistant Attorney General, Matthew D. Wilber, County Attorney, and Christine M. Shockey, Assistant County Attorney, for appellee.

APPEL, Justice.

In this case, we consider a challenge to a guilty plea on grounds of ineffective assistance of counsel when the guilty plea colloquy failed to establish a factual basis for the underlying charge, but when the minutes of testimony provide substantial support for the crime. The court of appeals held that the guilty plea must be vacated because of the inadequacy of the colloquy. It remanded the case to the district court for further proceedings. We granted further review. We now vacate the decision of the court of appeals and affirm the conviction and sentence of the district court.

I. Factual and Procedural Background.

The State charged Craig Finney with the attempted murder of Patty Harker, the attempted murder of Benjamin Shimmin, two counts of assault while participating in a felony, and one count each of first-degree burglary, willful injury causing serious injury, going armed with intent, and flight to avoid prosecution. The minutes of testimony outline the factual basis of the charges.

According to the minutes, Finney and Harker had previously dated. The minutes allege that in the early morning hours of June 17, 2011, Finney, after seeing Harker and Shimmin together at a bar, went to Harker's house with a shotgun, kicked open the door, fired one shot through a door into the bathroom where Shimmin was hiding, and shot Harker in the back as she attempted to flee. The minutes also allege that Finney shot himself and fled the scene. After the incident, Finney put his gun in his truck, parked it at a local pond, solicited the help of his son, changed clothes, and got into another vehicle. Police recovered Finney's truck and shotgun and apprehended him the next day in Missouri.

Finney initially pled not guilty to the charges. He later agreed to plead guilty to the attempted murder of Harker in exchange for the dismissal of the other charges. At the plea hearing, the court informed Finney of his rights. The following colloquy then occurred regarding the factual basis for Finney's guilty plea to the crime of attempted murder:

THE COURT: Would you explain to the Court exactly what you did, why you are pleading guilty to the charge of attempted murder?
[FINNEY]: Oh, yes. I shot Patty.
THE COURT: By Patty—
[FINNEY]: I could go—I don't know—
THE COURT: —is that Patty Harker?
[FINNEY]: Yes, it is.

At this point, the district court accepted Finney's guilty plea to the crime of attempted murder.

Finney then waived his right to file a motion in arrest of judgment and elected to be sentenced immediately. Finney addressed the district court, expressing remorse for his "terrible" actions and for his inability to pay restitution to his victims. He further stated: "I took a plea because never once I pled innocent. I never said I was innocent. I—I took the plea because I'm guilty."

The State addressed the court, stating that Finney had repeatedly abused Harker during their ten-year relationship. The State then provided the court with an overview of the allegations contained in the minutes of testimony. The district court sentenced Finney to twenty-five years in prison and ordered him to pay restitution.

Finney appealed, claiming he received ineffective assistance of counsel because his trial counsel permitted him to plead guilty to attempted murder without an established factual basis for each element of the crime. He also argued that the court illegally imposed a mandatory sentence of eighty-five percent of the twenty-five-year sentence for attempted murder instead of the statutorily established minimum sentence of seventy percent.

We transferred the case to the court of appeals. The court of appeals vacated Finney's conviction and sentence. The court of appeals reasoned that under State v. Philo, 697 N.W.2d 481, 485–86 (Iowa 2005), a trial court accepting a guilty plea must specify on the record the facts and evidence relied upon to establish the factual basis for the plea if the facts or evidence are gleaned from a source other than the defendant's own statements. The court of appeals found that Finney's in-court statement, "I shot Patty, " standing alone, was insufficient to provide a factual basis for Finney's intent to cause Harker's death as required for the crime of attempted murder. As a result, the court of appeals vacated Finney's conviction and sentence and remanded the case for further proceedings to allow the State to supplement the record to establish a factual basis for the plea.

We granted further review. For the reasons expressed below, we now vacate the decision of the court of appeals and affirm Finney's conviction and sentence.

II. Preservation of Error.

Iowa Rule of Criminal Procedure 2.24(3)(a) provides that a defendant is precluded from challenging a guilty plea on appeal unless the defendant files a motion in arrest of judgment. We have recognized an exception to the rule, however, when a defendant alleges trial counsel was ineffective for permitting him to plead guilty to a charge for which there is no factual basis and for failing to thereafter file a motion in arrest of judgment. See, e.g., State v. Allen, 708 N.W.2d 361, 368 (Iowa 2006); Philo, 697 N.W.2d at 488; State v. Royer, 632 N.W.2d 905, 909 (Iowa 2001); State v. Schoelerman, 315 N.W.2d 67, 72–73 (Iowa 1982). Accordingly, because Finney argues his counsel was ineffective for permitting the guilty plea without establishing a factual basis of each element, we may consider the claim.

III. Scope of Review.

We review claims of ineffective assistance of counsel de novo. Everett v. State, 789 N.W.2d 151, 158 (Iowa 2010). Although we normally preserve ineffective-assistance claims for postconviction relief actions, "we will address such claims on direct appeal when the record is sufficient to permit a ruling." State v. Wills, 696 N.W.2d 20, 22 (Iowa 2005). The record in this case is sufficient to allow us to address Finney's ineffective-assistance claim on direct appeal.

IV. Discussion of Challenge to Plea Bargain.

A. Introduction.

Plea bargaining plays an essential role in the modern criminal justice system in the United States. It has been estimated that approximately ninety-five percent of the criminal matters in this country are resolved through plea bargaining. Kristen M. Hall, Ignorance Is Not Necessarily Bliss: The Third Circuit Expands the Requirements for a Knowing and Voluntary Plea in Jameson v. Klem, 54 Vill. L. Rev. 753, 753 (2009) [hereinafter Hall] (discussing adjudication in federal district court); see also United States v. Timmreck, 441 U.S. 780, 784, 99 S.Ct. 2085, 2087–88, 60 L.Ed.2d 634, 639 (1979) (noting that "the vast majority of criminal convictions result from [guilty] pleas" (citation and internal quotation marks omitted)). The critics of plea bargaining abound.[1]

While the criminal trial itself has been historically subject to a number of relatively stringent procedural safeguards found in the Bill of Rights, plea bargaining was largely unregulated until relatively recently in our nation's history. Stephanos Bibas, Regulating the Plea-Bargaining Market: From Caveat Emptor to Consumer Protection, 99 Cal. L. Rev. 1117, 1119 (2011). In the 1960s, the United States Supreme Court began to expand protections available to criminal defendants in the plea-bargaining context both through rulemaking and case adjudication.

Many states, including Iowa, followed the Supreme Court's lead. Nearly all states now require through their rules of criminal procedure that before a court accepts a guilty plea for serious crimes, the district court must engage in some kind of colloquy with the defendant in order to ensure that there is a factual basis for the plea and that the defendant has knowingly and voluntarily waived important constitutional rights. For instance, Iowa Rule of Criminal Procedure 2.8(2)(b) states, in pertinent part, "The court may refuse to accept a plea of guilty, and ...

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