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Ciha v. State

Court of Appeal of Iowa

July 24, 2013

JOHN CIHA, Applicant-Appellant,
v.
STATE OF IOWA, Respondent-Appellee.

Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Linn County, Patrick R. Grady, Judge.

John Ciha appeals from the district court's denial of his application for postconviction relief.

Philip B. Mears of Mears Law Office, Iowa City, for appellant.

Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, Sheryl A. Soich, Assistant Attorney General, Jerry Vander Sanden, County Attorney, and Robert Hruska, Assistant County Attorney, for appellee State.

Considered by Doyle, P.J., and Danilson and Mullins, JJ.

DOYLE, P.J.

John Ciha appeals from the district court's denial of his application for postconviction relief following his 2009 plea of guilty to burglary in the third degree as an habitual offender. Ciha contends his trial counsel was ineffective in coercing him into pleading guilty. Upon our review, we affirm the order denying Ciha's application for postconviction relief.

I. Background Facts and Proceedings

In November 2008, the Cedar Rapids Police Department was investigating a series of scrap metal thefts from C.E.I. Manufacturing. John Ciha was listed as a possible suspect because a black Dodge pickup truck that he drove, registered to his mother, was seen near C.E.I. at the time of the thefts. On the evening of November 26, an officer who kept surveillance over the truck noticed the vehicle was no longer parked at Ciha's residence. The truck was then observed parked near C.E.I., which was closed at the time.

Officers surveyed the enclosed fenced in area of C.E.I. and observed two men, later determined to be Ciha and Jeremy Carstens, removing scrap aluminum metal from a trailer and piling it by a fence on the east side of the property.[1] When the officers announced their presence, Ciha fled. He was found hiding wedged above the rear axles of a semi-trailer. Carstens told police they intended to put the scrap metal in Ciha's pickup truck, which was parked across the street, and that Ciha told him he could "make fat cash." The State charged Ciha with burglary in the third degree as an habitual offender.[2]

Ciha initially entered a plea of not guilty. He subsequently became aware of the court's drug treatment program. He believed the program would provide him a better chance for rehabilitation than prison and learned an important aspect of the program was taking responsibility for one's actions. In light of his "extensive criminal record, " Ciha believed that pleading guilty would place him in a better position to be accepted into the drug court program.[3] However, Ciha was aware the State was still going to recommend a prison sentence.[4] The presentence report recommended the drug court program.

At the plea hearing, Ciha apparently got cold feet and wavered on his decision to plead guilty. Defense counsel responded by telling him that if he did not plead guilty then he "should get a different lawyer because [the county attorney] was not willing to negotiate." Ciha entered a plea of guilty, which the court accepted.

The court sentenced Ciha to fifteen years in prison, denying his request to be placed into the drug court program. This court affirmed the conviction on direct appeal. State v. Ciha, No. 09-1759, 2010 WL 2925989, at *2 (Iowa Ct. App. July 28, 2010).

Ciha filed a postconviction relief action, raising various claims of ineffective assistance of trial counsel, including a claim that counsel "coerced [him] into pleading guilty." The district court denied Ciha's claim, finding counsel had breached a duty by threatening Ciha but that Ciha failed to prove a likelihood he would ...


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