Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Black Hawk County, George L. Stigler, Judge.
Applicant appeals the district court's denial of her request for postconviction relief on drug-related charges.
Allan M. Richards of Richards Law Firm, Tama, for appellant.
Elisa Montgomery, Mitchellville, appellant pro se.
Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, Darrel Mullins, Assistant Attorney General, Thomas J. Ferguson, County Attorney, and Kimberly A. Griffith, Assistant County Attorney, for appellee.
Considered by Vaitheswaran, P.J., Doyle, J., and Miller, S.J. [*]
I. Background Facts & Proceedings
Elisa Montgomery was charged with ongoing criminal conduct, five counts of prohibited acts, and five counts of possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver. The State alleged Montgomery had been involved in a scheme to obtain hydrocodone, a Schedule II controlled substance, through false prescriptions and then sell the drug to others.
Montgomery did not appear for a pre-trial conference on July 2, 2009. Her defense counsel stated she told him that she had a note from one of the doctors at Black Hawk-Grundy Mental Health Center "indicating that she had some mental difficulties which would prevent her from attending a court proceeding in the near term." Defense counsel stated, "I would make a professional statement that I do not believe there is any issue with capacity." The district court denied defense counsel's request for a continuance.
The case was scheduled for trial on July 7, 2009. On that day, Montgomery again asked for a continuance. She presented a note dated June 23, 2009, from Dr. Mohammed Afridi, a psychiatrist, which stated, "Miss Montgomery is unable to attend court hearings due to health reasons for the next six weeks." She told the court, "I have some issues. And I'm just not stable enough to do this right now. I'm just not. And I just don't understand—I mean understand things, but I don't. I forget. And then, I don't know, I'm just—I'm just being honest with you." The district court concluded Montgomery had not shown a sufficient record to continue the trial, and denied her motion for a continuance.
Montgomery then decided to enter an Alford plea to the charges against her, rather than proceed to trial that day. Prior to entering the guilty plea, Montgomery asked some pertinent questions about what the Alford plea entailed and about sentencing. During the plea colloquy, the district court asked her, "I understand that you take medication and that you have some counseling issues and so forth, but are any of the medications you're taking or mental issues that you have got you so confused that you don't understand what we're doing here today, " and Montgomery replied, "Not today, no." Toward the end of the guilty plea proceeding, Montgomery asked, "I have a probation hearing on the 23rd. How does this work with all this?" The court and her defense attorney answered her question.
Montgomery subsequently filed a motion in arrest of judgment. She asked to withdraw her guilty plea, stating she did not have the ability to understand what was going on during the plea proceedings. She stated she believed that she would receive probation for twenty-five years. Montgomery testified:
I went ahead and took the Alford plea. But afterwards, after talking to people and talking to other lawyers and—and talking to the—not prosecutor but probation officers and stuff like that, I felt I made the wrong choice. ...