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State v. Tidwell

Court of Appeals of Iowa

December 5, 2013

STATE OF IOWA, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
SANDRAUEL MARIEUEL TIDWELL, Defendant-Appellant.

Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Polk County, Odell G. McGhee II and James D. Birkenholz, District Associate Judges.

Defendant challenges the validity of her plea and the district court's denial of her motion in arrest of judgment.

John Heinicke of Kragnes & Associates, P.C., Des Moines, for appellant.

Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, Jean Pettinger, Assistant Attorney General, John P. Sarcone, County Attorney, and Maurice Curry, Assistant County Attorney, for appellee.

Considered by Vogel, P.J., and Mullins and McDonald, JJ.

McDONALD, J.

Defendant Sandrauel Tidwell appeals after pleading guilty to, being convicted of, and being sentenced for operating while intoxicated, a first offense. On appeal, she challenges the validity of her plea and the court's denial of her motion in arrest of judgment.

I.

Tidwell pleaded guilty pursuant to North Carolina v. Alford, 400 U.S. 25 (1970), to operating while intoxicated, a first offense, in violation of Iowa Code section 321J.2 (2011). The court accepted and entered her plea of guilty on December 6, 2012, and set sentencing to occur on January 28, 2013. Prior to the time of sentencing, Tidwell timely filed her motion in arrest of judgment. Following a hearing on the motion, at which Tidwell was present and heard, the court denied the motion. Subsequently, the court sentenced Tidwell to forty-five days' incarceration, with credit for time served, and imposed a fine in the amount of $1250.

II.

Tidwell first contends that the district court erred in accepting her plea because she was misinformed of the minimum and maximum fine that could be imposed as part of her sentence. Specifically, the guilty plea form Tidwell signed at the time of her plea incorrectly stated that the minimum fine is $315 and the maximum fine is $1875 when the only permissible fine is $1250. See Iowa Code 321J.2(3)(c). This misinformation was not corrected during the plea colloquy. Tidwell also contends the district court erred in accepting her guilty plea because there was no factual basis for it. We conclude that Tidwell did not preserve these issues for appellate review.

The written guilty plea informed Tidwell of the requirement that she file a motion in arrest of judgment to challenge her guilty plea and informed her of the consequences for failing to do so. In a misdemeanor case, the provision of written notice is sufficient to apprise a defendant of her obligation to file a motion in arrest of judgment. See State v. Barnes, 652 N.W.2d 466, 467-68 (Iowa 2002). Thus, to preserve the challenges to her guilty plea, Tidwell was required to raise the challenges in a motion in arrest of judgment. See Iowa R. Crim. P. 2.24(3) ("A defendant's failure to challenge the adequacy of a guilty plea proceeding by motion in arrest of judgment shall preclude the defendant's right to assert such challenge on appeal.").

The requirement that a defendant challenge a guilty plea proceeding by first filing a motion in arrest of judgment requires more than the filing of a catch-all motion that asserts unidentified "error." To adequately preserve a claim for appellate review, rule 2.24(3) requires the defendant to identify the alleged errors in the plea proceeding with sufficient specificity to allow the motion court the opportunity to decide the issue in the first instance. See State v. Barbee, 370 N.W.2d 603, 605 (Iowa Ct. App. 1985) ("Defendant having failed to specify in his motion in arrest of judgment what errors occurred in the taking of the plea, he is ordinarily precluded from asserting any alleged errors on appeal."). In this case, Tidwell did, in fact, timely file a motion in arrest of judgment. The motion only states, however, that Tidwell "believes this plea was accepted in error" without identifying the alleged error or errors. At hearing on the motion, Tidwell did not identify either of the alleged errors for which she now seeks relief. Her bald assertion that the court committed "error, " without more, is not sufficiently specific to preserve her claim for appellate review. See id., 370 N.W.2d at 605.

Our error preservation rules are not intended to be legal bramble bush that serve no purpose other than ensnaring unwitting litigants. Indeed, there is a preference to address claims on the merits. That being said, our error preservation rules are, arguably, statutorily required. See Iowa Code 602.5103(1) (providing that the court of appeals is a "court for the correction of errors at law"). If a litigant fails to present an issue to the district court and obtain a ruling on the same, it cannot be said that we are correcting an error at law. Independently, the rules serve other ...


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