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State v. Mbonyunkiza

Court of Appeals of Iowa

December 21, 2016

STATE OF IOWA, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
NAPOLEON MBONYUNKIZA, Defendant-Appellant.

         Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Polk County, Karen A. Romano, Judge.

         Napolean Mbonyunkiza appeals following his guilty pleas to sexual abuse in the third degree, neglect of a dependent person, dependent adult abuse, and failure to appear. AFFIRMED.

          Angela L. Campbell of Dickey & Campbell Law Firm, P.L.C., Des Moines, for appellant.

          Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, and Darrel L. Mullins, Assistant Attorney General, for appellee.

          Considered by Vaitheswaran, P.J., McDonald, J., and Mahan, S.J. [*]

          MAHAN, Senior Judge.

         Napolean Mbonyunkiza appeals following his guilty pleas to sexual abuse in the third degree, neglect of a dependent person, dependent adult abuse, and failure to appear. Mbonyunkiza contends (1) the district court erred in finding him competent to stand trial; (2) his trial counsel was ineffective in failing to challenge his plea as unknowing, involuntary, and uninformed, or without a factual basis; (3) his sentences violate double jeopardy and the merger rule; and (4) the district court abused its discretion in sentencing him. We affirm.

         I. Background Facts and Proceedings

         D.B., a mentally and physically incapacitated woman living at a Des Moines-area group home, was treated at Mercy Hospital for weight loss, gagging, and digestive issues. It was discovered D.B. was twenty weeks pregnant. The pregnancy was terminated per the direction of D.B.'s guardian. Police sought DNA samples of all males with access to D.B., including Mbonyunkiza, a caretaker for D.B. at the group home. While paternity testing could exclude 99.9% of the male population, it could not exclude Mbonyunkiza as the fetus' father.

         In July 2010, the State filed a trial information (FECR237656) charging Mbonyunkiza with sexual abuse in the third degree, neglect of a dependent person, and dependent adult abuse. Mbonyunkiza was arrested, a preliminary hearing was scheduled, and he was released. After Mbonyunkiza failed to appear for his preliminary hearing, police discovered he had fled to Uganda. The State then filed a trial information (FECR238083) charging Mbonyunkiza with failure to appear.

          Mbonyunkiza subsequently returned to the United States and was taken into custody to face the pending charges. The issue of competency was raised by defense counsel, and the district court ordered Mbonyunkiza to be evaluated by Dr. Tracy Thomas. The State moved for a separate evaluation, and the court ordered Mbonyunkiza to be evaluated by Dr. James Dennert. Both experts opined Mbonyunkiza was competent to stand trial. Following a competency hearing, the court concluded Mbonyunkiza was competent to stand trial.

         Mbonyunkiza subsequently pled guilty as charged to each count. Mbonyunkiza's attorney informed the court Mbonyunkiza intended to argue for a favorable sentence. The court accepted Mbonyunkiza's pleas and sentenced him to the maximum terms of imprisonment-ten years on two counts and five years on two counts-to run consecutively, for a total of thirty years.

         Mbonyunkiza appeals. Additional facts will be set forth below as relevant to the issues raised on appeal.

         II. Competency

         Mbonyunkiza challenges the district court's finding that he was competent to stand trial. Mbonyunkiza contends his alleged incompetence to stand trial implicates his due process rights. "[T]he constitutional basis of a claim the defendant is not competent to be tried requires a de novo review on appeal." See State v. Johnson, 784 N.W.2d 192, 194 (Iowa 2010).

         Competency to stand trial is governed by Iowa Code section 812.3 (2015), which provides:

If at any stage of a criminal proceeding the defendant or the defendant's attorney, upon application to the court, alleges specific facts showing that the defendant is suffering from a mental disorder which prevents the defendant from appreciating the charge, understanding the proceedings, or assisting effectively in the defense, the court shall suspend further proceedings and determine if probable cause exists to sustain the allegations. The applicant has the burden of establishing probable cause.

         "We presume a defendant is competent to stand trial. The defendant has the burden of proving his or her incompetency to stand trial by a preponderance of the evidence. If the evidence is in equipoise, the presumption of competency prevails." Id. at 194 (citation omitted).

         In September 2013, defense counsel and Mbonyunkiza requested a competency evaluation pursuant to section 812.3. Defense counsel became concerned about Mbonyunkiza's competence after discussions with Mbonyunkiza. Mbonyunkiza reported he heard voices, someone cast "spells" on him, and "sorcery" caused him to do bad things. Mbonyunkiza related that he grew up in Rwanda, where he witnessed brutal murders of his family members. He had been treated for posttraumatic stress and depression.

         The district court granted the request for a competency evaluation. The defense's evaluator, Dr. Tracy Thomas, submitted an initial report in October 2013, stating "a definitive opinion [as to Mbonyunkiza's competence] could not be made due to lack of information." During that hearing, the State requested a second evaluation, and the court granted the request.

         The State's evaluator, Dr. James Dennert, conducted an interview of Mbonyunkiza and reviewed the trial information, minutes of testimony, and Dr. Thomas' October 2013 report. Dr. Dennert's December 16, 2013 evaluation opined:

On the basis of the information provided to me, and my interview of Mr. Mbonyunkiza, it is my medical opinion that he does not suffer a mental illness that renders him incompetent to stand trial. Specifically, he does not suffer a mental illness that prevents him from understanding the charges against him, or that prevents him from being able to understand the court proceedings, or that prevents him from assisting his attorney in his defense.
While Mr. Mbonyunkiza said that he did not know or understand the charges against him, he seemed to understand quite well when I told him, in general, what he was accused of. He denied that he had done what he is charged with, and maintained his denial throughout our interview. He also indicated that he was trying to learn about how trials work, and that the major impediment to his current understanding is his poor English. He even said that, if he could have the trial explained to him in French that this would help "absolutely."
Mr. Mbonyunkiza's claimed lack of memory for his trip to Uganda and subsequent return to the United States is not consistent with any known psychiatric or neurological syndrome. He is able to provide very good history for other aspects of his life. It is my opinion that Mr. Mbonyunkiza does, in fact, recall going to Uganda, but that he is falsely claiming not to recall. His lack of memory is clearly self-serving.
It is also my opinion that Mr. Mbonyunkiza's reports of hearing "voices" are self-serving as well. During my interview, he at no time appeared to be attending to inner stimuli. I am unaware of any reports of his behavior while in jail that would suggest psychotic symptoms. I am unaware of any history of psychosis in Mr. Mbonyunkiza; his reported treatment in Rwanda and Uganda appear to be for depression, or possibly posttraumatic stress, but not psychosis.
Mr. Mbonyunkiza does report current symptoms of a depressive nature. He complains of sleep problems, appetite disturbance, and decreased energy. He was also tearful at times during our interview. These symptoms are not surprising in someone jailed for the crimes that Mr. Mbonyunkiza is accused of committing. Taken together, they are consistent with a diagnosis of Adjustment Disorder with Depressed Mood.
On the basis of all the information provided to me and my interview with Mr. Mbonyunkiza, it is my medical opinion that he is competent to stand trial. He does not suffer any psychiatric or mental illness that renders him incompetent. The only potential obstacle to his participation in his trial is language, and that can be addressed by providing him with a French interpreter, who could explain the charges, the basic workings of the court system, and provide ongoing interpretation during trial.

          After Dr. Dennert's report was submitted-and after conducting another interview of Mbonyunkiza and reviewing additional materials-Dr. Thomas submitted an "update[d]" report opining Mbonyunkiza was competent to stand ...


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