December 21, 2016
RICHARD ALAN DEBATES, Applicant-Appellant,
STATE OF IOWA, Respondent-Appellee.
from the Iowa District Court for Scott County, Nancy S.
applicant appeals the dismissal of his application for
postconviction relief. AFFIRMED.
D. Tindal of Nidey Erdahl Tindal & Fisher PLC,
Williamsburg, for appellant.
J. Miller, Attorney General, and Sharon K. Hall, Assistant
Attorney General, for appellee State.
Considered by Vogel, P.J., and Vaitheswaran and McDonald, JJ.
Tabor, J., takes no part.
Debates appeals the dismissal of his application for
postconviction relief, asserting the statute of limitations
should not have applied based on newly discovered evidence
that his counsel was ineffective. Because we find Debates
could have raised his claim within the statutory time frame,
Background Facts and Proceedings
2007, Debates pled guilty to sexual abuse in the third
degree, in violation of Iowa Code section 709.4 (2005). Due
to an error in his original sentencing order, Debates was
resentenced on October 4, 2007. Debates did not file a direct
appeal to his conviction. In March 2011, Debates filed a pro
se application for postconviction relief, which claimed his
counsel was ineffective. Specifically, Debates stated that he
believed his attorney forged documents that were submitted to
the court. The application then sat unpursued until July
2015, when Debates filed another pro se application for
postconviction relief, asserting the same
grounds. An attorney was then appointed to
represent Debates. The State filed a motion to dismiss
Debates's application based on the applicable three-year
statute of limitations contained in Iowa Code section 822.2
(2011). Debates claimed the limitations period did not apply
because his application was based on a ground of fact that
could not have been raised during the limitations period. On
August 7, 2015, the district court issued a ruling that found
the grounds for Debates's application could have been
discovered through due diligence prior to the expiration of
the limitations period and granted the State's motion to
dismiss. Debates appeals.
Standard of Review
we review decisions regarding applications for postconviction
relief for errors at law. Ledezma v. State, 626
N.W.2d 134, 141 (Iowa 2001). This standard applies when we
review a statute-of-limitations defense to postconviction
actions. Harrington v. State, 659 N.W.2d 509, 519-20
(Iowa 2003). "However, when the applicant asserts claims
of a constitutional nature, our review is de novo."
Ledezma, 626 N.W.2d at 141.
Statute of Limitations
asserts the three-year statute of limitations did not apply
to his application because it was based on a ground of fact
that could not have been raised within the limitations
period. Specifically, Debates claims he suspects his attorney
forged documents submitted to the court and that he could not
have discovered the alleged forgery within the limitations
period. The State counters that any forgery committed by
Debates's attorney could have been discovered within the
Code section 822.3 provides:
All other applications must be filed within three years from
the date the conviction or decision is final or, in the event
of an appeal, from the date the writ of procedendo is issued.
However, this limitation does not apply to a ground of fact
or law that could not have been raised within the applicable
section 822.3 does provide a potential exception to the
statute of limitations, the exception does not apply if the
grounds for relief asserted could have been raised within the
three year time period. Iowa Code § 822.3; see
Harrington, 659 N.W.2d at 521. Therefore, the
ground-of-fact exception does not apply if the applicant was
aware of the fact prior to the expiration of the three-year
limitations period. See id.
does not identify what documents were allegedly forged, but
the district court identified three documents bearing
Debates's signature in the court file: (1) the written
arraignment, (2) the pretrial conference statement, and (3)
the plea agreement. The district court then found that
Debates's signature on the written arraignment was
notarized by someone other than his attorney, that Debates
was likely present at the pretrial conference, and that he
was definitely present at the taking of the guilty plea.
our review of the record, we agree with the district court
that Debates could have discovered "any ground of
fact" relating to his attorney's alleged forgery
within three years of his conviction. Any purported forgery
should have been immediately apparent to Debates at his
pretrial conference, plea hearing, or sentencing. These
proceedings provided Debates with ample opportunity to review
his file and raise any concerns to the court. Further,
Debates could have discovered any forgery issue upon a
cursory review of his file, which could have occurred at any
time following his plea and sentencing. Finally, as the
district court noted, concerns about Debates's
attorney's actions in forging documents surfaced in 2008
and became public in 2009. Debates could have discovered this
information through a variety of sources and been alerted to
a potential problem with his case. Despite these
opportunities to exercise due diligence and potentially
discover the evidence on which Debates basis his claim, he
did not file his application for postconviction relief until
more than three years after his conviction became final.
Debates based his application on a ground of fact that could
have been raised within the limitations period for
postconviction actions, his application was barred and was
correctly dismissed. We therefore affirm the district court.
 This pro se application is dated March
3, 2009; however, it was not filed until July 2015.