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State v. Harrington

Supreme Court of Iowa

April 7, 2017

STATE OF IOWA, Appellee,

         On review from the Iowa Court of Appeals.

         Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Scott County, Mary E. Howes, Judge.

         Appellant seeks further review of a court of appeals decision affirming the district court's imposition of sentence under an enhancement for repeat offenders. DECISION OF COURT OF APPEALS VACATED; DISTRICT COURT JUDGMENT REVERSED IN PART AND CASE REMANDED.

          Mark C. Smith, State Appellate Defender, and Nan Jennisch, Assistant Appellate Defender, for appellant.

          Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, Mary A. Triick and Kevin R. Cmelik, Assistant Attorneys General, Michael J. Walton, County Attorney, Amy DeVine, Assistant County Attorney, for appellee.

          CADY, Chief Justice.

         In this case, we consider the procedural protections available to a defendant when the State seeks a sentencing enhancement under Iowa's habitual offender statute. The district court in this case did not inform the defendant of certain constitutional and statutory rights associated with accepting pleas of guilt before accepting his admission to the prior convictions to support the habitual offender status. The court of appeals found the defendant failed to preserve error by filing a motion in arrest of judgment based on his claims of deficiencies in the proceedings. It also concluded the district court did not abuse its discretion in refusing to permit the admission to be withdrawn. Finally, the court of appeals found that even if there were error, no prejudice resulted. On further review, we vacate the decision of the court of appeals, reverse the district court, and remand the case for a trial on the defendant's habitual offender status.

         I. Factual Background and Proceedings.

         Andre Letroy Antwan Harrington was arrested and charged with the crime of robbery in the second degree. See Iowa Code § 711.1 (2013) ("A person commits a robbery when, having the intent to commit a theft, the person. . . [c]ommits an assault upon another."); id. § 711.3 ("All robbery which is not robbery in the first degree is robbery in the second degree. Robbery in the second degree is a class "C" felony.").[1] The State also sought a "habitual offender" sentencing enhancement based on his prior record. See id. § 902.8 (2013) ("An habitual offender is any person convicted of a class "C" or a class "D" felony, who has twice before been convicted of any felony in a court of this or any other state, or of the United States."). Under the habitual offender statute, instead of a ten-year sentence, Harrington faced a fifteen-year sentence. See id. §§ 902.8, .9(3)-(4).

         The minutes of testimony revealed the State planned to call designees of the Scott County jail and Jasper County clerk of court to testify Harrington was convicted of the crime of going armed with intent in 2000 and the crime of possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver in 2009. The State also attached a report from the National Crime Information Center identifying the two prior felony convictions.

         The case proceeded to a jury trial on the charge of robbery in the second degree. Harrington testified in his defense, and evidence of his prior felony convictions was admitted during his testimony. The jury returned a verdict of guilty. The district court proceeded to consider the habitual offender sentencing enhancement.

         Outside the presence of the jury, the district court asked Harrington if he wanted to stipulate to the two prior felony convictions in support of the habitual offender enhancement or if he wanted the issue decided by the jury. Harrington acknowledged the two prior felony convictions, but expressed his desire for the matter to be decided by the jury. After a spirited colloquy, the district court accepted Harrington's admission to the prior felonies and concluded no jury determination was needed because Harrington admitted to the prior convictions. During the colloquy, Harrington was informed that his admission meant he was no longer entitled to a trial.

         The district court subsequently sentenced Harrington for the crime of robbery in the second degree as a habitual offender. He was sentenced to fifteen years in prison, with a mandatory minimum period of incarceration of seventy percent before eligibility for parole.

         Harrington appealed. He claimed the courtroom habitual offender colloquy was deficient for two reasons. First, he claimed the colloquy failed to show his admission to the prior offenses was made voluntarily and intelligently. Second, he asserted the colloquy failed to identify evidence to show he was represented by counsel or waived counsel in the cases involving the prior convictions. Harrington also claimed the district court should have construed his request during the colloquy for a trial as a request to withdraw his admission, and it abused its discretion in refusing the request.

         We transferred the case to the court of appeals. The court of appeals affirmed the judgment and sentence of the district court. It found Harrington failed to preserve error concerning deficiencies in the habitual offender colloquy by failing to file a motion in arrest of judgment following the habitual offender hearing and by also failing to object to the deficiencies at the time of the colloquy. The court of appeals also concluded the district court did not abuse its discretion by failing to allow Harrington to withdraw his admission to the prior felony convictions after he expressed his desire for the jury to decide the matter. We granted further review.

         II. Standard of Review.

         "Claims involving the interpretation of a statute or rule are usually reviewed for errors at law." State v. Kukowski, 704 N.W.2d 687, 690-91 (Iowa 2005); see also Iowa R. App. P. 6.907. However, to the extent our review extends beyond the habitual offender statute and into claims having a constitutional basis, our review is de novo. See Kukowski, 704 N.W.2d at 690.

         III. Preservation of Error.

         We first consider whether Harrington has preserved error for appeal on his claims of deficiency in the habitual offender colloquy. He failed to assert an objection to any deficiencies during the habitual offender colloquy and did not file a motion in arrest of judgment prior to sentencing.

         A motion in arrest of judgment is an application by a defendant in a criminal case that no judgment should be entered "on a finding, plea, or verdict of guilty." Iowa R. Crim. P. 2.24(3)(a). The rule serves as a vehicle to bring a variety of claims before the court. See State v. Oldfather, 306 N.W.2d 760, 762 (Iowa 1981). The motion is granted when the whole record shows no legal judgment can be pronounced. Iowa R. Crim. P. 2.24(3)(a). One type of claim identified by the rule that must be raised in the motion is a challenge to the adequacy of a guilty plea proceeding. Id. It is a claim that no judgment should be entered on a "plea . . . of guilt[]" because deficiencies in the proceedings rendered the plea involuntary. Id. The rule states, "A defendant's failure to challenge the adequacy of the guilty plea proceeding by a motion in arrest of judgment shall preclude the defendant's right to assert such a challenge on appeal." Id. Thus, the motion is both a procedural mechanism to raise claims of error and an error preservation requirement. The question is whether both components of the motion are applicable to claims of error in habitual offender admission proceedings.

         We have repeatedly said that an admission by an offender to the prior convictions to support sentencing as a habitual offender is comparable to a plea of guilty to support sentencing for the crime identified in the plea. Kukowski, 704 N.W.2d at 692; State v. Brady, 442 N.W.2d 57, 58 (Iowa 1989). An admission is comparable to a guilty plea because both acknowledge facts that render the person amenable to punishment by law. Additionally, the rights at stake in a habitual offender proceeding are significant and "are often of the same magnitude as in the case of a plea of guilty." In re Yurko, 519 P.2d 561, 565 (Cal. 1974). If a defendant waives the right to a trial on the prior convictions, he or she waives all the constitutional protections associated with the trial, relieves the state of its burden of proof, and forecloses the opportunity to appeal trial errors. See Wright v. Craven, 325 F.Supp. 1253, 1257 (N.D. Cal. 1971) ("The defendant who admits the priors charged against him will be deemed to have waived nearly all rights later to question their validity. But the harshness of this result is mitigated by one, fragile principle: waiver must be a 'knowing, intelligent act done with sufficient awareness of the relevant circumstances and likely consequences.' " (quoting Brady v. United States, 397 U.S. 742, 748, 90 S.Ct. 1463, 1469 (1970))). For these reasons, many other jurisdictions also compare habitual offender admissions to guilty pleas. See, e.g., People v. Cross, 347 P.3d 1130, 1135 (Cal. 2015) ("The same constitutional standards of voluntariness and intelligence apply when a defendant forgoes a trial on a prior conviction allegation."); State v. Cheatham, 80 P.3d 349, 353-54 (Idaho Ct. App. 2003) (compiling cases from "[s]everal federal courts of appeal [that] have held . . . where the law of the prosecuting jurisdiction affords a defendant the right to a trial on recidivist allegations, a trial court may not dispense with such a trial without taking steps to ensure that the defendant himself is knowingly and voluntarily admitting the prior convictions with an understanding that he will thereby be subject to enhanced penalties, " and adopting the same rule (footnote omitted) (citation omitted)). Consistent with Kukowski and Brady, we conclude that a motion in arrest of judgment is a proper vehicle to bring claims of deficiencies in a habitual offender proceeding. Like claims of deficiencies in guilty plea proceedings, claims in deficiencies in habitual offender proceedings are assertions that no judgment and sentence can be pronounced. The remaining question is whether the motion is also a requirement to preserve error for appellate review of the claims of deficiencies.

         It is not necessary for us to decide if a habitual offender admission proceeding constitutes a "guilty plea proceeding" within the error-preservation language of Iowa Rule of Criminal Procedure 2.24(3). Error preservation is a fundamental principle of law with roots that extend to the basic constitutional function of appellate courts. See Meier v. Senecaut, 641 N.W.2d 532, 537 (Iowa 2002); Thomas A. Mayes & Anurahda Vaitheswaran, Error Preservation in Civil Appeals in Iowa: Perspectives on Present Practice, 55 Drake L. Rev. 39, 43-45 (2006) [hereinafter Mayes]. The doctrine has been developed over time by both court rules and court decisions. Its purpose is to allow the district court to correct error without the necessity of an appeal. See State v. Whorley, 297 N.W.2d 368, 370 (Iowa 1980). It also serves to create a record for appellate review. See DeVoss v. State, 648 N.W.2d 58, 60 (Iowa 2002). See generally Mayes, 55 Drake L. Rev. at 48-50.

         We have applied the error preservation rule to a variety of motions in the past. See DeVoss, 648 N.W.2d at 61. Having determined that claims of deficiencies in a habitual offender proceeding are properly raised by filing a motion in arrest of judgment, there is no reason not to also apply the error preservation requirement. The purposes of the error preservation rule would be served, just as they are by imposing the requirement to preserve error for deficiencies in a guilty plea proceeding. The error preservation requirement would lead to an orderly and prompt process to dispose of claims of procedural error, just as for guilty-plea claims. Accordingly, we hold that offenders in a habitual offender proceeding must preserve error in any deficiencies in the proceeding by filing a motion in arrest of judgment.

         Notwithstanding, we only apply this rule of law prospectively. We therefore excuse Harrington's failure to preserve error by filing a motion in arrest of judgment.

         IV. Habitual Offender Colloquy.

         We next consider the claims of deficiency in the habitual offender colloquy. At the outset, we reject the claim by Harrington that the district court abused its discretion in failing to allow him to withdraw his admission to the prior convictions after he expressed his desire for a hearing. The record fails to reveal Harrington requested to withdraw his admission after the district court informed him that his admission obviated the need for a hearing. Thus, because no request to withdraw was made, we also do not address the State's claim that no prejudice resulted from any abuse of discretion.[2] We turn, therefore, to consider the claim by Harrington that the district court failed to engage in a colloquy in the habitual offender proceeding to determine if the admission to the prior convictions was made voluntarily and intelligently.

         A. Background.

         "[R]ecidivism . . . is a traditional, if not the most traditional, basis for a sentencing court's increasing an offender's sentence." Almendarez-Torres v. United States, 523 U.S. 224, 243, 118 S.Ct. 1219, 1230 (1998). In Iowa, the habitual offender process is governed by statute. After two or more prior convictions of class "D" or "C" felonies, the offender convicted of a subsequent felony is deemed a habitual offender and subjected to a fifteen-year sentence with a mandatory minimum period of incarceration of three years. See Iowa Code §§ 902.8, .9(3).

         While recidivist statutes have deep roots in our law, the procedural protections observed today grew with time. Under early versions of the Code, the state charged present and prior offenses in one indictment, a single trial was held, and the jury entered a special verdict on the prior offenses. See Iowa Code §§ 4871-a, -d (Supp. 1902). But this singular procedure immediately informed the jury of the defendant's prior criminal record, even though such evidence would ordinarily be inadmissible. See State v. Fisk, 248 Iowa 970, 973, 83 N.W.2d 581, 582 (1957) ("It may be that such proof tends to convince the jury that the defendant is not an upright citizen, and so makes his conviction on the primary charge more likely."). The defendant could only avoid this result by admitting the prior convictions ahead of trial. See State v. Griff, 257 Iowa 852, 854, 135 N.W.2d 77, 78 (1965) ("[W]here the defendant admits the prior convictions it is not proper or necessary to instruct thereon . . . .").

         In 1965, the legislature addressed the problem by adopting a two-stage trial procedure. See generally 1965 Iowa Acts ch. 444. Under the two-stage procedure, the state files two informations, one that omits any reference to previous convictions. See Iowa R. Crim. P. 2.6(5). The jury is only read the information charging the present offense, and the trial is confined to that offense. If this trial results in a guilty verdict, the court then gives the offender an opportunity to affirm or deny the prior convictions. See id. r. 2.19(9). If the offender denies he or she was the person identified in the prior convictions, there is a second trial by jury "on the issue of the offender's identity with the person previously convicted." Id.

         By 2002, the procedure was amended to reflect our caselaw giving the offender the opportunity to affirm or deny not only identity, but "that the offender was not represented by counsel and did not waive counsel" in the prior convictions. Id. The offender is given this opportunity because

[t]o permit a conviction obtained in violation of Gideon v. Wainwright[, 372 U.S. 335, 83 S.Ct. 792 (1963), ] to be used against a person either to support guilt or enhance punishment for another offense is to erode the principle of that case.

State v. Cameron, 167 N.W.2d 689, 694 (Iowa 1969) (citation omitted) (quoting Burgett v. Texas, 389 U.S. 109, 115, 88 S.Ct. 258, 262 (1967)). Aside from this change and various renumbering, the rules have remained largely unchanged since 1965. See Iowa Rs. Crim. P. 2.6(5), .19(9) (2017). The constant feature of these rules has been that the defendant is entitled to a second trial on the prior convictions. See Iowa Code § 785.16 (1966); Iowa R. Crim. P. 2.19(9). The State bears the burden to establish the prior convictions beyond a reasonable doubt. See State v. Long, 814 N.W.2d 572, 576 (Iowa 2012); see also State v. Smith, 129 Iowa 709, 709, 106 N.W. 187, 189 ...

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