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Woods v. State

Court of Appeals of Iowa

May 3, 2017

JAMES TYRONE WOODS, Applicant-Appellant,
STATE OF IOWA, Respondent-Appellee.

         Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Cerro Gordo County, Gregg R. Rosenbladt, Judge.

         An applicant appeals the district court's denial of his application for postconviction relief.

          Dylan J. Thomas of Dylan J. Thomas, Attorney at Law, Mason City, for appellant.

          Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, and Jean C. Pettinger, Assistant Attorney General, for appellee State.

          Considered by Danilson, C.J., and Vogel and Vaitheswaran, JJ.

          VOGEL, Judge.

         Following guilty pleas, James Woods was convicted of one count of second-degree burglary and one count of second-degree harassment. Woods received suspended sentences for his convictions, was placed on probation for five years, and ordered to reside at a residential facility. Woods did not file a direct appeal from his convictions but filed an application for postconviction relief (PCR) in March 2016.[1] Following an evidentiary hearing, the PCR court denied Woods's application, and he appeals. He contends the PCR court erred in denying his claim that his trial attorney was ineffective for allowing him to plead guilty to the burglary count where support for the intent element of assault was lacking. He also contends the PCR court erred in determining he failed to prove his attorney was ineffective for failing to investigate his case. Finally, he contends the PCR court erred in using the minutes of testimony improperly. To the extent any of these claims were not preserved for review, he alternatively claims his PCR counsel was ineffective. For the reasons articulated herein, we affirm.

         I. Trial Counsel's Ineffectiveness.

         In order to prove a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel, an applicant must prove by a preponderance of the evidence that (1) counsel failed to perform an essential duty and (2) counsel's failure resulted in prejudice. Dempsey v. State, 860 N.W.2d 860, 868 (Iowa 2015). Both elements must be established or the claim fails. Id. We assess counsel's performance "objectively by determining whether [it] was reasonable, under prevailing professional norms, considering all the circumstances." Id. (alteration in original) (citation omitted). To prove prejudice, the applicant must prove "a reasonable probability that, but for the counsel's unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different." Id. (citations omitted). Our review of an ineffective-assistance claim is de novo. Id.

         A. Factual Basis to Establish Intent.

         At the PCR proceeding, Woods claimed his guilty plea lacked a factual basis to support the intent element of the burglary conviction and trial counsel was ineffective in not filing a motion in arrest of judgment to challenge that deficiency. The PCR court rejected this assertion noting the minutes of testimony, which Woods agreed the court could use to establish the factual basis at the guilty plea hearing, contained ample factual basis to support the intent element. We agree. As the PCR court noted, the minutes state Woods forced his way into a hotel room, believing its occupants had stolen his cell phone. He pushed one occupant, "patted down" another occupant, referenced his possession of a gun, and threatened to kill the occupants if they did not return the cell phone. In addition, in the written guilty plea that was filed in Woods's criminal action, Woods admitted to having "the intent to commit a felony, assault, or theft" when he entered the occupied structure without permission.

         Woods faults the PCR court for not finding his description of the events of the night in question more credible, but the court does not assess the credibility of the evidence when conducting an objective inquiry into whether a guilty plea is supported by a factual basis in the record. See State v. Finney, 834 N.W.2d 46, 55 (Iowa 2013) ("The determination of whether there is a factual basis in the record to support the charge to which the defendant seeks to plead guilty is an objective inquiry that has nothing to do with the state of mind of the accused, but everything to do with the state of the record evidence."). Woods's citation to authority that sentencing courts cannot consider minutes of testimony beyond that which establishes a factual basis for the guilty plea has no bearing on this inquiry because the PCR court was not sentencing Woods. Instead, it was making an objective determination as to whether the record provided the factual basis to support the guilty plea.

         Woods also claims that his guilty plea was not "knowingly and voluntarily" entered because he did not understand intent was an element of the crime of second-degree burglary or that his intoxication could have been a defense. The PCR court did not address a challenge to the voluntary and intelligent nature of the guilty plea; therefore, this issue is not preserved for our review. Instead, we will address the issue through Woods's claim of PCR counsel's ineffectiveness later in this opinion.

         However, the PCR court did address a claim that trial counsel was ineffective in not pursuing an intoxication defense to the intent element. The PCR court found the evidence did not support the defense. The PCR court noted the police reports indicated Woods discussed his concerns regarding his missing cell phone with the officers at the scene and volunteered he had a BB gun in his waistband. As the PCR court noted, "[I]n order for the intoxication defense to be valid, the intoxication must be to the extent that the individual is no longer aware of the nature or circumstances of his actions. That is not the case here." We agree with the PCR court's conclusion that while "alcohol consumption may have influenced his actions, " it did not "rise to ...

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