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Meksavanh v. State

Court of Appeals of Iowa

May 17, 2017

SOMVANG MEKSAVANH, Applicant-Appellant,
STATE OF IOWA, Respondent-Appellee.

         Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Black Hawk County, Stephen C. Clarke, Judge.

         Somvang Meksavanh appeals the denial and dismissal of his application for postconviction relief. AFFIRMED.

          Edward W. Bjornstad of Bjornstad Law Office, Spirit Lake, for appellant.

          Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, and Sharon K. Hall, Assistant Attorney General, for appellee State.

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

          DOYLE, Judge.

         In 2011, Somvang Meksavanh was convicted, as a second and habitual offender, of possession of more than five grams of methamphetamine with the intent to deliver, as well as failure to affix a drug tax stamp. See State v. Meksavanh, No. 12-1878, 2014 WL 3749356, *1-3 (Iowa Ct. App. July 30, 2014). We affirmed his convictions on appeal and preserved his ineffective-assistance-of-counsel claims for postconviction-relief (PCR) proceedings. See id.

         After Meksavanh filed an application[1] for PCR, a hearing was held in 2015. Thereafter, the district court entered its order denying and dismissing Meksavanh's PCR application, finding Meksavanh's trial counsel provided Meksavanh effective assistance. Meksavanh now appeals, arguing his trial counsel was ineffective (1) for permitting him to stipulate to his prior convictions "without investigation and analysis of the underlying convictions, " and (2) in failing to advise him concerning the immigration consequences of entering a guilty plea. Our review of ineffective-assistance-of-counsel claims is de novo. See More v. State, 880 N.W.2d 487, 498 (Iowa 2016); Nguyen v. State, 878 N.W.2d 744, 750 (Iowa 2016).

         To succeed on a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel, a PCR applicant "must prove by a preponderance of evidence '(1) his trial counsel failed to perform an essential duty, and (2) this failure resulted in prejudice.'" Rhoades v. State, 848 N.W.2d 22, 28 (Iowa 2014) (citation omitted). If Meksavanh cannot establish both elements, his claim fails; thus, if we find one element lacking, we need not address the other element. See State v. Schlitter, 881 N.W.2d 380, 388 (Iowa 2016). "[I]t is the applicant's burden to present facts establishing inadequate representation." King v. State, 797 N.W.2d 565, 571 (Iowa 2011).

         Stipulation to Prior Convictions.

         Meksavanh asserts that he was prejudiced by his trial attorney's failure to "investigate the circumstances surrounding [his] two prior convictions." He essentially argues that had his trial attorney investigated the convictions, the attorney would have learned Meksavanh had "limited language skills" and probably did not understand the consequences of the guilty pleas he entered in the prior cases. Even assuming this claim was preserved for our review, the claim fails on its merits.[2]

         Meksavanh was convicted of two felonies in 1997, and the statute of limitations to challenge his guilty pleas for lack of understanding had long since passed by the time of his 2011 convictions. See Nguyen, 878 N.W.2d at 751 (discussing the statute of limitations for PCR actions set forth in Iowa Code section 822.3). Consequently, once the State alleged in the trial information that Meksavanh was subject to an increased sentence under the Iowa Code because of one or more prior convictions, Meksavanh was only entitled to an "opportunity in open court to affirm or deny that the offender is the person previously convicted, or that the offender was not represented by counsel and did not waive counsel." Iowa R. Crim. P. 2.19(9). Meksavanh did not and does not claim the 1997 convictions were not his convictions or that he lacked representation in those matters. Therefore, his counsel had no duty to further investigate his prior convictions charged by the State or to challenge the convictions' existence. See id.; State v. McBride, 625 N.W.2d 372, 375-76 (Iowa Ct. App. 2001); see also Millam v. State, 745 N.W.2d 719, 721-22 (Iowa 2008) ("Trial counsel has no duty to raise an issue that has no merit."). Similarly, Meksavanh was not prejudiced by the "failure" because further investigation of the prior convictions would not have prevented him from receiving an enhanced sentence. See McBride, 625 N.W.2d at 375-76. Because Meksavanh failed to establish either element-duty or prejudice-of an ineffective-assistance-of-counsel claim, the claim fails as a matter of law.

         Rejection of Guilty-Plea Offer and Immigration.

         Meksavanh also claims his counsel rendered ineffective assistance because he was not advised of the immigration consequences related to entering a guilty plea.[3] More specifically, he maintains that "while he may have been advised of his rights from a guilty plea, he was not advised during the ...

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