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State v. Steele

Court of Appeals of Iowa

July 19, 2017

STATE OF IOWA, Plaintiff-Appellee,
DONALD LEROY STEELE, Defendant-Appellant.

         Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Polk County, Mary Pat Gunderson, Judge.

         A defendant challenges his judgment and sentence for possession of marijuana with intent to deliver. AFFIRMED.

          Christine E. Branstad of Branstad Law, P.L.L.C., Des Moines, for appellant.

          Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, and Kelli Huser, Assistant Attorney General, for appellee.

          Considered by Vaitheswaran, P.J., and Tabor and Mullins, JJ.

          TABOR, Judge.

         Donald Steele pleaded guilty to possession of marijuana with intent to deliver in return for the State's dismissal of a similar offense involving crack cocaine. Several days later, Steele wrote the judge a letter asking to withdraw his guilty plea. Treating his request as a motion in arrest of judgment, the district court took testimony from Steele. The district court did not find Steele's testimony credible when compared with his statements at the plea hearing and denied his motion in arrest of judgment. On appeal, Steele contends the district court abused its discretion in denying his motion because (1) his guilty plea was not knowing, voluntary, and intelligent and (2) the plea lacked a factual basis as to his intent to deliver. Because the district court properly exercised its discretion in rejecting Steele's request to withdraw his guilty plea, we affirm.

         I. Facts and Prior Proceedings

         According to the minutes of evidence, on New Year's Eve of 2015, Des Moines police officer Emily Shoff-Salsbery saw the Toyota Camry driven by Steele turn without signaling. As the officer closed in on the Camry, Steele made several abrupt turns. Steele then sped through a residential neighborhood. Before Shoff-Salsbery could activate her lights, Steele drove down a dead-end street, stopped the car, and fled on foot. Steele's female passenger also left the Camry but obeyed the officer's command to stop. The passenger told Shoff-Salsbery she just met Steele when he offered her a ride home after she had an argument with her boyfriend. The passenger did not know why Steele fled and only had her purse and "some potato chips" inside the car. In her investigation, Shoff-Salsbery learned the Camry driven by Steele was a rental car and the passenger had not rented it. When the officer approached the car, she smelled an odor of marijuana coming from the driver's side, and behind the driver's seat, she found a brown jacket containing a plastic bag of marijuana.

         Meanwhile, another officer chased Steele by following his tracks in the fresh snow for about four blocks. The footprints led to a parking lot, where the officer heard Steele talking on his phone, asking for a ride. The officer called to Steele, who again took off. Two officers pursued Steele until they found him walking on a busy street. The officers ordered Steele "to drop what was in his hand, " and Steele "threw the items to the side and stopped and slowly went to the ground." After arresting Steele, the officers saw the tossed items included "several baggies including a quantity of marijuana and a quantity . . . of cocaine base 'crack, ' as well as a car key" to the Camry abandoned by Steele.

         In her affidavit accompanying the complaint, Officer Shoff-Salsbery stated Steele ran from the car but was caught a short distance later. The affidavit continued: "Inside the vehicle officers found a larger plastic bag that also contained marijuana . . . . [Steele] was also found with $767 in various bills on his person, both the packaging of the narcotics and the amount of cash are consistent with the sale of narcotics."

         A February 2016 lab report showed Steele possessed 7.23 grams of cocaine. Important to this appeal, the lab report divided the marijuana into two listed items: the first item weighed 10.43 grams and the second item weighed 4.01 grams (divided into two subparts weighing 1.42 and 2.59 grams). Steele contends, logically, the first item was the "larger plastic bag" of marijuana found inside the car and the smaller item was the marijuana he tossed on the ground. The State does not dispute this contention but asserts the record supports Steele's possession of both the marijuana tossed on the ground and the marijuana left inside the jacket in the rental car.

         According to the minutes, the State expected Shoff-Salsbery, along with the officers who chased Steele, to testify:

[T]he items found in connection with [Steele] in this case are consistent with those items found in the possession of drug dealers. [They] will further testify that the amount of cocaine base "crack" and marijuana recovered in this case, the manner in which it was packaged, the other facts and circumstances, . . . are consistent with possession of [both such drugs] for ...

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