from the Iowa District Court for Clinton County, Stuart P.
applicant appeals the district court's denial of his
application for postconviction relief.
G. Hoover of Blair & Fitzsimmons, P.C., Dubuque, for
J. Miller, Attorney General, and Louis S. Sloven, Assistant
Attorney General, for appellee State.
Considered by Vogel, P.J., and Doyle and McDonald, JJ.
Hebdon appeals the district court's denial of his
application for postconviction relief (PCR). In September
2010, Hebdon entered guilty pleas to intimidation with a
dangerous weapon and conspiracy to commit murder. He was
sentenced to two, ten-year terms of incarceration, to be
served consecutively. He did not file a direct appeal of his
convictions, but in September 2013, he filed an application
for postconviction relief. After hearing testimony from
Hebdon, Hebdon's sister, and Hebdon's trial counsel,
the district court denied the application. Hebdon asserts the
district court incorrectly denied his claim that his trial
counsel was ineffective in failing to adequately advise him
of the diminished responsibility and insanity defenses, and
because of counsel's failure, he could not make an
informed decision regarding whether to plead guilty.
review de novo a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel.
Castro v. State, 795 N.W.2d 789, 792 (Iowa 2011). We
"make an independent evaluation of the totality of the
circumstances as shown in the entire record." State
v. Turner, 630 N.W.2d 601, 606 (Iowa 2001) (citation
omitted). "In conducting our de novo review, 'we
give weight to the lower court's findings concerning
witness credibility.'" King v. State, 797
N.W.2d 565, 571 (Iowa 2011) (citation omitted). The deference
is due to the district court's firsthand opportunity to
observe the witnesses testifying. Turner, 630 N.W.2d
prove trial counsel was ineffective, Hebdon has to show by a
preponderance of the evidence (1) counsel failed to perform
an essential duty and (2) counsel's failure resulted in
prejudice. See Lado v. State, 804 N.W.2d 248, 251
(Iowa 2011). "An attorney breaches an essential duty
when 'counsel's representation [falls] below an
objective standard of reasonableness.'" Id.
(alteration in original) (citation omitted). When a defendant
pleads guilty, in order to prove prejudice, he must show
"there is a reasonable probability that, but for
counsel's errors, he would not have pleaded guilty and
would have insisted on going to trial." State v.
Straw, 709 N.W.2d 128, 136 (Iowa 2006) (citation
PCR trial, Hebdon insisted he never saw the experts'
psychiatric reports or discussed the insanity defense or
diminished responsibility defense with trial counsel. Yet he
also testified his recollection of the events leading up to
and including the plea and sentencing hearing was
"blurry" due to his mental health condition and
medications, and he acknowledged his recollection of the
discussions he had with counsel may not be complete. While
trial counsel did not have a recollection of the specifics of
his representation of Hebdon, he did testify he has a policy
of always giving all discovery, including expert reports, to
all clients unless a client specifically asks not to have it
in their possession. In addition, he testified he typically
discusses plea offers with clients, including the available
defenses and potential punishment if the client decides to go
to trial, but he lets the clients make the ultimate decision
regarding whether to take the plea offer and there is no
incentive for him to get a client to plead guilty.
listening to the testimony, the PCR court found that
Hebdon's and his sister's testimony were less
credible than trial counsel's testimony. The court found
Hebdon and his sister's testimony inconsistent and
conflicting, while finding counsel's testimony
consistent. In its ruling, the district court credited the
testimony of Hebdon's trial counsel, finding the attorney
"did inform Hebdon of his rights to assert diminished
capacity or insanity as a defense at trial and that Hebdon
opted to avoid trial and accept the plea as offered."
The court further found the attorney "made reasonable
inquiry into [Hebdon's] mental health status and upon
receiving the [forensic psychiatric examination reports from
the defense expert and the State's expert], allowed
[Hebdon] to make the determination whether or not to proceed
to trial." The court concluded:
It is clear from [the attorney's] testimony he explained
the differences in the terms of incarceration facing his
client if he went to trial and was convicted versus the term
of incarceration if he took the plea offer. In addition, he
explained the weaknesses of his defenses and, based on his
years of experience, his opinion as to the likelihood that
the jury would accept the defenses. Based on this
information, it was Hebdon's wise choice to accept the
The Court finds [the attorney] was not ineffective based upon
the entire record and totality of the circumstances because
his performance was within the range of normal competency.
our de novo review of the record, giving deference to the
district court's credibility decision, we agree Hebdon
has failed to prove counsel failed to perform an essential
duty. His ineffective-assistance ...