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Ross v. State

Court of Appeals of Iowa

September 13, 2017

JUSTIN MARSHAWN ROSS, Applicant-Appellant,
v.
STATE OF IOWA, Respondent-Appellee.

         Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Linn County, Marsha A. Bergan, Judge.

         An applicant appeals from the denial of his application for postconviction relief.

          Mark C. Smith, State Appellate Defender, and Theresa R. Wilson, Assistant Appellate Defender, for appellant.

          Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, and Genevieve Reinkoester, Assistant Attorney General, for appellee State.

          Considered by Vogel, P.J., Mullins, J., and Blane, S.J. [*]

          BLANE, SENIOR JUDGE

         In August 2013, following four days of trial for first-degree murder, Justin Ross entered into a plea deal and pleaded guilty to attempt to commit murder, a class "B" felony, in violation of Iowa Code section 707.11 (2011). Ross was sentenced to twenty-five years in prison with a 70% mandatory minimum, with credit for time served. Ross did not appeal.

         In February 2014, Ross filed an application for postconviction relief (PCR). The matter proceeded to hearing in January 2016. On May 31, the district court issued a ruling denying Ross's application. The court found there was a factual basis for Ross's plea and his plea was voluntarily and intelligently made. Ross now appeals.

         On appeal, Ross contends his trial attorneys pressured him into entering a plea and the court failed to explain the intent element of attempt to commit murder. As a result, he argues, his plea was involuntary.

         Ross did not file a motion in arrest of judgment or a notice of appeal following his guilty plea and sentencing. As a result, he did not preserve error on claims related to his guilty plea. See State v. Keene, 630 N.W.2d 579, 581 (Iowa 2001). However, he frames his argument within the rubric of an ineffective-assistance-of-counsel claim by arguing his counsel was ineffective for allowing him to enter an involuntary plea. "This is an exception to our error preservation requirement." Id.

         We review claims of ineffective assistance of counsel de novo. State v. Straw, 709 N.W.2d 128, 133 (Iowa 2006). To show ineffective assistance, Ross must demonstrate (1) his counsel's representation fell below an objective standard of reasonableness and (2) prejudice resulted. See Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 687 (1984). With respect to the representation prong, we "indulge a strong presumption that counsel's conduct falls within the wide range of reasonable professional assistance." Id. at 689. To establish prejudice, Ross must show "there is a reasonable probability that, but for the counsel's professional errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different." State v. Carroll, 767 N.W.2d 638, 641 (Iowa 2009). In the context of a guilty plea, this means "a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's alleged errors, the applicant would not have pled guilty and would have insisted on going to trial." Id.

         Ross first argues he was coerced by counsel into entering the guilty plea. At his PCR trial, Ross testified his attorneys did not work with him and tried to induce him into pleading guilty out of fear.

         The record belies Ross's claim. During the plea colloquy, the following exchange took place:

THE COURT: Have you had enough time to talk to your lawyers about this plea offer to the ...

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