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Hansen v. State

Court of Appeals of Iowa

November 22, 2017

THOMAS LEE HANSEN, SR., Applicant-Appellant,
v.
STATE OF IOWA, Respondent-Appellee.

         Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Washington County, Randy S. DeGeest, Judge.

         Thomas Hansen Sr. appeals the denial of his application for postconviction relief. AFFIRMED.

          S.P. DeVolder of The DeVolder Law Firm, Norwalk, for appellant.

          Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, and Darrel L. Mullins, Assistant Attorney General, for appellee State.

          Considered by Vaitheswaran, P.J., and Doyle and Bower, JJ.

          DOYLE, Judge.

         Thomas Hansen Sr. appeals the denial of his application for postconviction relief (PCR). He alleges his trial counsel were ineffective in failing to investigate and present evidence. He also alleges trial counsel were ineffective in failing to request an instruction differentiating malice and heat of passion.

         I. Background Facts and Proceedings.

         The State charged Hansen with first-degree murder in the shooting death of his girlfriend, Sharon Gerot, on May 1, 2011. Although Hansen admitted to shooting Gerot, he claimed he had only intended to scare Gerot by shooting at her and unintentionally killed her. After trial, a jury found Hansen guilty of second-degree murder. This court affirmed Hansen's conviction on direct appeal. State v. Hansen, No. 13-0177, 2014 WL 1495493, at *1 (Iowa Ct. App. Apr. 16, 2014).

         Hansen filed a PCR application in which he alleged he received ineffective assistance of trial counsel when counsel failed to perform several duties. The relevant claims center on the premise that Hansen shot Gerot in the heat of passion-rather than with malice-after enduring years of abuse by Gerot. Hansen claimed his trial counsel were ineffective in failing to investigate and pursue this theory of defense at trial. He also claimed counsel were ineffective in failing to request a jury instruction differentiating between heat of passion and malice.

         The PCR court denied Hansen's application after trial. The court found Hansen failed to show his trial counsel were ineffective because counsel presented a defense that "was consistent with and in fact based upon Hansen's own version of the event, that he still maintains as being true today, that the shooting was accidental." The PCR court noted that Hansen had consistently stated he did not mean to shoot and kill Gerot, he only wanted to frighten her, and killing her was an accident. As a result, "[h]is attorneys, realizing that Hansen was convincing and consistent, developed a strategy based upon involuntary manslaughter." The PCR court found that trial counsels' decision to purse this strategy rather than advance a voluntary manslaughter defense was reasonable under the circumstances, noting it would have been incongruous for defense counsel to argue both theories simultaneously and doing so could have undermined Hansen's involuntary manslaughter defense. Likewise, the PCR court rejected Hansen's claim his counsel were ineffective in failing to request a jury instruction differentiating heat of passion and manslaughter because "voluntary manslaughter was never the primary defense and Hansen always maintained and still maintains that the shooting was accidental."

         II. Scope of Review.

         We typically review PCR proceedings on error. See Diaz v. State, 896 N.W.2d 723, 727 (Iowa 2017). When PCR proceedings implicate a defendant's right to the effective assistance of counsel under the United States Constitution and Iowa Constitution, our review is de novo. See id.

         III. Ineffective ...


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