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State v. Weitzel

Supreme Court of Iowa

December 22, 2017

STATE OF IOWA, Appellee,
v.
JASON GENE WEITZEL, Appellant.

         On review from the Iowa Court of Appeals.

         Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Floyd County, Peter B. Newell, District Associate Judge.

         The State requests further review of a court of appeals decision vacating defendant's guilty pleas.

          David A. Kuehner of Eggert, Erb, Mulcahy & Kuehner, P.L.L.C., Charles City, for appellant.

          Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, Kevin Cmelik, Thomas E. Bakke, and Jean C. Pettinger (until withdrawal), Assistant Attorneys General, and Rachel Ginbey, County Attorney, for appellee.

          WIGGINS, Justice.

         A defendant appealed from the judgment and sentences entered on his guilty pleas to domestic abuse assault, possession of methamphetamine, carrying weapons, and operating while intoxicated. The defendant challenged the adequacy of his guilty plea colloquy, arguing the district court did not advise him about the statutory thirty-five percent criminal penalty surcharges. He claimed the district court's failure to disclose the surcharges invalidated his guilty pleas. We transferred the case to our court of appeals. The court of appeals held the district court did not substantially comply with Iowa Rule of Criminal Procedure 2.8(2)(b)(2) during the guilty plea colloquy because it omitted information regarding the statutory thirty-five percent surcharges. Based on the district court's noncompliance, the court of appeals reversed.

         The State applied for further review, which we granted. On further review, we hold the district court did not substantially comply with rule 2.8(2)(b)(2) because it failed to inform the defendant about the mandatory thirty-five percent criminal penalty surcharges. Because of the district court's noncompliance, the defendant is entitled to withdraw his pleas. Therefore, we affirm the decision of the court of appeals and remand the case to the district court for further proceedings.

         I. Background Facts and Proceedings.

         On March 11, 2016, the State filed a five-count trial information charging Jason Gene Weitzel with various crimes. In count I, the State charged him with domestic abuse assault impeding the normal breathing or circulation of blood resulting in bodily injury, a class "D" felony in violation of Iowa Code sections 708.2A(1) and (5) (2015). In count II, the State charged him with threat of terrorism, a class "D" felony in violation of sections 708A.1 and .5. Count III charged him with possession of methamphetamine (second offense), an aggravated misdemeanor in violation of section 124.401(5). Count IV charged him with carrying weapons, an aggravated misdemeanor in violation of section 724.4(1). Lastly, count V charged him with operating while intoxicated (first offense), a serious misdemeanor in violation of section 321J.2. On April 12, the State amended the trial information to amend count II to intimidation with a dangerous weapon, a class "D" felony in violation of section 708.6.

         Weitzel agreed to plead guilty to four of the five charges. At the plea hearing, the district court informed Weitzel of the minimum and maximum fines applicable to each offense and determined he understood the fines. However, the court neither informed Weitzel of the mandatory thirty-five percent criminal surcharge penalty applicable to each offense pursuant to Iowa Code section 911.1 nor determined whether Weitzel understood he would be subject to the section 911.1 surcharges. The court did inform Weitzel of the $100 domestic abuse surcharge it was required to assess on count I and the $125 law-enforcement-initiative surcharge it was required to assess on count III. Additionally, the court did inform Weitzel about the $10 drug abuse resistance education (DARE) surcharge on count III but omitted this information on count V.[1]Weitzel acknowledged he understood he would be subject to the disclosed surcharges. He entered guilty pleas to counts I, III, IV, and V. In exchange for his plea, the State dismissed count II.

         In its written order following the sentencing hearing, the court imposed on count I an indeterminate term not to exceed five years and a fine of $750, plus the statutory thirty-five percent surcharge and the $100 domestic abuse surcharge. For count III, the court imposed an indeterminate term not to exceed two years and a fine of $625, plus the statutory thirty-five percent surcharge and the $125 law-enforcement-initiative surcharge. On count IV, the court imposed an indeterminate term not to exceed two years and a fine of $625, plus the statutory thirty-five percent surcharge. Lastly, on count V, the court imposed a two-day sentence in the county jail and a fine of $1250, plus the statutory thirty-five percent surcharge and the $10 DARE surcharge. The district court ordered Weitzel to serve the sentences on counts I, III, and IV consecutively and the two-day jail term on count V concurrently. The district court also fully suspended the fines for three of the four counts, specifically counts I, III, and IV.

         On June 30, Weitzel appealed the judgment and sentences. He sought to vacate his convictions on the ground the plea hearing was inadequate. Weitzel argued the district court did not adequately advise him of the thirty-five percent surcharges pursuant to section 911.1. He also contended the court misinformed him that the maximum fine for count V was $1500 when it was actually $1250, failed to explain the fines could be cumulative, and failed to disclose the $100 domestic abuse surcharge on count I.[2]

         We transferred the case to our court of appeals. The court of appeals focused on error preservation and the surcharge issues. It found the district court did not substantially comply with Iowa Rule of Criminal Procedure 2.8(2)(d), which requires the district court to inform a defendant of both the necessity of filing a motion in arrest of judgment to challenge any defects in the guilty plea colloquy and the consequences of failing to file the motion. Therefore, because the district court did not fully advise Weitzel about the motion in arrest of judgment, the court of appeals held Weitzel could challenge his pleas on direct appeal.

         As for the surcharge issue, the court of appeals concluded the district court's failure to inform Weitzel of the thirty-five percent criminal penalty surcharges meant it did not substantially comply with rule 2.8(2)(b)(2). The court of appeals further held the proper remedy was to vacate Weitzel's pleas and convictions, and remand the matter for further proceedings.

         The State filed an application for further review, and we granted it. The State explicitly states it does not contest the ruling of the court of appeals that Weitzel may challenge his pleas on direct appeal because of the district court's failure to inform him of the need to file a motion in arrest of judgment to challenge any defects in the plea proceeding. As for the second issue, the State argues the district court substantially complied with rule 2.8(2)(b)(2) because it informed Weitzel of the maximum possible terms of incarceration, the maximum possible fines, and other matters listed in rule 2.8(2)(b).

         II. Issues.

         When reviewing an application for further review, we retain discretion to review all the issues raised on appeal or in the application for further review, or only a portion thereof. Gits Mfg. Co. v. Frank, 855 N.W.2d 195, 197 (Iowa 2014). In exercising this discretion, we agree with the court of appeals and the State's position in its application for further review that Weitzel properly brought a direct appeal of his pleas despite his counsel's failure to file a motion in arrest of judgment. Accordingly, we will let the court of appeals decision on this issue stand as the final decision in this case. The only issue we will address is the dispositive issue as to whether the court's failure to inform Weitzel about the statutory thirty-five percent surcharge applicable to each offense invalidates his pleas.

         III. Scope of Review.

         We review challenges to plea proceedings for correction of errors at law. State v. Meron, 675 N.W.2d 537, 540 (Iowa 2004).

         IV. Discussion and Analysis.

         A. Difference Between an Appeal Under the Rubric of Ineffective Assistance of Counsel and a Direct Appeal of a Guilty Plea.

         Iowa court rules require the court to inform a defendant at the time of his or her plea that in order for the defendant to challenge the plea, the defendant must file a motion in arrest of judgment. Iowa R. Crim. P. 2.8(2)(d). If the defendant fails to file a motion in arrest of judgment after the court has informed the defendant of his or her obligation to do so, he or she cannot directly appeal from the guilty plea. State v. Straw, 709 N.W.2d 128, 132 (Iowa 2006); accord Iowa R. Crim. P. 2.24(3)(a). However, if the guilty plea resulted from ineffective assistance of counsel, the defendant can challenge the plea under the rubric of ineffective assistance of counsel. Straw, 709 N.W.2d at 133.

         When challenging a plea under the rubric of ineffective assistance of counsel, the defendant satisfies the prejudice prong if he or she can show "there is a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's errors, he or she would not have pleaded guilty and would have insisted on going to trial." Id. at 138. This usually requires the defendant to bring a postconviction-relief action to meet his or her burden of proving prejudice. Id.

         On the other hand, when the court does not fully advise the defendant of his or her right to file a motion in arrest of judgment, the defendant may file a direct appeal challenging his or her guilty plea. State v. Fisher, 877 N.W.2d 676, 680-81 (Iowa 2016). The State acknowledges the district court did not properly inform Weitzel of his obligation to file a motion in arrest of judgment to challenge his guilty pleas. Thus, we will review the plea proceeding as a direct appeal.

         B. Due Process and Rule-Based Claims Challenging Guilty Pleas on Direct Appeal.

         Before we address the merits of Weitzel's case, we first clarify the analysis used by the court of appeals in differentiating between a due process challenge and a rule-based claim. The line dividing these two types of claims is not always clear. In a number of cases, a defendant may bring a hybrid due process and rule-based claim, arguing that his or her guilty plea was not entered voluntarily because the district court failed to substantially comply with rule 2.8(2)(b).

         The court of appeals erroneously reasoned State v. Finney, 834 N.W.2d 46 (Iowa 2013), distinguished between a due process challenge and a challenge to the adequacy of a plea proceeding. Finney emphasized the difference between a due-process challenge to a plea and a claim based on the lack of a factual basis. Finney, 834 N.W.2d at 61- 62 (distinguishing between delving into the defendant's subjective state of mind for a due process voluntariness claim and examining whether there was an objective factual basis in the record). We noted that similarly in State v. Rodriguez, 804 N.W.2d 8444, 853 (Iowa 2011), the defendant "had not challenged the sufficiency of the plea colloquy, which would have raised a due process voluntariness issue, but only the factual basis for the plea." Finney, 834 N.W.2d at 60 (emphasis added).

         A clear bifurcation in all circumstances between due process and rule-based claims would defy our caselaw. In fact, the procedural safeguards of rule 2.8(2)(b) facilitate the process of more accurately evaluating the voluntariness of a defendant's plea. See State v. Loye, 670 N.W.2d 141, 151 (Iowa 2003) ("Rule 2.8(2)(b) codifies [the] due process mandate."). In State v. Sisco, 169 N.W. 542 (Iowa 1969), we laid out four basic requirements before the district court could enter a conviction on the basis of a plea: the defendant must (1) understand the charge, (2) be aware of the penal consequences of the plea, (3) enter the plea voluntarily, and (4) the district court must determine whether a factual basis exists for the plea. Sisco, 169 N.W.2d at 547-48 (Iowa 1969); accord Finney, 834 N.W.2d at 56.

         Weitzel's rule-based claim, as the court of appeals coined it, that the colloquy was defective because the district court violated rule 2.8(2)(b)(2) by failing to inform him of the thirty-five percent surcharges, is another way of saying the district court failed to adequately address the penal consequences of his plea. Noncompliance with this second requirement of Sisco implicates the third requirement of Sisco involving voluntariness. See Finney, 834 N.W.2d at 57 ("Compliance with the remaining Sisco requirement, voluntariness, was only implicated to the extent it was affected by . . . noncompliance with the first two Sisco requirements.").

         The court of appeals opined because the claims are separate and distinct, a defendant may voluntarily, knowingly, and intelligently plead guilty even though the colloquy does not substantially comply with rule 2.8(2)(b). The court of appeals provided, as an example, the district court's failure to advise a defendant of the minimum and maximum prison sentences would have no effect on the voluntary nature of the guilty plea when the defendant's counsel had advised the defendant of the sentences off the record prior to the proceeding. However, a rule-based claim necessarily entails due process concerns when the district court does not meet the substantial compliance test, even if the defendant knew about the relevant matters listed in rule 2.8(2)(b). See Loye, 670 N.W.2d at 153-54.

         In Loye, even though the defendant's attorney advised the defendant about the punishments that could be imposed, we vacated the defendant's convictions and allowed her to plead anew because the district court did not fulfill its obligation of confirming she understood the nature of the charges or the maximum possible punishments. Id. Thus, we presumed the defendant's plea was not voluntary because the district court did not substantially comply with the rules. Id. At first glance, it appears the defendant in Loye brought a rule-based claim, but her claim necessarily entailed due process concerns strictly based on the district court's noncompliance, even if she, in actuality, knew about the punishments prior to the plea hearing.

         Conversely, the court of appeals reasoned, the district court may fully comply with rule 2.8(2)(b) but nevertheless fail to comport with due process. The court of appeals illustrated a scenario in which the defendant was under the influence of medications that hampered his or her ability to understand the proceedings. We agree a defendant may have a viable due process challenge without alleging violations of rule 2.8(2)(b). See Stovall v. State, 340 N.W.2d 265, 266-67 (Iowa 1983). We note rule 2.8(2)(b) embodies procedural safeguards that attempt to ensure the defendant enters his or her guilty plea knowingly and intelligently-it does not guarantee ...


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