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State v. Beals

Court of Appeals of Iowa

February 21, 2018

STATE OF IOWA, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
CHRISTOPHER ALLEN BEALS, Defendant-Appellant.

         Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Dallas County, Paul R. Huscher, Judge.

         Christopher Beals appeals the sentence imposed following his plea of guilty to possession of a controlled substance, fentanyl, third offense, as an habitual offender.

          Jesse A. Macro Jr. of Macro & Kozlowski, LLP, West Des Moines, for appellant.

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

          Considered by Danilson, C.J., Vaitheswaran, J., and Carr, S.J. [*]

          CARR, Senior Judge.

         Christopher Beals appeals the sentence imposed following his plea of guilty to possession of a controlled substance, fentanyl, third offense, as an habitual offender. He contends the district court abused its discretion in imposing a term of incarceration rather than suspending his sentence. Specifically, Beals argues the district court considered an impermissible factor in sentencing him.

         I. Background Facts and Proceedings.

         Following a 2016 traffic stop, the State charged Beals with possession of a controlled substance, third offense, and driving while revoked. The parties entered into a plea agreement that encompassed several criminal cases pending against Beals; Beals agreed to plead guilty to the possession charge, and the State agreed to dismiss the driving-while-barred charge. In addition, the State agreed to recommend that the court suspend Beals's sentence and place him on probation for a three-year period. During the plea colloquy, the district court informed Beals that the agreement was not binding on the court, which could impose any sentence up to the maximum, and asked Beals if he understood. After Beals answered affirmatively and asserted his desire to plead guilty, the district court accepted his plea.

         Before sentencing, Beals, through counsel, filed a motion in arrest of judgment, alleging that his guilty plea was not knowing and voluntary because at the time he entered it, he was "suffering from the effects of involuntary intoxication by an injection of horse tranquilizers." Beals later withdrew the motion. Following a hearing, the court sentenced Beals to a fifteen-year prison term with a three-year mandatory minimum sentence.

         II. Scope and Standard of Review.

         Our standard of review is for correction of errors at law. See State v. Letscher, 888 N.W.2d 880, 883 (Iowa 2016). We will affirm a sentence that is within the statutory limits absent an abuse of discretion. See State v. Roby, 897 N.W.2d 127, 137 (Iowa 2017). We will find an abuse of discretion only if the court acted on clearly untenable grounds or to a clearly unreasonable extent. See State v. Hopkins, 860 N.W.2d 550, 553 (Iowa 2016). Sentencing decisions enjoy a presumption of validity; Beals must make an affirmative showing that the sentencing court relied on improper factor to overcome the presumption. See id. at 554; State v. Knight, 701 N.W.2d 83, 86 (Iowa 2005) ("[T]he use of an impermissible sentencing factor is an abuse of discretion and requires resentencing.").

         III. Discussion.

         In sentencing a defendant, the court must consider which sentence "will provide maximum opportunity for the rehabilitation of the defendant, and for the protection of the community from further offenses by the defendant and others." Iowa Code § 901.5 (2016). The court must also consider and weigh other pertinent factors, "including the nature of the offense, the attending circumstances, the age, character and propensity of the offender, and the chances of reform." State v. Formaro, 636 N.W.2d 720, 725 (Iowa 2002). Before deferring or suspending sentence, "the court must additionally consider the defendant's prior record of convictions or deferred judgments, employment ...


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