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State v. Young

Court of Appeals of Iowa

March 7, 2018

STATE OF IOWA, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
WENDY LYNN YOUNG, Defendant-Appellant.

         Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Polk County, Robert J. Blink, Judge.

         Wendy Young appeals from her conviction after entering a guilty plea for arson in the second degree.

          Mark C. Smith, State Appellate Defender, and Stephan J. Japuntich, Assistant Appellate Defender, for appellant.

          Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, and Louis S. Sloven, Assistant Attorney General, for appellee.

          Considered by Danilson, C.J., and Vaitheswaran and Bower, JJ.

          DANILSON, Chief Judge.

         Wendy Young appeals from her conviction after entering a guilty plea for arson in the second degree, a class "C" felony, in violation of Iowa Code sections 712.1 and .3 (2016). Young contends her defense counsel rendered ineffective assistance in failing to challenge the factual basis and the voluntary and intelligent nature of the guilty plea. Young also asserts the district court abused its discretion in considering improper factors and in failing to exercise its discretion when reaching its sentencing determination. We find the record lacks a factual basis for the plea, and we conclude defense counsel was ineffective in failing to challenge that deficiency. We therefore vacate the judgment and sentence and remand the case to the district court for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

         On October 8, 2016, after threatening to harm herself, Young set fire to her purse, which was located on her bed. Young was intoxicated at the time. Young's ex-husband left Young's residence just prior to Young setting the fire. He returned, however, because he was concerned about Young's threats to harm herself. When he returned to the residence, he observed smoke and found Young lying on the floor next to her burning bed. He extinguished the flames just before firefighters arrived. The fire resulted in damage to Young's purse, the bed, and the walls of the bedroom.

         Young entered a guilty plea to second-degree arson on February 9, 2017. On appeal, Young does not contest that she started the fire. Rather, Young maintains the guilty plea was not voluntarily and intelligently entered and there was no factual basis for finding she had the requisite intent to commit the crime due to her mental-health issues. Young also contends the district court failed to fully exercise its discretion because it improperly considered the closure of mental-health facilities in the state when reaching its sentencing decision.

         Young first asserts there was no factual basis for the guilty plea and defense counsel was ineffective in failing to file a motion in arrest of judgment to challenge the plea's deficiency.

         "We review ineffective-assistance-of-counsel claims de novo." State v. Straw, 709 N.W.2d 128, 133 (Iowa 2006). To establish a claim of ineffective assistance, Young must show by a preponderance of the evidence (1) her trial counsel failed to perform an essential duty and (2) this failure resulted in prejudice. See id. "If an attorney allows a defendant to plead guilty to an offense for which there is no factual basis and to waive the right to file a motion in arrest of judgment, the attorney breaches an essential duty." State v. Philo, 697 N.W.2d 481, 485 (Iowa 2005).

         Young argues there was no factual basis establishing she had the requisite intent to commit second-degree arson due to her mental-health issues. Young points to the following portion of the court's colloquy during the guilty-plea hearing as evidence of her lack of intent:

Q. And you intentionally started this fire; right? Did you do it on purpose or did the fire start by accident? A. I did it.
Q. Well, I know you did it. Did you intend to start the fire? A. At the time I was having a really-I have extreme PTSD [posttraumatic stress disorder], and at the time this happened-I know this sounds odd-but it was like I was in a bubble, and I couldn't get out. I just wanted out of it. It ...

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