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State v. Edwards

Court of Appeals of Iowa

March 21, 2018

STATE OF IOWA, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
SHANE JASON EDWARDS, Defendant-Appellant.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Polk County, David N. May, Judge.

         Defendant appeals following conviction for possession of a controlled substance, methamphetamine, third offense, in violation of Iowa Code section 124.401(5) (2016).

          Thomas A. Hurd of Glazebrook & Hurd, LLP, Des Moines, for appellant.

          Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, and Linda J. Hines, Assistant Attorney General, for appellee.

          Considered by Doyle, P.J., and Tabor and McDonald, JJ.

          MCDONALD, JUDGE.

         Shane Edwards pleaded guilty to possession of a controlled substance, methamphetamine, third offense, in violation of Iowa Code section 124.401(5) (2016). Pursuant to the plea agreement, the parties were "free to argue for an appropriate disposition" at the time of sentencing with the understanding the prosecutor would recommend Edwards receive a suspended sentence and Edwards would argue for a deferred judgment. During the guilty plea colloquy, Edwards stated he understood the court was "not bound at sentencing by any recommendations of the parties" and the court was not "required to suspend that prison sentence." At sentencing, the district court rejected the prosecutor's recommendation for a suspended sentence and the defendant's request for a deferred judgment and instead sentenced Edwards to an indeterminate term of incarceration not to exceed five years. On appeal, Edwards contends the prosecutor breached the plea agreement by not recommending a suspended sentence and Edwards' counsel provided constitutionally deficient representation in failing to object to the alleged breach.

         To establish his plea counsel provided constitutionally deficient representation, Edwards must establish his counsel failed to perform an essential duty and this failure resulted in constitutional prejudice. See State v. Straw, 709 N.W.2d 128, 133 (Iowa 2006). If the State breached a plea agreement, defense counsel breached an essential duty by failing to object to the breach or otherwise take remedial action. See State v. Bearse, 748 N.W.2d 211, 217 (Iowa 2008). Prejudice is presumed under the circumstances because had counsel objected the defendant would have been entitled to withdraw his guilty plea or be resentenced in an untainted proceeding. See State v. Frencher, 873 N.W.2d 281, 284 (Iowa Ct. App. 2015).

         When the State enters into a plea agreement, the prosecutor must comply with both the letter and spirit of the plea agreement. See State v. Horness, 600 N.W.2d 294, 296 (Iowa 1999). When the State has promised to recommend a sentence, we have required "the prosecutor to present the recommended sentence[] with his or her approval, to commend the sentence[] to the court, and to otherwise indicate to the court that the recommended sentence[][is] supported by the State and worthy of the court's acceptance." Bearse, 748 N.W.2d at 216. The ultimate inquiry in determining whether the prosecutor complied with the letter and spirit of the plea agreement "is whether the prosecutor acted contrary to the common purpose of the plea agreement and the justified expectations of the defendant and thereby effectively deprived the defendant of the benefit of the bargain." Frencher, 873 N.W.2d at 284. The prosecutor can act contrary to the plea agreement and deprive the defendant of the benefit of the plea bargain explicitly or implicitly. See id. at 285. Explicit action contrary to the plea agreement is exactly what it sounds like and is easy to identify. Implicit action contrary to the plea agreement is more ambiguous and harder to identify. Typically, implicit action contrary to the plea agreement involves the prosecutor's expression of material reservation regarding the plea agreement while still in technical compliance with the plea agreement. See id. The prosecutor could do this in a number of ways. For example, the prosecutor could propose alternative sentences, request an "an appropriate sentence" rather than the agreed-upon sentence, remind the court it is not bound by the plea agreement, or emphasize a more severe punishment recommended by the presentence investigation author. See id.

         Here, Edwards contends the prosecutor failed to comply with the spirit of the plea agreement by unduly emphasizing the defendant's criminal history at the time of sentencing. The contested recommendation was as follows:

Your Honor, the State would ask this Court to impose an indeterminate term of incarceration as to Count I not to exceed five years and that sentence be suspended and the defendant be placed on a term of probation.
Your Honor, the basis of the recommendation, as can be evidenced by the PSI, is based on the defendant's age, his criminal history, his substance abuse history, and his employment circumstances.
It is the understanding of the State the defendant will ask this Court to issue a deferred judgment. The State finds that a suspended sentence would be more appropriate, specifically based on the content of the defendant's criminal history as well as his own admitted use of illegal narcotics after his arrest to the PSI writer.
While we commend the defendant for his honesty, it does go to show the defendant's continued criminal activity since the arrest in this case. The State feels that substance abuse treatment and the recommendations proposed by the PSI writer would give the defendant both the maximum opportunity for rehabilitation as ...

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