from the Iowa District Court for Benton County, Paul D.
Miller (guilty plea) and Sean W. McPartland (sentencing),
Lee Abbott appeals following his guilty pleas to child
endangerment, reckless use of fire or explosives, and
second-degree criminal mischief.
C. Smith, State Appellate Defender, and Vidhya K. Reddy,
Assistant Appellate Defender, for appellant.
J. Miller, Attorney General, and Louis S. Sloven, Assistant
Attorney General, for appellee.
Considered by Danilson, C.J., and Vaitheswaran and Bower, JJ.
Lee Abbott entered written guilty pleas to child
endangerment, an aggravated misdemeanor, and reckless use of
fire or explosives, a serious misdemeanor. He also pled
guilty to second-degree criminal mischief, a class D felony.
After the court imposed sentence, Abbott appealed. He
challenges his misdemeanor pleas and portions of his
did not file a motion in arrest of judgment to challenge his
pleas, which is generally a prerequisite to an appeal.
See State v. Meron, 675 N.W.2d 537, 540-41 (Iowa
2004). But the State agrees Abbott was not properly advised
of his ability to challenge the misdemeanor pleas via a
motion in arrest of judgment and, "as a result, [he] is
not precluded from challenging those guilty pleas on
appeal." We proceed to the merits.
first issue Abbott raises relates to the district court's
suspension of all fines. The issue arose as follows. During
the plea proceeding on the felony count, the district court
stated, "I've committed to a Rule 2.10 plea only on
this aspect, that all fines will be suspended because of the
large amount of restitution." The district court judge who
imposed sentence incorporated this agreement and suspended
the fines, including the fine on the serious misdemeanor
count of reckless use of fire or explosives.
argues "Iowa law does not authorize suspension of the
minimum fine" on that count. The State agrees.
See Iowa Code §§ 903.1(1) (2016) (stating
fines for serious misdemeanors "shall not be suspended
by the court"); 712.5 (classifying reckless use of fire
or explosives as a serious misdemeanor); see also State
v. Ayers, 590 N.W.2d 25, 31 (Iowa 1999) (noting the fine
for a simple or serious misdemeanors cannot be suspended,
while the fine for an aggravated misdemeanor can be
suspended). We conclude the district court erred in
suspending the fine on the serious misdemeanor charge.
next contends his misdemeanor pleas "were rendered
unknowing, involuntary, and in violation of Rule 2.8(2)(b)
because (1) he was not advised of the minimum fines and
surcharges applicable to those counts; and (2) he was
affirmatively misadvised that the fine on [the serious
misdemeanor count] could be suspended." We agree.
2.8(2)(b) embodies procedural safeguards that attempt to
ensure the defendant enters his or her guilty plea knowingly
and intelligently." State v. Weitzel, 905
N.W.2d 397, 403 (Iowa 2017). The written plea agreement made
no mention of the minimum fines on either of the misdemeanor
counts, and Abbott was never told about those minimum fines
nor was he told the fine on the serious misdemeanor count
could not be suspended. We conclude the misdemeanor pleas
were unknowing and unintelligent. See id. at 403
(declining to "strictly demarcate a clear line between
rule-based and due-process claims" but acknowledging
"a defendant may bring a due process claim without
alleging rule violations").
brings us to the remedy. Abbott argues we must "vacate
all three guilty pleas and the plea agreement, and remand the
case to the district court for further proceedings." The
State counters we should only give Abbott "an
opportunity to withdraw his guilty plea on the serious
misdemeanor charge" because "[f]ines were not a
material element of the negotiated agreement" and
"unlike the serious misdemeanor conviction, the
sentencing court was authorized to suspend any fines attached
to Abbott's aggravated misdemeanor conviction-so there is
no illegality that subverts Abbott's expectation that
this fine would be suspended." Abbott responds
that the Iowa Supreme Court's recent opinion in State
v. Weitzel, 905 N.W.2d 397, 408 (Iowa 2017) forecloses
the State's argument. We agree.
Weitzel, the court concluded the district court
failed to inform the defendant of applicable surcharges as
required by Iowa Rule of Criminal Procedure 2.8(2)(b)(2). 905
N.W.2d at 408. The court held "the remedy for a valid
challenge to a guilty plea is to vacate the plea, reverse the
judgment of conviction, and allow the defendant to plead
anew." Id. The court rejected a
"material-inducement test to a guilty plea when a court
makes an affirmative misstatement and the misstatement is
material to the defendant's decision to plead
guilty." Id. at 409. The court stated "a
bright-line rule is more appropriate than an inconsistent
harmless-error analysis based on the totality-of-the
circumstances." Id. at 410. And the court
stated, "A line-drawing game in which we play the role
of a mind reader in order to delve into the defendant's
subjective state of mind is inapposite, especially because a
guilty plea entails relinquishing important constitutional
rights." Id. Finally, the court vacated the
plea notwithstanding the district court's suspension of
the surcharges on three of the four counts. Id. at
400, 409. ...