TROY A. WILLIAMS, Applicant-Appellant,
STATE OF IOWA, Respondent-Appellee.
from the Iowa District Court for Scott County, Paul L. Macek,
applicant appeals the denial of his application for
D. Tindal of Keegan and Farnsworth, Iowa City, for appellant.
J. Miller, Attorney General, Tyler J. Buller, Assistant
Attorney General, and Jeffrey A. Critchlow, Student Legal
Intern, for appellee.
by Potterfield, P.J., and Mullins and Bower, JJ.
POTTERFIELD, Presiding Judge.
Williams appeals the denial of his application for
postconviction relief (PCR). Williams maintains his PCR
counsel committed structural error and asks that we remand
for a new trial of his PCR application.
Williams's right to effective assistance of counsel in a
PCR action is statutory, not constitutional, we review his
claim de novo. See Lado v. State, 804 N.W.2d 248,
250 (Iowa 2011) (citing Dunbar v. State, 515 N.W.2d
12, 14-15 (Iowa 1994)); see also Iowa Code §
when an applicant claims counsel provided ineffective
assistance, the applicant has the burden to establish (1) his
counsel failed to perform an essential duty and (2) this
failure resulted in prejudice. Lado, 804 N.W.2d at
251. However, when a claimant maintains counsel committed
"structural errors, " "'[n]o specific
showing of prejudice [is] required' as the criminal
adversary process itself is 'presumptively
unreliable.'" Id. at 252 (alterations in
original) (quoting United States v. Cronic, 466 U.S.
648, 659 (1984)). "Structural errors are not merely
errors in a legal proceeding, but errors 'affecting the
framework within which the trial proceeds.'"
Id. (quoting Arizona v. Fulminante, 499
U.S. 279, 310 (1991)). When a structural error occurs,
"the underlying criminal proceeding is so unreliable the
constitutional or statutory right to counsel entitles the
defendant to a new proceeding without the need to show the
error actually caused prejudice." Id.
supreme court has recognized three categories of structural
(1) counsel is completely denied, actually or constructively,
at a crucial stage of the proceeding; (2) where counsel does
not place the prosecution's case against meaningful
adversarial testing; or (3) where surrounding circumstances
justify a presumption of ineffectiveness, such as where
counsel has an actual conflict of interest in jointly
representing multiple defendants.
Id. Courts have found structural error where counsel
allowed the claimant's PCR application to be dismissed or
where counsel failed to file an appeal altogether. See,
e.g., Lado, 804 N.W.2d at 253; see also Roe
v. Flores-Ortega, 528 U.S. 470, 484 (2000). Such
conclusions make sense, as "no presumption of
reliability can be accorded to judicial proceedings that
never took place." Dockery v. State, No.
13-2067, 2016 WL 351251, at *4 (Iowa Ct. App. Jan. 27, 2016)
(citing Roe, 528 U.S. at 484).
are not the facts presently before us. Here PCR counsel-who
was appointed almost a year after Williams filed his pro se
application for PCR-filed a motion entitled, "motion for
trial setting conference and relief from rule 1.944"
almost immediately upon being appointed. The motion was
granted, a trial scheduling conference was set, and
Williams's PCR application avoided a rule 1.944 dismissal
for want of prosecution.
the successful February 2016 motion, PCR counsel faltered in
his duty to the court and his client. By the time of the PCR
hearing almost a year later, PCR counsel had not investigated
or prepared the issues raised by Williams in his pro se
application for relief. PCR counsel failed to prepare or
present his client's claims in any meaningful adversarial
context. In his pro se PCR application, ...