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State v. Utech

Court of Appeals of Iowa

April 4, 2018

STATE OF IOWA, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
TROY STEVEN UTECH, Defendant-Appellant.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Woodbury County, John C. Nelson, District Associate Judge.

         A defendant appeals his conviction and sentence for harassment in the second degree.

          Rees Conrad Douglas, Sioux City, for appellant.

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

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

          TABOR, JUDGE.

         Infuriated by a student throwing litter out a school-bus window, Troy Utech knocked on the bus door and convinced the bus driver to let him board. Once inside, Utech approached a boy seated in the back and threatened to squash his head "like a grapefruit." The State charged Utech with harassment in the second degree, and he pleaded guilty. The district court sentenced him to jail time, gave him the option of electronic monitoring instead, and ordered him to complete an anger management course. On appeal, Utech challenges the performance of his plea counsel and contends the sentencing order was illegal.

         Because Utech's complaints about his counsel cannot be resolved on this record, we preserve them for postconviction-relief proceedings. As for the legality of his sentence, because the district court had authority to grant in-home detention under Iowa Code section 356.26 (2016), we uphold the electronic monitoring provision. But because the district court did not place Utech on probation, we find no statutory authority for ordering him to complete coursework in anger management. Accordingly, we vacate the sentence and remand for resentencing.

         I. Facts and Prior Proceedings

         In October 2016, a Sioux City school bus driver, en route to East High, was stopped in traffic when Utech pounded on the door. The driver thought Utech was a parent trying to "get his child off the bus" and opened the door to let him in. Utech "walked up the stairs and began yelling and cussing" about someone throwing things out the window of the bus. Utech apparently was angry because one of the students had thrown "a baked good" out the window and hit his truck. Utech confronted some boys sitting in the back of the bus, singling out C.H. in his tirade. C.H. recalled Utech calling him a "punk" and threatening to hurt him. The driver was "very afraid" of what Utech would do and tried to calm him down.

         In November 2016, the Woodbury County Attorney filed a trial information alleging Utech committed harassment in the second degree by threatening to commit bodily injury against C.H., a serious misdemeanor in violation of Iowa Code section 708.7(3). Utech initially entered a plea of not guilty. The district court set a final pretrial conference in the matter for May 10, 2017. Defense counsel appeared for the conference, but Utech did not. The district court denied the defense's request for a delay and issued a bench warrant for Utech, setting a cash-only bond in the amount of $3000. The court also scheduled a bond forfeiture hearing for May 31, 2017.

         On May 11, Utech sent a handwritten letter to the court alleging his defense counsel was "incompetent" and had not informed him of the pretrial conference date. Utech also floated the following idea: "I am requesting a change of my plea if the State will accept I surrender of five days of house arrest and if you would reconsider a rescind of the warrant on my behalf." In addition, Utech shared with the court details about personal financial strains he was under.

         Later the same morning, in response to Utech's self-represented filing, the district court issued the following order:

The court has received a letter from the Defendant. The clerk shall immediately send copies of the same to the attorneys of record. They shall each respond accordingly. The court is not ...

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