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State v. Pion

Court of Appeals of Iowa

June 20, 2018

STATE OF IOWA, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
CRYSTAL L. PION, Defendant-Appellant.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Marion County, Dustria A. Relph, Judge.

         The defendant appeals the district court's denial of her request for substitute counsel.

          Marshall W. Orsini of Law Offices of Marshall W Orsini, P.L.C., Des Moines, for appellant.

          Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, and Tyler J. Buller, Assistant Attorney General, for appellee.

          Considered by Vaitheswaran, P.J., and Potterfield and Tabor, JJ.

          POTTERFIELD, JUDGE.

         Crystal Pion appeals her conviction for violation of a custodial order, a class "D" felony in violation of Iowa Code section 710.6 (2015). On appeal, Pion maintains the district court abused its discretion when it denied her pro se motion for substitute counsel, which she filed several months after pleading guilty.

         I. Background Proceedings.

         On August 4, 2017, Pion pled guilty to violating a custodial order. Pion was informed on the record that she had to file a motion in arrest of judgment within forty-five days if she wanted to contest her guilty plea.

         Sentencing was initially set to take place on October 12. However, on October 11, Pion's counsel filed a motion to continue sentencing in order to allow Pion to "arrange the transfer of [her] probation to [her] home state" of Texas. The State did not resist, and sentencing was rescheduled for December 14.

         On November 28, 2017, Pion filed a pro se motion requesting substitute counsel be appointed. Pion alleged that her attorney had not responded to her communications since October 11. Additionally, she claimed her attorney "urged her to plead guilty and states there is no defense however we really have only discussed the case a max of about 30 minutes since March 2017." She asked for sentencing to be "postponed until January or February in order to consult with a new appointed attorney."

         The court took up the issue at the time scheduled for the sentencing hearing on December 14. At the outset, the court stated to Pion, "This is your motion. What would you like for me to know?" In response, Pion said:

I have reached out to my attorney multiple times to get more clarification on the case and what to expect, what the next step was. I would not get responses for a very long time, a very long time. I was urged to just plead guilty because it was stated that I did not have a defense.
I just want my best possible defense is all. I don't really know if pleading guilty was the right thing to do. I don't know if there is a way to change that ...

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