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State v. Lawson

Court of Appeals of Iowa

July 18, 2018

STATE OF IOWA, Plaintiff-Appellee,
RONALD LLOYD LAWSON, II, Defendant-Appellant.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Lee (South) County, Michael J. Schilling (plea) and John M. Wright (sentencing), Judges.

         Ronald Lawson appeals from his conviction asserting his trial counsel provided ineffective assistance.

          William R. Monroe of Law Office of William Monroe, Burlington, for appellant.

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

          Considered by Vogel, P.J., and Doyle and Bower, JJ.


         Ronald Lawson appeals his conviction following his guilty plea for possession of a controlled substance, methamphetamine, third or subsequent offense, in violation of Iowa Code section 124.401(5) (2017). He contends his trial counsel was ineffective for failing to request his plea be conditioned on the court's willingness to accept the plea agreement or a more favorable disposition under Iowa Rule of Criminal Procedure 2.10(3), for failing to object to the use of risk-assessment tools used in the presentence investigation report, and for failing to object to a breach of the plea agreement. The State asserts the record is inadequate on direct appeal to address Lawson's rule 2.10(3) conditioned plea argument, Lawson was not prejudiced by the use of risk-assessment tools, and counsel did not have a duty to object to the prosecutor's communication of the plea agreement. Agreeing with the State, we affirm.

         I. Ineffective Assistance of Counsel

         Lawson concedes no motion in arrest of judgment was filed in this case, so he raises his challenges to the guilty plea through an ineffective-assistance-of-counsel claim. State v. Straw, 709 N.W.2d 128, 133 (Iowa 2006) (noting a challenge to a guilty plea is not barred "if the failure to file a motion in arrest of judgment resulted from ineffective assistance of counsel"). To prove his ineffective-assistance claim, Lawson must prove counsel failed to perform an essential duty and the failure resulted in prejudice. See id. The prejudice burden requires proof "there is a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's errors, he or she would not have pleaded guilty and would have insisted on going to trial." Id. When an ineffective-assistance claim is made on direct appeal, we must first determine whether the record is adequate to address the claim made. State v. Johnson, 784 N.W.2d 192, 198 (Iowa 2010). "[M]ost claims of ineffective assistance of counsel in the context of a guilty plea will require a record more substantial than the one [available on direct appeal]." Straw, 709 N.W.2d at 138.

         A. Rule 2.10(3)

         Lawson and the State presented a plea agreement to the district court at sentencing in which the State recommended suspended sentences. After reviewing the presentence investigation report, the district court rejected the plea agreement and sentenced Lawson to a term of incarceration. There is no record of Lawson's, or his trial counsel's, conversations with the State regarding the plea. Because the record on appeal does not contain evidence regarding what was discussed during plea negotiations, including any record of whether Iowa Rule of Criminal Procedure 2.10(3) would have been acceptable to the State, we conclude the record on appeal is not adequate to address Lawson's claim that his trial counsel was ineffective. State v. Coil, 264 N.W.2d 293, 296 (Iowa 1978) ("Even a lawyer is entitled to his day in court, especially when his professional reputation is impugned."). We preserve Lawson's ineffective-assistance claim for postconviction proceedings. See Johnson, 784 N.W.2d at 198 ("If . . . the court determines the claim cannot be addressed on appeal, the court must preserve it for a postconviction-relief proceeding, regardless of the court's view of the potential viability of the claim.").

         B. Risk-Assessment Tools

         Lawson next claims his trial counsel was ineffective for failing to object to the district court's use of the presentence investigation report because it contained improper risk-assessment tools. We find the record sufficient to address Lawson's claim.

         Lawson claims there is no foundation for using scientific tests like the Iowa Risk Revised ("IRR") or the Dynamic Risk Assessment for Offender Re-Entry ("DRAOR") in sentencing and these tests are not reliable in the context of sentencing.[1] However, upon our review of the record, unlike the cases of Gordon and Guise, there is no evidence the district court relied upon or even considered risk-level scores in announcing Lawson's sentence. Instead, the court focused on Lawson's age, his lengthy criminal history, the nature of his crimes, and his various attempts at rehabilitation. The district court only referenced the recommendation of the Department of Corrections once, noting he was a "supervising problem" when he was arrested, defying instructions and instigating an altercation with another inmate. The district court did not refer to the IRR or the DRAOR and did not use either as an aggravating factor. ...

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