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Stechcon v. State

Court of Appeals of Iowa

August 15, 2018

CHAD STECHCON, Applicant-Appellant,
v.
STATE OF IOWA, Respondent-Appellee.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Benton County, Chad A. Kepros (motion to dismiss) and Christopher L. Bruns (order), Judges.

         Chad Stechcon appeals the district court's summary dismissal of his application for postconviction relief.

          Mark C. Smith, State Appellate Defender, for appellant.

          Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, and Darrel L. Mullins, Assistant Attorney General, for appellee State.

          Considered by Vaitheswaran, P.J., and Doyle and Mullins, JJ.

          VAITHESWARAN, Presiding Judge

         A jury found Chad Stechcon guilty of first-degree burglary, domestic abuse assault while using or displaying a dangerous weapon, and false imprisonment. This court affirmed Stechcon's convictions. See State v. Stechcon, No. 13-0049, 2013 WL 5951359, at *3-7 (Iowa Ct. App. Nov. 6, 2013). Procedendo issued on December 9, 2013.

         The following year, Stechcon filed an application for appointment of counsel, requesting "competent counsel to properly prepare his Application for Post Conviction Relief, and bring the same into open court for a hearing." He also filed an application to proceed in forma pauperis and declaration in support. On April 17, 2014, the district court granted the applications. The court specifically noted, "Applicant did not include an actual Application for Post-Conviction Relief." The court cautioned Stechcon that, by appointing counsel, it was "making no ruling that Applicant has a colorable claim for post-conviction relief" but was "simply appointing [counsel] to represent Applicant to investigate whether Applicant has such a claim and, if so, to prepare, file, and prosecute the claim."

         The "case" languished, and Stechcon was notified that it would be automatically dismissed pursuant to Iowa Rule of Civil Procedure 1.944. No action was taken and the case was dismissed. Later, counsel moved to have it reinstated and the motion was granted.

         On February 14, 2017, postconviction counsel filed what he characterized as an "amended" postconviction-relief application, alleging trial counsel was ineffective in failing to call Stechon as a witness. The State moved to dismiss the application as untimely. Stechcon filed a reply acknowledging he "did not file an application for postconviction relief, but instead, merely . . . filed, on April 7, 2014, an application to proceed in forma pauperis and an application for appointment of post-conviction relief counsel." He argued it would "be inequitable" to dismiss the case because the clerk of court assigned a case number to the matter.

         The district court granted the dismissal motion, reasoning as follows:

Applicant, who had counsel appointed to represent his interests as of April 17, 2014, was clearly informed that he must still prepare, file, and prosecute any alleged claim for post-conviction relief. . . . [O]n February 14, 2017, Applicant finally attempted to comply with the April 17 order. By that point in time, his claim was time barred as asserted by the State.

         On appeal from the summary dismissal order, Stechcon concedes a postconviction relief application generally "must be filed within three years" of the issuance of procedendo, which in his case was "on or before December 13, 2016." See Iowa Code § 822.3 (2017) (stating an application for postconviction relief "must be filed within three years from the date the conviction or decision is final or, in the event of an appeal, from the date the writ of procedendo is issued," unless the application raises "a ground of fact or law that could not have been raised within the applicable time period"). He seeks to circumvent the time bar by arguing his "court-appointed postconviction relief counsel was ineffective in failing to file his application for postconviction relief in a timely fashion."

         The Iowa Supreme Court recently addressed applicants' efforts to sidestep the section 822.3 time bar by alleging ineffective assistance of counsel. SeeAllison v. State, 914 N.W.2d ...


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