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State v. Foster

Court of Appeals of Iowa

September 26, 2018

STATE OF IOWA, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
WILLIAM LOWELL FOSTER, Defendant-Appellant.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Linn County, Sean W. McPartland and Mary E. Chicchelly (sentencing), Judges.

         William Foster appeals his conviction of assault causing bodily injury.

          Geneva L. Williams of Williams Law Office, PLLC, Cedar Rapids, for appellant.

          Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, and Thomas J. Ogden, Assistant Attorney General, for appellee.

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

          VAITHESWARAN, PRESIDING JUDGE.

         William Foster entered an Alford[1] plea to assault causing bodily injury (domestic abuse) (strangulation), in violation of Iowa Code section 708.2A(1) and (5) (2017). The district court determined the plea was "knowingly and intelligently made" and was supported by "a factual basis." The court adjudged Foster guilty and sentenced him to a prison term not exceeding five years. The court also entered a five-year "sentencing no contact order" prohibiting "any contact with the protected party."

         On appeal, Foster contends (1) his plea attorney was ineffective in failing to challenge the factual basis and voluntariness of the plea and (2) the district court abused its discretion in sentencing him to prison.

         I. Ineffective Assistance of Counsel

         "If the defendant fails to file a motion in arrest of judgment after the court has informed the defendant of his or her obligation to do so, he or she cannot directly appeal from the guilty plea" but "can challenge the plea under the rubric of ineffective assistance of counsel." State v. Weitzel, 905 N.W.2d 397, 401 (Iowa 2017). Foster was properly advised of his obligation to file a motion in arrest of judgment if he wished to challenge the plea. He did not file a motion. Accordingly, he concedes his challenge to the factual basis and voluntariness of his plea must be raised under an ineffective-assistance-of-counsel rubric. To prevail, Foster must establish deficient performance and prejudice. Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 687 (1984).

         A. Factual Basis

         Foster argues he "struggled to understand exactly what charge he was entering a plea to and what facts the State would be required to prove beyond a reasonable doubt in order to sustain a guilty verdict." He characterizes the argument as a challenge to the factual basis for the plea. "Where a factual basis for a charge does not exist, and trial counsel allows the defendant to plead guilty anyway, counsel has failed to perform an essential duty." State v. Nall, 894 N.W.2d 514, 525 (Iowa 2017) (citation omitted). "Prejudice is inherent in such a case." Id. (citation omitted).

         The charge to which Foster entered an Alford plea required a showing of "a domestic abuse assault committed by knowingly impeding the normal breathing or circulation of the blood of another by applying pressure to the throat or neck of the other person or by obstructing the nose or mouth of the other person, and causing bodily injury." Iowa Code § 708.2A(5). At the plea hearing, the prosecutor stated she was prepared to prove the charge in the following way:

[H]aving [Foster's wife] and multiple members of the Cedar Rapids Police Department as well as medical experts from St. Luke's Hospital testify that, on or about February 21, 2017, the defendant was at his home with . . . his wife, . . . that the defendant then assaulted her by holding her down on the couch and pulling her hair in front of their twin daughters[, ] . . . that the defendant continued assaulting her ...

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