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State v. Bendickson

Court of Appeals of Iowa

October 10, 2018

STATE OF IOWA, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
JASON BENDICKSON, Defendant-Appellant.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Cerro Gordo County, Colleen D. Weiland (plea), James M. Drew (motion for new counsel), Gregg R. Rosenbladt (motion to withdraw guilty plea), and Rustin T. Davenport (sentencing), Judges.

         A defendant who pleaded guilty now seeks a remand so he may have a hearing on his actual-innocence claim.

          Mark C. Smith, State Appellate Defender, and Shellie L. Knipfer, Assistant Appellate Defender, for appellant.

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

          Considered by Danilson, C.J., and Vogel and Tabor, JJ.

          TABOR, JUDGE

         Jason Bendickson pleaded guilty to first-degree theft and third-degree burglary. Before the district court imposed a sentence, Bendickson moved to withdraw those pleas. The district court denied the motion, finding Bendickson did not show his pleas were unknowing or involuntary. On appeal, Bendickson requests a remand to show he is "actually innocent" of theft and burglary, citing the intervening decision in Schmidt v. State, 909 N.W.2d 778, 789 (Iowa 2018). Because Schmidt held "convicted defendants can attack their pleas when claiming actual innocence even if the attack is extrinsic to the pleas," we agree a remand is appropriate. Id. We conditionally affirm Bendickson's convictions and remand for a hearing on his preserved freestanding claim of actual innocence.

         I. Facts and Prior Proceedings

         According to the minutes of testimony, a Mason City couple reported $80, 000 worth of jewelry stolen from their home in late March 2017. Debra Ewing later told investigators she saw Jason Bendickson leave a Mason City home "with a 'lot' of jewelry." In early April, Bendickson and Ewing tried to sell a $30, 000 diamond ring to Pawn America in Roseville, Minnesota. Investigators discovered the hocked ring was one of the stolen items.

         The State charged Bendickson with theft in the first degree and burglary in the third degree. Both felony charges carried habitual-offender penalties.

         On September 28, 2017, Bendickson pleaded guilty to the charged offenses. In return, the State dismissed the habitual offender enhancements.[1] But a few days later, on October 5, Bendickson sent a handwritten letter to Judge Drew, alleging a "serious problem" with his guilty pleas and asserting he was having "a hard time" with his plea deal. Five days later, Bendickson sent a handwritten motion to Judge Weiland alleging he was not receiving legal papers from his attorneys and asking to subpoena all evidence in his case. The district court held a hearing on October 17. At that hearing, Bendickson claimed "unethical things" were going on with his attorneys and professed he did not "want to plead to the felonies." He told the court:

I'm not wanting to really take this. He tells me they got still shots of me and the codefendant walked up and knocked on the door. I knew right away it was a lie because I was never there.

         Bendickson told the court he intended to move to withdraw his guilty plea, but had not done so yet. The court declined to appoint new counsel.

         On October 19, Bendickson-through counsel-moved to withdraw his guilty pleas. The motion began: "The Defendant believes that the following information is sufficient to demonstrate his innocence in this case and further justifies him withdrawing his guilty plea." It then listed six different points attacking the State's evidence. The motion alleged "some of the above evidentiary items the defendant was aware of prior to his entering his guilty plea and some of them he was not." It also explained "after learning of some of the above items," Bendickson "was unclear as to the procedure to be used" to undo his pleas. The State resisted Bendickson's motion to withdraw his pleas. The resistance addressed the sufficiency of the State's evidence, but emphasized the guilty plea was knowing and voluntary.

         Before considering Bendickson's motion to withdraw his guilty pleas, the district court allowed attorney F. David Eastman to stop representing Bendickson based on an alleged conflict of interest. ...


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