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State v. Ledesma

Court of Appeals of Iowa

October 24, 2018

STATE OF IOWA, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
CARMEN LEDESMA, Defendant-Appellant.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Henry County, John M. Wright, Judge.

         The defendant challenges her conviction and sentence for arson in the second degree.

          Mark C. Smith, State Appellate Defender, and Maria L. Ruhtenberg, Assistant Appellate Defender, for appellant.

          Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, and Timothy M. Hau, Assistant Attorney General, for appellee.

          Considered by Potterfield, P.J., and Bower and McDonald, JJ.

          Mcdonald, Judge.

         In this direct appeal, Carmen Ledesma challenges her conviction and sentence for arson in the second degree, in violation of Iowa Code sections 712.1(1) and 712.3 (2017). On appeal, Ledesma contends her guilty plea lacked a factual basis and her conviction must be vacated. She also contends the district court's order of restitution is not supported by the evidence. We address each claim in turn.

         I.

         We first address the defendant's challenge to her guilty plea. As a general rule, "[a] defendant's failure to challenge the adequacy of a guilty plea proceeding by motion in arrest of judgment shall preclude the defendant's right to assert such challenge on appeal." Iowa R. Crim. P. 2.24(3)(a). It is not disputed Ledesma failed to file a motion in arrest of judgment. Thus, her direct challenge to her guilty plea is barred.

         Ledesma acknowledges her direct challenge to her guilty plea is barred, but she indirectly asserts her challenge within the framework of a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel. See State v. Straw, 709 N.W.2d 128, 132-33 (Iowa 2006) (holding the failure to file a motion in arrest of judgment "does not bar a challenge to a guilty plea if the failure to file a motion in arrest of judgment resulted from ineffective assistance of counsel"). Although a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel is frequently categorized as an exception to error preservation rules, that categorization is not entirely accurate. "Ineffective assistance of counsel . . . is a stand-alone constitutional claim attacking the performance of a criminal defendant's counsel." State v. Johnson, 416 P.3d 443, 451 (Utah 2017). "While such a claim necessarily requires the court to look at the substantive issue the defendant argues his counsel should have raised, and whether the substantive issue had any merit, the substantive issue is only viewed through the lens of counsel's performance." Id. Typically, this court, as a court of error correction, would not address a claim not presented to the district court or an error not preserved in the district court. See Iowa Code § 602.5103(1) (providing the court of appeals "constitutes a court for correction of errors at law"); Meier v. Senecaut, 641 N.W.2d 532, 537 (Iowa 2002) ("It is a fundamental doctrine of appellate review that issues must ordinarily be both raised and decided by the district court before we will decide them on appeal."). However, the Code specifically authorizes this court to address a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel on direct appeal from criminal proceedings. See Iowa Code § 814.7(2) ("A party may, but is not required to, raise an ineffective assistance claim on direct appeal from the criminal proceedings if the party has reasonable grounds to believe that the record is adequate to address the claim on direct appeal."). Because the Code authorizes our review of a constitutional claim of ineffective assistance of counsel on direct appeal from a criminal proceeding, we proceed to the merits.

         "The person claiming that her trial attorney was ineffective, depriving her of her Sixth Amendment right to counsel, must show that (1) counsel failed to perform an essential duty, and (2) prejudice resulted therefrom." Taylor v. State, 352 N.W.2d 683, 684-85 (Iowa 1984) (altered for readability). A defendant must prove these elements by a preponderance of the evidence. See id. at 685. "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. Schminkey, 597 N.W.2d 785, 788 (Iowa 1999). Prejudice is inherent where the guilty plea is not supported by a factual basis. See id.

         "The court . . . shall not accept a plea of guilty without first determining that the plea is made voluntarily and intelligently and has a factual basis." Iowa R. Crim. P. 2.8(2)(b); accord State v. Ortiz, 789 N.W.2d 761, 767 (Iowa 2010). In determining whether a guilty plea has a factual basis, "this jurisdiction has no requirement that [the] trial court must in all cases wring from defendant a detailed confession satisfying each element of the offense charged." State v. Hansen, 221 N.W.2d 274, 276 (Iowa 1974). The court can find a factual basis by "(1) inquiring of the defendant, (2) inquiring of the prosecutor, and (3) examining the presentence report." State v. Finney, 834 N.W.2d 46, 56 (Iowa 2013). In addition, the district court may look to the minutes of evidence where the minutes are acknowledged during the plea colloquy. See id. at 57. The relevant inquiry is whether the record before the district court supports a factual basis for each element of the offense. See Rhoades v. State, 848 N.W.2d 22, 29 (Iowa 2014); State v. Amadeo, No. 11-1426, 2012 WL 2122262, at *3-4 (Iowa Ct. App. June 13, 2012) (collecting cases).

         We turn to the elements of the offense. The Code defines arson as follows:

Causing a fire or explosion, or placing any burning or combustible material, or any incendiary or explosive device or material, in or near any property with the intent to destroy or damage such property, or with the knowledge that such property will probably be destroyed or damaged, is arson, whether or not any such property is actually destroyed or damaged. Provided, that where a person who owns said property which the defendant intends to destroy or damage, or which the defendant knowingly endangers, consented to the defendant's acts, and where no insurer has been exposed fraudulently to ...

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