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State v. Crawford

Court of Appeals of Iowa

December 5, 2018

STATE OF IOWA, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
WILLIAM E. CRAWFORD, Defendant-Appellant.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Scott County, Thomas G. Reidel, Judge.

         William Crawford appeals the judgment and sentence imposed following his second-degree-murder conviction. CONVICTION AFFIRMED, SENTENCE VACATED IN PART, AND REMANDED.

          Mark C. Smith, State Appellate Defender, and Mary K. Conroy, Assistant Appellate Defender, for appellant.

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

          Considered by Danilson, C.J., and Potterfield and Doyle, JJ.

          DOYLE, JUDGE.

         A jury convicted William Crawford of second-degree murder for his role in the 2016 stabbing death of Romane Nunn. On appeal, Crawford challenges the district court's rulings denying his motion to continue trial and admitting a video recording of his police interview into evidence. He also challenges the portion of his sentence requiring the assessment of appellate attorney fees.

         I. Denial of Motion to Continue.

         Crawford contends the district court abused its discretion in denying his motion to continue trial. Our standard of review of depends on the grounds for the motion. See State v. Clark, 814 N.W.2d 551, 560 (Iowa 2012). Generally, we review the denial of a motion for continuance for an abuse of discretion. See id. This standard is a difficult one to meet. Van Hoff v. State, 447 N.W.2d 665, 669 (Iowa Ct. App. 1989). However, if the court's denial of a continuance impedes the defendant's right to present a defense, it implicates a fundamental element of due process and our review is de novo. Clark, 814 N.W.2d at 560-61; In re Orcutt, 173 N.W.2d 66, 70 (Iowa 1969) (noting that the assignment of counsel under circumstances that deprive a defendant of the right to prepare a defense does not satisfy due process requirements). Because motions for continuance are discouraged, the court may not grant a continuance unless the defendant shows a "good and compelling cause." Iowa R. Crim. P. 2.9(2). "The burden rests on the one seeking a continuance to show that 'substantial justice will be more nearly obtained' thereby." State v. Ruesga, 619 N.W.2d 377, 384 (Iowa 2000) (quoting Iowa R. Civ. P. 1.911(1)).

         On September 21, 2016, the State charged Crawford with first-degree murder and willful injury resulting in serious injury. The district court scheduled trial to begin on August 21, 2017. Initially, Crawford was represented by the public defender's office, but after a break down in his relationship with his attorneys, he requested new counsel be appointed. A hearing was held on May 24, 2017, and the district court granted Crawford's motion and appointed new counsel to represent Crawford finding there was "sufficient time for an attorney to get up to speed" before trial began. On July 26, 2017, the court approved the appointment of a second-chair attorney.

         On August 15, 2017, Crawford's new counsel moved to withdraw from representing him based on Crawford's statements that he no longer wanted her to represent him. At the hearing, held the same day, Crawford also moved for a continuance. The district court denied both the motion to withdraw and motion to continue in an order entered the same day.

         Crawford alleges that denying a continuance violated his due process right to a fair trial with effective counsel because his trial counsel had inadequate time to prepare a defense before trial. "Whether in any case enough time has been afforded for consultation, investigation for witnesses, and preparation of the law and facts depends upon the circumstances of the case including the complexity of the factual issues and the legal principles involved." Orcutt, 173 N.W.2d at 71. The seriousness of the offense is another consideration in determining whether there has been adequate time to prepare. See Clark, 814 N.W.2d at 569 (Appel, J., dissenting).

         There is no denying the seriousness of the first-degree-murder charge that Crawford faced. See Iowa Code § 902.1 (requiring a sentence of life without the possibility of parole). We also note that Crawford's trial counsel had been appointed to represent him only two months earlier, after his first attorney withdrew from representation due to a deterioration in his relationship with Crawford. However, the engagement of counsel just prior to the trial date is not grounds for a continuance if the replacement counsel had ample time to prepare. See 17 C.J.S. Continuances § 49. The record here shows the issue was not a matter of counsel's lack of preparation but one of surprise because a witness that Crawford anticipated would help his defense had just given deposition testimony that harmed him. Whether to grant a continuance on this ground is within the trial court's discretion. See id. § 93 ("It is largely within the discretion of the court to grant or refuse to grant a continuance on grounds of surprise occasioned by the fact that a party's own witness has testified contrary to the reasonable expectations of the applicant.").

         Based on the record before us, we are unable to find the trial court abused its discretion in denying Crawford's motion to continue. Both Crawford's prior counsel and his replacement counsel deposed numerous witnesses during the eleven months after he ...


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