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State v. Monson

Court of Appeals of Iowa

January 23, 2019

STATE OF IOWA, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
THOMAS ALVIN MONSON, Defendant-Appellant.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Winneshiek County, John J. Bauercamper, Judge.

         Thomas Monson appeals his conviction, following an Alford plea, of possessing contraband in a jail. POSSESSION OF CONTRABAND CONVICTION AND SENTENCE VACATED AND REMANDED FOR FURTHER PROCEEDINGS.

          John J. Sullivan of Sullivan Law Office, P.C., Oelwein, for appellant.

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

          Considered by Tabor, P.J., and Mullins and Bower, JJ.

          MULLINS, JUDGE.

         Thomas Monson appeals his conviction, following an Alford plea, [1] of possessing contraband in a jail.[2] He argues his counsel rendered ineffective assistance in allowing him to plead guilty absent a sufficient factual basis to support the charge. He specifically argues there is an inadequate factual basis for the "knowing" element of the crime. See Iowa Code § 719.7(3)(a) (2017).

         We review claims of ineffective assistance of counsel de novo. See State v. Harris, 919 N.W.2d 753, 754 (Iowa 2018). Monson must show by a preponderance of the evidence that (1) counsel failed to perform an essential duty and (2) prejudice resulted. Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 687 (1984); State v. Harrison, 914 N.W.2d 178, 188 (Iowa 2018).

         A factual basis is a prerequisite to the court's acceptance of an Alford plea. See Iowa R. Crim. P. 2.8(2)(b); State v. Schminkey, 597 N.W.2d 785, 788 (Iowa 1999). In the guilty plea context, if counsel allows a defendant to plead guilty and waives the defendant's right to file a motion in arrest of judgment when there is an inadequate factual basis to support the charge, counsel breaches an essential duty and prejudice is presumed. Rhoades v. State, 848 N.W.2d 22, 29 (Iowa 2014). A factual basis exists when the record, as a whole, discloses facts to satisfy the elements of the crime. See State v. Finney, 834 N.W.2d 46, 62 (Iowa 2013). "The record does not need to show the totality of evidence necessary to support a guilty conviction, but it need only demonstrate facts that support the offense." State v. Ortiz, 789 N.W.2d 761, 768 (Iowa 2010).

         The minutes of evidence reveal the following facts. As a result of a traffic stop, Monson was taken into custody on drug and weapon charges. After being arrested and waiving his Miranda rights, Monson was forthcoming with the arresting officer about his "history with methamphetamine use and multiple felony convictions in his past." Monson was then transported to the local jail for processing. Prior to entering the jail, the arresting officer questioned Monson if he had any other contraband on his person. Monson responded he "could have something in [his] smallest front pocket." The officer searched the pocket and located a hypodermic needle cap. Monson advised he had placed methamphetamine in the cap. No methamphetamine remained in the cap when the officer located it. Monson advised he "should not have anything else." Thereafter, while conducting an inventory of Monson's wallet, the jailer located a small bag of marijuana. When this bag was found, Monson advised he had forgotten about it.

         At the plea hearing, Monson professed his innocence as to the possession-of-contraband charge but agreed there was a risk of a jury finding him guilty and he "could get a whole lot worse sentence" if he lost the benefits of the plea agreement. Monson tendered his Alford plea, and the court accepted it, concluding "there is enough facts to prove you guilty of this offense."

         The question on appeal is whether there is a factual basis that Monson "Knowingly introduce[d] contraband into, or onto, the grounds of a . . . jail." See Iowa Code § 719.7(3)(a) (emphasis added). "[I]n criminal law the term 'knowingly' has no fixed or precise meaning" and its interpretation "depends on the character of the offense involved." State v. Winders, 366 N.W.2d 193, 195 (Iowa Ct. App. 1985).

When used in a prohibitory statute "knowingly" imports something more than carelessness or lack of inquiry. In such statutes, it has been held to mean merely a knowledge of the existence of the facts constituting the crime, or a knowledge of the essential facts and not to require the knowledge of the unlawfulness of the act or omission.

Id. (quoting 22 C.J.S. Criminal Law ยง 31(3) (1961)). Section 719.7(3)(a) requires that Monson knowingly introduced marijuana to the jail, i.e., he had knowledge of the existence of the fact he was in possession of marijuana when he entered into, or onto, the grounds of the jail. Monson was forthcoming with the arresting officer in his exchanges with him prior to arriving at the jail. Likewise, when questioned whether he was in possession of any contraband prior to entering the jail, he directed the officer to the hypodermic needle cap he had previously placed methamphetamine in, although there was no methamphetamine remaining in it when located by the officer. When the marijuana was found, Monson professed he had forgotten about its presence. Although he does not deny the marijuana was his, the offense to which he pled guilty requires that he knowingly introduced the marijuana onto the grounds of the jail. The only facts revealed in the record before us are that Monson was forthcoming with the officer and readily directed the officer to an area he suspected harbored methamphetamine, but neglected to direct the officer to the marijuana and later advised he forgot about its presence. We recognize there are cases in which the circumstances surrounding the incarceration of a defendant may support a "knowingly introduce" element even in the face of a defendant's denial. The circumstances of this case, however, do not support a finding of a ...


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