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State v. Wanchanic

Court of Appeals of Iowa

March 20, 2019

STATE OF IOWA, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
CHERYL WANCHANIC, Defendant-Appellant.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Black Hawk County, David P. Odekirk, Judge.

         Cheryl Wanchanic appeals his conviction, following a jury trial, of first-degree robbery and the sentence imposed. CONVICTION AFFIRMED, SENTENCE AFFIRMED IN PART AND VACATED IN PART, AND REMANDED FOR ENTRY OF A CORRECTED SENTENCING ORDER.

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

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

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

          MULLINS, Judge.

         Cheryl Wanchanic[1] appeals his conviction, following a jury trial, of first-degree robbery and the sentence imposed. He contends his trial counsel was ineffective in failing to move for a mistrial. He further challenges the district court's order assessing appellate attorney fees against him unless he filed a request for a hearing on his reasonable ability to pay.

         I. Background Facts and Proceedings

         This case arises out of a 2015 cellular phone retail store robbery. Wanchanic was charged by trial information with one count of robbery in the first degree. See Iowa Code §§ 711.1, .2 (2015). Wanchanic filed a motion in limine the morning of December 12, 2017, prior to the commencement of trial later that same day. Wanchanic sought to prevent specific items of evidence, including any evidence that was not referenced in the filed minutes of evidence. After voir dire but before opening statements, the court granted the motion with no objection from the State. During the testimony of a witness who drove Wanchanic to the store before the robbery, the witness was asked if she saw Wanchanic with any type of object after he left the car. The State asked, "And when you looked at [Wanchanic], what did you see?" The witness replied, "He had everything covered, and he was switching something like a knife to the front." At that point, defense counsel asked to approach the bench, and an unreported sidebar conference occurred. The court then removed the jury and took a half-hour break. The court then resumed the proceedings outside the jury's presence. The State, after reviewing the minutes of evidence, conceded that the witness's testimony about the presence of a knife was not contained in the minutes. Defense counsel asked the court just to strike the witness's last response from the record and admonish the jury to disregard it. When admonishing the jury, the court stated "[m]embers of the jury, the testimony you heard from the witness concerning the knife should be disregarded, and that testimony is stricken from the record." Defense counsel made no other request and the trial continued. Jury deliberation began in the afternoon of December 14. The jury found Wanchanic guilty as charged the next day. Wanchanic filed post-trial motions on other issues but did not reference the witness-testimony issue. The court subsequently sentenced Wanchanic to an indeterminate term of incarceration not to exceed twenty-five years, with a mandatory minimum of seventy percent. Wanchanic appeals.

         II. Analysis

         A. Ineffective Assistance of Counsel

         Wanchanic first argues his trial counsel provided ineffective assistance in failing to move for a mistrial after the State elicited witness testimony not included in the minutes of evidence. Alternatively, he contends trial counsel should have moved for a mistrial after the court, in its admonishment, referenced the witness testimony it was striking from the record and directing the jury to disregard.

         We review ineffective-assistance-of-counsel claims de novo. State v. Harrison, 914 N.W.2d 178, 187 (Iowa 2018). "Generally, claims of ineffective assistance of counsel are preserved for postconviction relief proceedings." Id. at 206 (quoting State v. Soboroff, 798 N.W.2d 1, 8 (Iowa 2011)). Preservation allows for the development of "an adequate record of the claims and provides the attorney charged with ineffective assistance with the 'opportunity to respond to defendant's claims.'" Id. (quoting Soboroff, 798 N.W.2d at 8). If we find the record adequate, "we may resolve the claim on direct appeal." Id. (quoting Soboroff, 798 N.W.2d at 8). Wanchanic must show his defense counsel "failed an essential duty and that the failure resulted in prejudice." Id. (quoting State v. Schlitter, 881 N.W.2d 380, 388 (Iowa 2016)). We "presume the attorney performed competently, requiring [Wanchanic] to rebut the presumption with evidence the attorney performed outside the standard of a reasonably competent practitioner." Schlitter, 881 N.W.2d at 388. Further, Wanchanic must "show the attorney's errors functionally deprived [him] of a fair trial and further show by a reasonable probability that the result of the proceeding would have been different without the errors by the attorney." Id. "A defendant's inability to prove either element is fatal." State v. Graves, 668 N.W.2d 860, 869 (Iowa 2003).

         Based on the record before us, we cannot determine why counsel did not move for a mistrial after the witness testimony. Further, we cannot determine why counsel did not object to or move for a mistrial after the court referenced the knife when admonishing the jury to disregard the witness's testimony about the knife. Therefore, we cannot determine if counsel's performance fell below the standard of a reasonably competent counsel or if prejudice ...


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