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State v. Ortiz

Court of Appeals of Iowa

April 17, 2019

STATE OF IOWA, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
AARON CHRISTOPHER ORTIZ, Defendant-Appellant.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Polk County, Robert B. Hanson, Judge. (1989). We nonetheless exercise our discretion to a

         A defendant appeals his conviction and sentence for assault with intent to commit sexual abuse causing bodily injury.

          Joseph C. Glazebrook, Thomas Hurd, and Andrew Duffelmeyer of Glazebrook & Hurd, LLP, Des Moines, for appellant.

          Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, and Genevieve Reinkoester, Assistant Attorney General, for appellee.

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

          TABOR, PRESIDING JUDGE.

         After Aaron Ortiz turned eighteen in 2015, the probate court appointed his mother, Mandi Smith, as his guardian under Iowa Code section 633.556 (2015). The guardianship continued in 2017 when Ortiz pleaded guilty to assault with intent to commit sexual abuse causing bodily injury. He now appeals his conviction and sentence for that crime. He alleges, for the first time on appeal, because his status as ward and his intellectual disabilities prevented him from making legal decisions, his guardian should have been involved in all critical stages of his criminal case- especially the competency proceedings under Iowa Code chapter 812 (2017) and the guilty plea hearing. He asks us to vacate his conviction and remand for new proceedings with the participation of his guardian. Alternatively, Ortiz argues his prison sentence constitutes cruel and unusual punishment.

         Ortiz advances novel legal issues on a meager factual record. See State v. Webster, 865 N.W.2d 223, 231 (Iowa 2015) ("Our review in this case is impacted by the limited nature of the advocacy and the limited record developed below."). Ortiz acknowledges, despite having legal representation, he did not argue his claims about the guardian's participation to the district court. Yet on appeal he does not blame his plea counsel. Instead, to excuse his failure to raise these issues, he cites the concept of structural error and his alleged incompetence. On this undeveloped record, neither ground allows us to reach the merits of Ortiz's challenge to his conviction.

         Regarding his sentencing claim, we cannot find it is categorically unconstitutional to impose a prison term of any length on an adult with intellectual disabilities. Accordingly, we affirm his conviction and sentence.

         I. Facts and Prior Proceeding

         In March 2015, the probate court considered the functional limitations of Aaron Ortiz and decided a limited guardianship would not be appropriate.[1] The court granted his mother plenary powers to make legal decisions on his behalf. See Iowa Code § 633.635 (2015).[2]

         In May 2017, T.Y. was returning home from walking her dog when Ortiz approached her, asking if she knew a certain person. She told him she just recently moved into the neighborhood and was not yet well acquainted. She suggested "the lady across the street" might be a better resource. Ortiz asked for pen and paper to jot down that neighbor's name. T.Y. retrieved pen and paper for him. But when she tried to reenter her front door, according to the minutes of evidence, Ortiz "suddenly and for no reason given, reached around her with both hands and aggressively grabbed her breasts and began squeezing and pinching." T.Y. was able to grab her cell phone and call 911. At the prospect of police responding, Ortiz left her front porch on foot. A neighbor witnessed Ortiz "manhandling" T.Y. and drove around looking for the suspect, eventually locating Ortiz for the police.

         The State charged Ortiz with assault with intent to commit sexual abuse causing bodily injury, a class "D" felony, in violation of Iowa Code section 709.11(2) (2017). Defense counsel asked for a competency evaluation of Ortiz, asserting:

Evident from the undersigned's interactions with the [d]efendant, the undersigned believes the [d]efendant suffers from a serious mental health issue. The [d]efendant also has a probation violation pending in FECR296889, and during that underlying case, a competency evaluation was completed by Dr. Craig Rypma where the defendant was found to not be competent to stand trial. The defendant is under a guardianship due to his intellectual disability.

         Defense counsel asked for Dr. Rypma to again examine Ortiz.

         The district court suspended the proceedings and ordered Ortiz to be examined by Dr. Michael Huston to determine his competency to stand trial under chapter 812. Dr. Huston interviewed Ortiz at the Polk County jail on July 7, 2017. Dr. Huston also interviewed Ortiz's mother and guardian, Mandi Smith. According to the psychologist's report, the guardian said Ortiz "was given a diagnosis of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder at an early age, and that in the past 10 years he has received diagnoses of Intellectually Disabled and Autism Spectrum Disorder."

         From his evaluation, Dr. Huston concluded Ortiz "showed minimal impairment in his ability to understand and appreciate the charge against him and his legal situation." The doctor further found Ortiz showed "mild impairment" in his ability to understand legal proceedings and in his ability to assist in his own defense. Overall, Dr. Huston found Ortiz competent to stand trial, explaining:

Mr. Ortiz has a mental health condition that has been diagnosed as Autism Spectrum Disorder, Impulse Control Disorder, and possibly Intellectual Disability. He is currently receiving and complying with psychiatric treatment at the jail, which appears to be controlling his symptoms effectively. His treatment at the IMCC in Oakdale last fall and winter apparently was helpful in ...

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