from the Iowa District Court for Wapello County, Shawn
Johnson appeals the dismissal of his application for
E. Goodlow, Albia, for appellant.
J. Miller, Attorney General, and Timothy M. Hau, Assistant
Attorney General, for appellee.
Considered by Potterfield, P.J., and Doyle and Bower, JJ.
convicted Christopher Johnson of first-degree murder for the
2010 killing of his wife. This court affirmed his conviction
and sentence on direct appeal. State v. Johnson, No.
11-1055, 2012 WL 2819366, at *5 (Iowa Ct. App. July 11,
2012). Johnson filed an application for postconviction relief
(PCR), alleging his counsel was ineffective. He now appeals
the PCR court's ruling denying him relief.
review the PCR court's finding that Johnson failed to
establish his claims of ineffective assistance of counsel de
novo. See Lamasters v. State, 821 N.W.2d 856, 862
(Iowa 2012). In order to succeed on an ineffective-assistance
claim, a PCR applicant must establish that counsel breached a
duty and prejudice resulted. See id. at 866. We may
affirm a ruling rejecting an ineffective-assistance claim if
either element is lacking. See id.
PCR application alleged that his trial counsel was
ineffective by failing to: (1) present defenses of
intoxication and diminished responsibility, (2) strike more
women from the jury, (3) investigate and rebut the medical
examiner's conclusion that the victim was likely
strangled and rendered incapacitated before she was stabbed,
(4) depose a State's witness, (5) take adequate steps to
ensure Johnson testified at trial, and (6) argue for
lesser-included offenses of voluntary or involuntary
manslaughter during closing argument. Most of these
complaints stem from counsel's trial strategy. Even
though his trial counsel was ultimately unsuccessful, we are
unable to find these strategic decisions amount to
ineffective assistance of counsel. See Ledezma v.
State, 626 N.W.2d 134, 143 (Iowa 2001) ("[C]laims
of ineffective assistance involving tactical or strategic
decisions of counsel must be examined in light of all the
circumstances to ascertain whether the actions were a product
of tactics or inattention to the responsibilities of an
attorney."). Rather, it is more reasonable to attribute
Johnson's conviction to the overwhelming evidence of his
two claims that do not fall under the purview of
counsel's trial strategy, both fail. The record plainly
shows the blame for Johnson's failure to testify at trial
cannot fall on trial counsel, who fulfilled his duty.
Johnson's decision to not testify was his alone. As the
PCR court noted:
[T]rial counsel was an experienced, felony criminal defense
attorney when he represented [Johnson]. Trial counsel told
[Johnson] what his trial strategy was and why counsel wanted
[Johnson] to testify. Trial counsel's approach on his
client's decision to testify is exactly what a good
criminal defense attorney should do. An attorney can advise a
client whether or not he should take a plea deal but he/she
can never force their client to take a plea. In the same
vein, a criminal defense attorney can only suggest to his
client what his advice is regarding testifying. Trial counsel
took adequate steps to make sure his client made an informed
decision on testifying. Any attempt to "ensure" his
client testified would have likely been improper, as that
decision is solely up to the defendant.
even if we were to assume counsel breached a duty in failing
to depose one of the State's witness,  Johnson has
failed to demonstrate that this failure prejudiced him in
light of the overwhelming evidence supporting a finding of
also argues that regardless of the outcome as to each
individual ineffective-assistance claim, the cumulative
effect of these errors taken together entitles him to a new
trial. Iowa recognizes that the cumulative effect
of counsel's errors may prejudice a defendant even though
no individual instance is sufficient to establish prejudice.
See State v. Clay, 824 N.W.2d 488, 501 (Iowa 2012).
However, we only consider the cumulative prejudice of claims
for which we have determined that counsel failed to perform a
duty or for which we analyzed only under the prejudice prong.
See id. Here, only Johnson's claim regarding
counsel's failure to depose a witness falls under this
criterion. There simply are no other claims under which to
Johnson has failed to show his trial counsel was ineffective,
we affirm ...