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State v. Hernandez-Mendoza

Court of Appeals of Iowa

May 1, 2019

STATE OF IOWA, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
RAMON HERNANDEZ-MENDOZA, Defendant-Appellant.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Crawford County, Jeffrey A. Neary, Judge.

         Ramon Hernandez-Mendoza appeals his convictions and sentence for homicide by vehicle, controlled substance violations, and supplying alcohol to minors.

          Mark C. Smith, State Appellate Defender, (until his withdrawal) and Shellie L. Knipfer, Assistant Appellate Defender, for appellant.

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

          Considered by Vogel, C.J., Vaitheswaran, J., and Blane, S.J. [*]

          Vogel, Chief Judge.

         Ramon Hernandez-Mendoza appeals his convictions and sentence for homicide by vehicle, controlled substance violations, and supplying alcohol to minors. He argues his counsel was ineffective for failing to move for judgment of acquittal on the basis of causation for the homicide-by-vehicle charge. Because substantial evidence supports finding his intoxicated driving was a factual cause and-if applicable-a proximate cause of death, we find his counsel was not ineffective. He also argues his sentences are illegal because the sentencing order is inconsistent on whether it applied an enhancement and it imposed a minimum term of confinement on one charge without authority. The State in turn argues his sentences are illegal because the court waived a minimum term of confinement on other charges without authority. We find his sentences are illegal because the court misapplied minimum terms of confinement. Therefore, we affirm his convictions, vacate his sentences in part, and remand for the district court to amend the judgment and sentences.

         I. Background Facts and Proceedings

         Shortly after 3:00 a.m. on January 19, 2017, Deputy Todd Perdew with the Crawford County Sherriff's Office learned of a vehicle accident near a home in Denison. When he arrived at the home, he found J.H.[1] covered in blankets and shivering. J.H. said he was in the accident and four other people were still in a "pond." After some searching, Deputy Perdew found Hernandez-Mendoza, Y.A., [2] Y.M., [3] and Valeria Rodriguez[4] trapped in the Boyer River. They were partially submerged and clinging to grass on the river banks. Their vehicle had apparently been driven through a nearby field and fell into the river. Deputy Perdew requested assistance with the rescue due to the cold and dark conditions and the steepness and size of the river banks. While waiting for assistance, he used a rope to pull Hernandez-Mendoza to safety. He then saw Y.A. separate from the river bank and float down the river. Assistance arrived shortly thereafter and pulled Y.M. and Rodriguez to safety. Hernandez-Mendoza, Y.M., and Rodriguez were transported to a hospital, though Y.A. remained missing.

         Later that morning, Deputy Perdew went to the hospital to talk to the persons pulled from the river. At the hospital, Hernandez-Mendoza told Deputy Perdew he was driving at the time of the accident and he had consumed six beers prior to the accident. He believed the accident had occurred around 11:00 the previous night and they had been in the river for three to four hours before their rescue.

         On January 23, Hernandez-Mendoza spoke to law enforcement at the sheriff's office in a recorded interview. During the interview, he acknowledged he drank six beers at his home early in the evening of January 18. Later, he drove to pick up J.H., Y.A., Y.M., and Rodriguez, and he then purchased alcohol and Swisher Sweets cigarillos for the group.[5] The group went to another home, where they drank the alcohol he purchased. They also rolled and smoked blunts using the cigarillos he purchased and marijuana he supplied. They left the home around 10:30 that night to cruise around the area. After driving the group for about a half-hour, Hernandez-Mendoza swerved into a ditch. He drove through a field, thinking he was driving back toward the road but unintentionally drove into the river.

         On January 26, officials found Y.A.'s body in the river. An autopsy determined her cause of death was drowning with hypothermia being a significant other condition.

         Following a jury trial, Hernandez-Mendoza was convicted of: (Count 1) homicide by vehicle as to the death of Y.A. under Iowa Code section 707.6A(1) (2017); (Counts 2, 3, and 4) distribution of or possession with intent to distribute a controlled substance to a person under age eighteen as to J.H., Y.A., and Y.M. under Iowa Code section 124.406(1)(a); (Count 5) delivery of or possession with intent to deliver marijuana as to Rodriguez under Iowa Code section 124.401(1)(d); and (Counts 6, 7, 8, and 9) selling, giving, or otherwise supplying alcohol to persons under legal age as to all four passengers under Iowa Code section 123.47(1), (5). The court sentenced him to terms of incarceration not to exceed twenty-five years for Counts 1 through 4 and ten years for Count 5, to run concurrently, and it imposed fines for Counts 5 through 9 and surcharges for all Counts. He now appeals.

         II. ...


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