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Sauser v. State

Supreme Court of Iowa

May 31, 2019

REVETTE SAUSER, Appellant,
v.
STATE OF IOWA, Appellee.

          On review from the Iowa Court of Appeals.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Delaware County, Thomas A. Bitter, Judge.

         Applicant for postconviction relief appeals a district court decision denying her claim for ineffective assistance of counsel.

          Webb L. Wassmer of Wassmer Law Office, P.L.C., Marion, for appellant.

          Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, Tyler J. Buller and Susan Krisko, Assistant Attorneys General, and John W. Bernau, County Attorney, for appellee.

          CADY, Chief Justice.

         In this appeal from a ruling by the district court that denied an application for postconviction relief, we consider whether a factual basis existed for the element of confinement to support a plea of guilty to the crime of kidnapping in the second degree. The court of appeals affirmed the decision of the district court. On further review, we vacate the decision of the court of appeals, reverse the decision of the district court, and remand the case for further proceedings. We conclude a factual basis to support the confinement element of the crime of kidnapping is not established by evidence that the defendant impeded the victim's movement by pointing a handgun at the victim for a period of time before shooting and killing him.

         I. Background Facts and Proceedings.

         Revette Ann Sauser and Terry Sauser were married for twelve years. Their marriage was plagued for years by discord and strife. On April 3, 2011, Revette shot Terry with a handgun. The incident occurred as Terry was sitting in a chair in the living room of their home. He was intoxicated, and a verbal altercation ensued. Revette retrieved a handgun located in the house and concealed it on her person. She then pulled the gun out and pointed it at Terry for a period of time before the verbal altercation abruptly ended when the gun was fired. Revette then called emergency responders to report that she shot Terry. Terry died shortly after law enforcement officers arrived at the home.

         Sauser was charged by trial information with murder in the first degree in violation of Iowa Code section 707.2 (2011). A plea bargain was reached between the State and Sauser shortly before trial was to begin. Pursuant to the plea bargain, the State amended and substituted the trial information to charge Sauser with kidnapping in the second degree in violation of section 710.3, voluntary manslaughter in violation of section 707.4, and going armed with intent in violation of section 708.8.

         Sauser then entered a plea of guilty to the three charges on February 1, 2012. She also waived her right to file a motion in arrest of judgment, and the case proceeded to immediate sentencing. The district court sentenced Sauser to twenty-five years of incarceration for the kidnapping conviction, ten years' incarceration for the voluntary manslaughter conviction, and five years for a going-armed-with-intent conviction. The court ordered the sentences be served consecutively.

         Sauser subsequently filed an application for postconviction relief. Among other claims, she asserted her trial counsel was ineffective for permitting her to plead guilty to the kidnapping charge because no facts were presented to show that she committed the essential element of confinement.

         After years of legal maneuvering, a hearing was held on the postconviction relief claim. Her original trial counsel testified he believed the confinement element was established because Sauser told him she pointed the gun at the victim "for some time" before discharging it. The plea colloquy was also made a part of the postconviction relief record. During the plea colloquy, Sauser acknowledged she took the gun into the living room knowing she was "going to confine Terry," and she used the gun "to keep [Terry] confined in that space."

         The district court found Sauser was not denied effective assistance of counsel. It denied her application for postconviction relief. It found a factual basis for confinement existed to support the plea of guilty and further ...


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