Ledezma v. State, No. 99-1019.

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Iowa
Citation626 N.W.2d 134
Docket Number No. 99-1019.
PartiesJose LEDEZMA, Appellant, v. STATE of Iowa, Appellee.
Decision Date25 April 2001

W. Curtis Wiberg of Richard Rhinehart & Associates, Sioux City, for appellant.

Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, Richard J. Bennett, Assistant Attorney General, Thomas S. Mullin, County Attorney, and James J. Katcher, Assistant County Attorney, for appellee.

Considered en banc.

CADY, Justice.

In this postconviction relief action, we are asked to find ineffective assistance of counsel in the trial of a case which resulted in a conviction for first-degree kidnapping and second-degree sexual abuse. The claim of ineffective assistance of trial counsel is based upon a variety of allegations, including inadequate trial preparation and denial of right to testify. The district court found trial counsel was ineffective, but found no resulting prejudice. On our review, we find the claim of ineffective assistance of counsel has been established. We reverse the decision of the district court and grant a new trial.

I. Background Facts and Proceedings.

Jose Ledezma was born in Michoacan, Mexico, and illegally immigrated to the United States in 1990. He moved to Iowa in August of 1994, and began living in the Sioux City area just prior to the incident giving rise to this case. Jose completed approximately nine levels of education in Mexico, which is equivalent to a fifth grade education in the United States. He spoke only Spanish and did not understand the English language.

On August 13, 1994, Jose and his brother, Gonzalo, were arrested and subsequently charged with first-degree kidnapping and second-degree sexual abuse of a woman named Marie Big Bear. They had met Marie in a bar the previous night.

Jose and Gonzalo were appointed separate counsel following their arrest, as well as interpreters to assist in their cases. Christy Rice was appointed as an interpreter for Jose, while Ray Cota was appointed as an interpreter for Gonzalo. Notwithstanding, Cota was frequently used as an interpreter for Jose. Both Jose and Gonzalo waived a trial by jury, and their cases were consolidated for the purposes of trial. The two men were held in jail prior to their trial. They were never informed by law enforcement officials or their attorneys of their right to contact the Mexican Consulate under Article 36 of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations.

At trial, Marie and nine police officers were called as witnesses for the prosecution. Gonzalo did not testify and called no witnesses on his behalf. Jose also did not testify, and only called one witness for the purpose of establishing Marie's intoxicated condition.

The events leading to the convictions began in the early evening hours of August 12, 1994, when Jose, Gonzalo, and their cousin Sylvester Ledezma, began drinking beer at Jose and Gonzalo's apartment in Sioux City. They later went to the Western Tavern, a local bar, and continued drinking until the bar closed around 1:30 a.m. on August 13. While at the tavern, they met Marie Big Bear. Marie was also drinking beer. She also ingested methamphetamine while at the bar.

When the tavern closed, the patrons congregated outside. There was discussion about going to a house to continue drinking and socializing. Sylvester purchased a twelve-pack of beer from the tavern, and Marie left with the Ledezmas in their car. Gonzalo drove, Sylvester sat in the front passenger seat, and Jose and Marie were in the backseat.

Marie testified at the criminal trial that she thought the Ledezmas were taking her to the party that had been discussed. However, Gonzalo drove from the tavern to a local 7-Eleven convenience store. Jose remained in the backseat with Marie, while Gonzalo pumped the gas and Sylvester went inside the store to pay for the gas. Marie testified Jose placed her in a headlock to prevent her from leaving. Gonzalo then drove to Riverside Park, and eventually stopped in an area named Fisherman's Road.

After Gonzalo parked the car, Marie left to go to the bathroom in the nearby bushes. She alleged that Jose followed her when she left the car, chased her when she attempted to run away, and subsequently forced her to have sexual intercourse. She further testified that after she returned to the car, Gonzalo and Sylvester, in that order, each forced her to engage in sexual intercourse with them. After Marie and Sylvester's sexual encounter, everyone returned to the car, and left Riverside Park. Marie was dropped off at her apartment after providing directions to the Ledezmas.

After arriving home, Marie called the police and provided them the license plate number of the Ledezma vehicle. Marie then called her ex-boyfriend, who is also the father of her son, Earl Rowley. Rowley was exercising visitation of the child and Marie was to have picked the boy up at Rowley's residence earlier in the evening. Marie told Rowley that she had not picked the boy up as planned because she had been raped. Marie failed to pick up their son from Rowley on several prior occasions, opting to party and drink instead.

Jose had planned to testify at the trial. However, after Earl Rowley was called to testify for Jose about the intoxicated condition of Marie on the night of the incident, Jose's trial counsel conferred with Jose and then informed the court that Jose would rest without testifying. The exchange between Jose and his attorney lasted approximately one minute.

The trial court found Jose guilty of first-degree kidnapping and second-degree sexual abuse. He was sentenced to life incarceration.

Jose appealed his conviction. He was represented by the State Appellate Defender's office. Jose informed his appellate counsel of his concerns regarding the effectiveness of his trial counsel. He also informed his appellate counsel about some alleged improprieties by Cota. His appellate counsel informed Jose that he could raise those issues later in a postconviction relief proceeding. His appeal was transferred to the court of appeals, which affirmed the conviction.

Jose then filed an application for postconviction relief. He alleged his appellate counsel was ineffective for failing to raise his claims of ineffective assistance of trial counsel on direct appeal. He further alleged his trial counsel was ineffective for failing to adequately investigate the case, to conduct proper cross-examination of witnesses, and to obtain a voluntary waiver of his right to testify. He also contended he was denied the effective assistance of an interpreter, and was not told of his right to consult the Mexican Consulate under the Vienna Convention.

At the postconviction hearing, Jose testified Marie consented to sexual intercourse. His version of the events of the morning of August 13, 1994, differed significantly from Marie's. Jose testified that neither he, Gonzalo, nor Sylvester told Marie they would take her to a party. Instead, Jose stated Marie left with them because she wanted to be with them. In addition, Jose disputed Marie's contention that he placed her in a headlock at the 7-Eleven store. Jose claimed he and Marie were kissing and hugging in the backseat while Gonzalo and Sylvester were outside the car at the store.

Jose further testified that Marie directed Gonzalo to drive the car to Fisherman's Road. He stated he did not follow Marie to the bushes when she left to go to the bathroom. He alleged that when Marie returned to the car, she started kissing him, and led him to the bushes where she initiated sexual intercourse. Gonzalo testified at the postconviction hearing that Marie also consented to sexual intercourse with him. Although Sylvester's version of the incident is not in the record, Jose and Gonzalo both claimed at the postconviction hearing that Marie consented to sexual intercourse with Sylvester.

Jose also presented evidence that Cota convinced Martin Ledezma, a relative of the Ledezma brothers, to hire Cota to conduct an investigation prior to trial on behalf of Jose and Gonzalo. Cota falsely represented to Martin that he was licensed to do such work. In addition, Cota provided legal advice to Jose, Gonzalo, and Martin. Although the prosecution offered Jose several favorable plea bargains, Cota recommended Jose reject every offer, including one with a maximum imprisonment term of thirty-five years. Cota also counseled Jose that the prosecution had a weak case, and that deportation was the worst case scenario. Counsel for Jose never raised the issue of unethical interpreter conduct before the trial court, even though he believed Cota was possibly influencing Jose's decisions.

During his "investigation," Cota discovered information suggesting that the clerk at the 7-Eleven store during the early morning hours of August 13 did not observe any unusual behavior inside the Ledezma car. Although Cota shared this information with Jose's trial counsel, counsel did not investigate it further. In fact, Jose's trial counsel did little or no investigative work in preparation for trial. He did not visit the Western Tavern to interview bar patrons, bartenders, or waitresses who may have seen Marie and Jose the night of August 12, and he did not interview any workers or customers at the 7-Eleven to determine if they had seen the Ledezmas or their car that morning. In addition, Jose's trial counsel never notified Jose of his right to consular access under the Vienna Convention during the representation.

Jose's trial counsel acknowledged at the postconviction relief hearing that Jose intended to testify at the trial that he engaged in sexual intercourse with Marie but that it was consensual. Through a pretrial interview with Jose, Jose's trial counsel learned that Jose had only lived in the area a few weeks and was not familiar with Riverside Park. Jose told his trial counsel that Marie had acted friendly to him in the bar and she wanted to leave with the three men after the bar closed. Jose also told his trial counsel that...

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