State v. Crawford

Decision Date18 March 2022
Docket Number19-1506
Citation972 N.W.2d 189
Parties STATE of Iowa, Appellee, v. Randy Allen CRAWFORD, Appellant.
CourtIowa Supreme Court

Martha J. Lucey, State Appellate Defender, and Theresa R. Wilson, Assistant Appellate Defender, for appellant.

Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, and Timothy M. Hau, Assistant Attorney General, for appellee.

McDonald, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which Appel, Oxley, and McDermott, JJ., joined. Waterman, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part, in which Christensen, C.J., and Mansfield, J., joined.

McDONALD, Justice.

An essential element of due process of law is "that no person shall be made to suffer the onus of a criminal conviction except upon sufficient proof—defined as evidence necessary to convince a trier of fact beyond a reasonable doubt of the existence of every element of the offense." Jackson v. Virginia , 443 U.S. 307, 316, 99 S.Ct. 2781, 61 L.Ed.2d 560 (1979). Defendant Randy Allen Crawford contends in this direct appeal that he should not suffer the onus of his criminal conviction because the conviction is not supported by sufficient proof. The problem for the defendant: he failed to file a motion for judgment of acquittal in the district court asserting the specific challenge raised on appeal. The primary question presented is whether an appellate court on direct appeal can nonetheless review the sufficiency of the evidence supporting the defendant's conviction.


The Davenport Police Department was aware Randy Crawford had outstanding warrants for his arrest. On January 3, 2019, police officers went to a local steakhouse to arrest Crawford on the outstanding warrants. When the officers arrived they observed Crawford sitting in a booth. As they approached the booth Crawford reached toward his waist. The officers believed Crawford was reaching for a weapon and ordered him to put his hands in the air. Crawford ignored the directive and initiated a scuffle. Eventually, the officers were able to take Crawford to the ground and arrest him. On the ground near the booth where Crawford was seated officers found a small baggie containing a white powdery substance. Initial field testing indicated the substance was cocaine. Subsequent laboratory testing showed the substance was actually heroin. The total weight of the heroin was approximately three grams. In terms of dosage units (the quantity of a unit sold to an end-user), the package contained between twenty-four and thirty dosage units. No tax stamps were affixed to the package containing the heroin.

In an amended trial information the State charged Crawford with possession of heroin with the intent to deliver, failure to affix a drug tax stamp, and two counts of interference with official acts resulting in bodily injury. The State also provided notice of its intent to seek a sentencing enhancement for a second or subsequent controlled substance conviction. The charges were resolved after two trials. In the first trial, the jury found Crawford guilty of failure to affix a drug tax stamp and two counts of interference with official acts causing bodily injury, but the jury could not reach a verdict on the charge of possession of heroin with the intent to deliver. At a second trial on the remaining charge, the jury acquitted Crawford of the charge of possession of heroin with intent to deliver but found him guilty of the lesser included offense of possession of heroin.

Sentencing occurred in September 2019. Crawford appeared in person with his counsel. At the sentencing hearing, the court considered and denied Crawford and his counsel's separate motions for new trial. In response to the denial of the motions, Crawford stated he "will be appealing." After hearing Crawford's allocution the district court sentenced Crawford to a total term of incarceration not to exceed seven years.

As promised, Crawford appealed his convictions. He timely filed a pro se notice of appeal on September 6, 2019, the day after the sentencing hearing. At the time he filed the notice of appeal Crawford was still represented by counsel. Trial counsel never filed a notice of appeal. Four days after Crawford filed his notice of appeal the district court granted counsel's motion to withdraw and appointed the State Public Defender's Office to represent Crawford on appeal.

We transferred the matter to the court of appeals. Crawford challenged the sufficiency of the evidence supporting his conviction for failure to affix a drug tax stamp. Crawford acknowledged he failed to file a motion for judgment of acquittal to preserve error on the claim, but he argued the court of appeals could nonetheless review the sufficiency of the evidence. First, he argued the court could review the sufficiency of the evidence indirectly as a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel. See, e.g. , State v. Crone , 545 N.W.2d 267, 270 (Iowa 1996) (en banc) (reviewing sufficiency of the evidence indirectly as a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel). The court of appeals rejected the argument, holding that Iowa Code section 814.7 (2019) bars the presentation and resolution of claims of ineffective assistance of counsel on direct appeal. The court of appeals also rejected Crawford's numerous constitutional challenges to section 814.7. See, e.g. , State v. Treptow , 960 N.W.2d 98, 103–08 (Iowa 2021). Second, Crawford argued the court of appeals could review the sufficiency of the evidence supporting his conviction under a plain error standard. The court of appeals rejected Crawford's request, explaining Iowa's appellate courts repeatedly have rejected plain error review. See id. at 109. We granted Crawford's application for further review.


Before turning to the merits of Crawford's appeal, we first address a jurisdictional question. With some exceptions not applicable here, a criminal defendant convicted after trial has an appeal as a matter of right from the entry of a final judgment of sentence. See Iowa Code § 814.6(1). An appeal from a final judgment of sentence is initiated by "filing a notice of appeal with the clerk of the district court where the order or judgment was entered." Iowa R. App. P. 6.102(2). The "notice of appeal must be filed within 30 days after the filing of the final order or judgment." Id. r. 6.101(1)(b ). This rule is mandatory and jurisdictional. Concerned Citizens of Se. Polk Sch. Dist. v. City Dev. Bd. , 872 N.W.2d 399, 401–02 (Iowa 2015). If a party does not timely file his notice of appeal, the appellate court lacks jurisdiction and the matter must be dismissed. Id.

In the past, Crawford's timely filing of his pro se notice of appeal would have been sufficient to invoke this court's appellate jurisdiction. In 2019, however, the legislature enacted a law that prohibits defendants represented by counsel from filing pro se documents in any Iowa court. 2019 Iowa Acts ch. 140, § 30 (codified at Iowa Code § 814.6A (2019)). The State contends that where, as here, a defendant was represented by counsel, section 814.6A renders the pro se notice of appeal a nullity without legal effect. The court of appeals has reached this conclusion. See State v. Stark , No. 20-1503, 2021 WL 4592246, at *3 (Iowa Ct. App. Oct. 6, 2021) (stating pro se notice of appeal was a nullity but granting delayed appeal); Boring v. State , No. 20-0129, 2021 WL 2453045, at *3 (Iowa Ct. App. June 16, 2021) ("[T]he notice of appeal was again filed pro se while Boring was still represented by counsel. Accordingly, it was a document that could not be considered. It was a nullity, as the State claims. For that reason, the appeal is dismissed.").

In light of Iowa Code section 814.6A and these recent decisions of the court of appeals, we questioned whether Crawford had timely invoked this court's appellate jurisdiction. See, e.g. , Colwell v. Iowa Dep't of Hum. Servs. , 923 N.W.2d 225, 238 (Iowa 2019) ("It is a fundamental principle of our jurisprudence that a court has the inherent power to decide if it has subject matter jurisdiction over a matter."). We requested the parties provide supplemental briefing on the issue. After we requested supplemental briefing, appellate counsel filed a notice of appeal in the district court.

After reviewing the parties’ supplemental briefing, we conclude allowing Crawford to pursue a delayed appeal is appropriate under the circumstances. Recently, in State v. Davis , we held that even if section 814.6A prohibited a represented defendant from filing a pro se notice of appeal, the defendant should nonetheless be allowed to pursue a delayed appeal where the defendant timely expressed an intent to appeal before the deadline but failed to timely initiate the appeal due to state action or circumstances beyond the defendant's control. 969 N.W.2d 783, 787–88 (Iowa 2022). As in Davis , Crawford timely expressed an intent to appeal. He did so during the sentencing hearing when he stated he "will be appealing." He also did so when he timely filed his pro se notice of appeal. As in Davis , Crawford's trial counsel failed to act on Crawford's expressed intent. As we explained in Davis , trial counsel's failure to file a notice of appeal after the defendant unequivocally expressed an intent to appeal is a circumstance outside the defendant's control and serves as grounds for allowing delayed appeal. See id. at 788.


Crawford challenges the sufficiency of the evidence supporting his conviction for failure to affix a drug tax stamp, in violation of Iowa Code section 453B.12(2). The State was required to prove that Crawford was a "dealer" who distributed, offered to sell, or possessed taxable substances without affixing the appropriate tax stamp. Id. A "dealer" is a person who ships, transports, or imports "[t]en or more dosage units of a taxable substance which is not sold by weight." Id. § 453B.1(3)(a )(4). Crawford did not affix a tax stamp to the substance at issue, heroin, but h...

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