State v. Damme, No. 19-1139

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Iowa
Writing for the CourtWATERMAN, Justice.
Citation944 N.W.2d 98
Docket NumberNo. 19-1139
Decision Date29 May 2020
Parties STATE of Iowa, Appellee, v. Mercedes JoJean DAMME, Appellant.

944 N.W.2d 98

STATE of Iowa, Appellee,
v.
Mercedes JoJean DAMME, Appellant.

No. 19-1139

Supreme Court of Iowa.

Filed May 29, 2020


Anne K. Wilson of Anne K. Wilson Law Office, PLLC, Cedar Rapids, for appellant.

Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, Tyler J. Buller, Assistant Attorney General, Erika L. Allen, County Attorney, and Kali Adams, Assistant County Attorney, for appellee.

WATERMAN, Justice.

This case presents our first opportunity to adjudicate the "good cause" requirement under Iowa Code section 814.6 (2019) to appeal from a conviction based on the defendant's guilty plea. This defendant pled guilty to theft and was convicted and sentenced on July 1, 2019, the first day the amendment to section 814.6 became effective. Her appeal challenges the sentence imposed, not her guilty plea or conviction. The State argues we must dismiss the appeal because the defendant fails to show good cause as required under the amendment. This new statute does not define good cause, and we retained the case to determine its meaning in this context.

On our review, we determine this defendant satisfies the good-cause requirement to proceed with her appellate challenge to the sentence imposed. The legislature amended section 814.6 to curtail frivolous appeals from guilty pleas and thereby enforce their finality. We conclude that "good cause" means a "legally sufficient reason." We hold that the good-cause requirement is satisfied in this context when the defendant appeals a sentence that was neither mandatory nor agreed to in the plea bargain.

944 N.W.2d 101

We therefore decline to dismiss the appeal. On the merits, her challenge fails, so we affirm her sentence.

I. Background Facts and Proceedings.

This case arises from two related thefts in Grundy Center. On March 25, 2018, Kathy Grittman's wallet was stolen off her kitchen table while she was at home. Grittman called police and told investigating officer Alissa Loew that her daughter's friend had been over to play and was picked up by Mercedes JoJean Damme, the sitter. No one else was in the house when the wallet went missing, and Grittman suspected Damme stole it. Damme had chatted with Grittman in the kitchen and asked for a Band-Aid for a cut on her thumb. Grittman retrieved the requested Band-Aid from a connected bathroom. Damme then asked for triple antibiotic ointment, which Grittman fetched from an upstairs bathroom, leaving Damme alone in the kitchen. Shortly after Damme departed, Grittman found a Band-Aid wrapper on the table where the wallet had been. She phoned Damme, who denied taking it.

The next day, after returning home from work, Christopher Conway noticed items missing from his home, including his laptop, a lockbox that contained tax information, a flash drive, keys to his 1994 Pontiac Grand Am, and numerous rare coins. Conway had left his home unlocked while he was at work between 10 a.m. and 2:30 p.m., and the items went missing during that time. Like Grittman, Conway told police that he suspected Damme, a family friend who had been providing in-home care for Conway's sister. Conway knew that Grittman's wallet had been stolen the day before and that Damme was a suspect. Conway provided Deputy Kyle Wolthoff with Damme's contact information.

Damme had borrowed the Conway family's Ford Explorer. When Conway retrieved that vehicle from Damme at her home the following day, she gave him its keys on a ring that also held the stolen keys to his Grand Am and another keychain that had been in the stolen lockbox. Damme denied knowing what the stolen keys were for and claimed that they were already on the Ford's key ring when she borrowed it. Conway notified Deputy Wolthoff, who obtained a warrant to search Damme's home in Waterloo.

Deputy Wolthoff, another investigator, and two Waterloo police officers executed the search warrant. They recovered many of the stolen items, including the lockbox, some of the coins, the flash drive, Conway's social security card, a laptop, and Grittman's driver's license. Damme initially claimed the items were hers and then changed her story to claim they were given to her by her ex-boyfriend. The officers also found methamphetamine and drug paraphernalia, which Damme admitted belonged to her. She was arrested on drug charges. Conway later identified the items stolen from him.

On May 22, Damme was charged in two separate cases with theft in the third degree in violation of Iowa Code sections 714.1(1) and 714.2(3). Damme entered a plea of guilty in each case on March 18, 2019. The State agreed to seek no more than a two-year sentence that would be suspended if Damme was accepted into the program with the Waterloo Women's Center for Change. The State agreed to follow a recommended sentence in the presentence investigation if it was more lenient.

The court conducted the sentencing hearing on July 1. Despite the State's recommendations that aligned with the plea agreement, the court declined to impose a suspended sentence or one in the range stipulated in the plea agreements.

944 N.W.2d 102

The sentencing court stated it "considered the argument of [Damme's] counsel and extenuation and mitigation" and recited numerous facts from the presentence investigation that it contemplated when determining the requisite sentence.

The court began with mitigating factors. The court stated it "was saddened by the fact that" Damme had been sexually abused by her stepfather when she was young, for which he served a prison term. "Also in extenuation and mitigation," the court noted that Damme has ongoing mental health and substance abuse concerns, that her parental rights to three of her four children had been terminated, and that she had been the victim in numerous criminal reports. Additionally, the court considered her family's criminal history in mitigation,

[I]t is clear to this Court that your family stock is not good. You clearly have not had positive role models in your life. Your father has served four prior prison terms. Your stepfather has served ten years of prison on the sexual abuse convictions involving you. Your mother has prior convictions and probation but no prison. Your first half-sister has prior arrests but no prison. A half-brother – your first half-brother has prior felony convictions. Your second half-brother has multiple misdemeanor convictions and five separate prison terms, and a second half-sister has been put on probation for operating while intoxicated first.

The court next transitioned to aggravating factors, stating, "At the outset[,] this Court would note that the presentence investigation [report (PSI) ] consisting of 20 pages is in no way flattering to [Damme]." Continuing with aggravating factors, the court recited Damme's own criminal history in some detail, telling Damme,

[Y]ou are an agent of criminality. You are a train wreck. You have been for the last nine or ten years of your life.... I'm convinced that you're going to be back in here again after you get out of prison. I'm really hoping you can prove me wrong.

Before pronouncing the sentence, the court stated,

[T]his is the second time this case has been set for sentencing. When it was first set, the Court spent an extensive period of time reviewing the case files and the presentence investigation. I spent another hour to two hours last night going through my notes and once again reviewing the case files and the presentence investigation. This Court takes a sentence of imprisonment or confinement extremely seriously because it results in not only the deprivation of liberty for the particular defendant, but it also affects the defendant's family.

Ma'am, you have placed considerable distance between yourself and your responsibilities as a law abiding citizen. This Court remains mindful of your counsel's argument about matters that have been horrendous in your life and your attempts to counteract the influence of those matters.

The court sentenced Damme to an indeterminate term of two years of incarceration for each case to run concurrently. It ordered Damme to pay a $625 fine, a criminal surcharge of thirty-five percent, court costs, victim restitution, attorney fees, and the law enforcement initiative surcharge of $125. Damme also had to submit a DNA sample. The court determined that Damme did not have the ability to pay restitution and waived those costs.

On July 8, Damme appealed. We retained the case to address the good-cause requirement.

944 N.W.2d 103

II. Standard of Review.

"Our review of a sentence imposed in a criminal case is for correction of errors at law." State v. Formaro , 638 N.W.2d 720, 724 (Iowa 2002). We will not reverse a sentence unless there is "an abuse of discretion or some defect in the sentencing procedure." Id. We review ineffective-assistance-of-counsel claims de novo. State v. Harrison , 914 N.W.2d 178, 188 (Iowa 2018). "We employ a substantial compliance standard in determining whether a trial court has discharged its duty under rule 2.8(2)(d )" to advise a defendant of her right to file a motion in arrest of judgment and the penalties of failing to do so. State v. Straw , 709 N.W.2d 128, 132 (Iowa 2006).

III. Analysis.

We first decide...

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172 practice notes
  • State v. Tucker, No. 19-2082
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • May 7, 2021
    ...mean the defendant need only show a "legally sufficient reason." See State v. Boldon , 954 N.W.2d 62, 69 (Iowa 2021) ; State v. Damme , 944 N.W.2d 98, 104 (Iowa 2020). A legally sufficient reason is a ground that potentially would afford the defendant relief. The new law thus restricts only......
  • State v. Treptow, No. 19-1276
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • May 28, 2021
    ...Treptow "bears the burden of establishing good cause to pursue an appeal of [his] conviction based on a guilty plea." State v. Damme , 944 N.W.2d 98, 104 (Iowa 2020) ; see also Iowa Code § 814.6(1)(a )(3) (stating that the provision prohibiting an appeal from a conviction where the defendan......
  • State v. Davis, No. 20-1244
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • January 28, 2022
    ...as a matter of right. Good cause to appeal requires the defendant to establish a "legally sufficient reason" to appeal. State v. Damme , 944 N.W.2d 98, 104 (Iowa 2020). We have found a defendant generally has good cause to appeal as a matter of right when the defendant challenges his senten......
  • State v. Boldon, No. 19-1159
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • January 29, 2021
    ...the guilty plea prior to the effective date of the statute.We addressed the exact fact pattern presented here in State v. Damme , 944 N.W.2d 98 (Iowa 2020). In that case, the defendant pleaded guilty to two counts of theft in March 2019. Id. at 101. In that case, as in this case, judgment a......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
178 cases
  • State v. Tucker, No. 19-2082
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • May 7, 2021
    ...mean the defendant need only show a "legally sufficient reason." See State v. Boldon , 954 N.W.2d 62, 69 (Iowa 2021) ; State v. Damme , 944 N.W.2d 98, 104 (Iowa 2020). A legally sufficient reason is a ground that potentially would afford the defendant relief. The new law thus restricts only......
  • State v. Treptow, No. 19-1276
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • May 28, 2021
    ...Treptow "bears the burden of establishing good cause to pursue an appeal of [his] conviction based on a guilty plea." State v. Damme , 944 N.W.2d 98, 104 (Iowa 2020) ; see also Iowa Code § 814.6(1)(a )(3) (stating that the provision prohibiting an appeal from a conviction where the defendan......
  • State v. Davis, 20-1244
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • January 28, 2022
    ...as a matter of right. Good cause to appeal requires the defendant to establish a "legally sufficient reason" to appeal. State v. Damme , 944 N.W.2d 98, 104 (Iowa 2020). We have found a defendant generally has good cause to appeal as a matter of right when the defendant challenges his senten......
  • State v. Boldon, No. 19-1159
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • January 29, 2021
    ...the guilty plea prior to the effective date of the statute.We addressed the exact fact pattern presented here in State v. Damme , 944 N.W.2d 98 (Iowa 2020). In that case, the defendant pleaded guilty to two counts of theft in March 2019. Id. at 101. In that case, as in this case, judgment a......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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