State v. Utter

Decision Date16 September 2011
Docket NumberNo. 09–1411.,09–1411.
Citation803 N.W.2d 647
PartiesSTATE of Iowa, Appellee,v.Judith Renae UTTER, Appellant.
CourtIowa Supreme Court

OPINION TEXT STARTS HERE

Mark C. Smith, State Appellate Defender, and Bradley M. Bender, Assistant Appellate Defender, for appellant.Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, Kevin R. Cmelik, Assistant Attorney General, Phillip W. Parsons, County Attorney, and Connie S. Ricklefs and Emily A. Stork, Assistant County Attorneys, for appellee.WIGGINS, Justice.

A defendant claims she did not enter her guilty plea voluntarily and intelligently; therefore, she requests that we vacate her plea. The court of appeals analyzed the issue and preserved her claim for a postconviction relief proceeding. On further review, we determined that we could address the issue, vacate her plea, and remand the case for further proceedings. On remand, the court shall dismiss the information pursuant to Iowa Rule of Criminal Procedure 2.33(2)( a).

I. Background Facts and Proceedings.

On April 3, 2009, Monticello police dispatched an officer to the residence of Judith Renae Utter, after receiving a report of a disturbance. Upon arriving, the officer observed an underage drinking party in progress. The officer spoke to several of the party's attendants and learned Utter had allegedly purchased and supplied alcohol to the group. On April 10 the officer issued Utter a citation and complaint for providing alcoholic beverages to a person under the legal age in violation of Iowa Code section 123.47 (2009). 1 Utter signed the citation and complaint, gave a $300 unsecured appearance bond, and agreed to report to the Jones County courthouse on May 6. The citation and complaint were filed on April 22.

On May 6 Utter appeared in court and pled not guilty to the charge of supplying alcohol to a person under the legal age. The court set June 10 as the date for a bench trial. On June 10 Utter and the State appeared for trial. The court entered an order stating, Parties appear for trial. This matter is charged as a serious misdemeanor. Trial is cancelled. Defendant was arraigned for an initial appearance on an indictable offense.” The court then set a preliminary hearing for June 24 and released Utter on her own recognizance.

On June 12 the State filed a trial information and minutes of testimony formally charging Utter with the crime of supplying alcohol to a person under the legal age. The trial information stated, “The said defendant on or about the 3rd day of April, 2009, in Jones County, Iowa did knowingly or intentionally purchase and supply alcohol to individuals under the legal age.” The minutes named two minors and included the statement, “Utter purchased and supplied alcohol to the group of individuals under the legal age.” (Emphasis added.)

Subsequently, the court ordered Utter to appear for an arraignment on June 26. On June 16 the court approved Utter's application for the appointment of counsel and appointed a public defender as her counsel. On June 26 Utter pled not guilty to the charge against her and demanded a speedy trial pursuant to Iowa Rule of Criminal Procedure 2.33(2)( b).

The court originally set the jury trial for July 27. However, at the pretrial conference the court reset the trial for August 24. On August 14 Utter withdrew her previous plea of not guilty and pled guilty. Utter indicated that she had reached a plea agreement with the State in which she would pay a $500 fine in monthly installments of $50 in exchange for pleading guilty. She also waived her right to file a motion in arrest of judgment and requested the court impose its sentence immediately. The court approved Utter's written waiver of rights and plea of guilty. Accordingly, the court imposed the $500 fine and added a thirty-two percent surcharge and a $270.64 restitution payment, which Utter was to pay in monthly installments of $50.

Utter appealed, arguing her trial counsel provided ineffective assistance by failing to file a motion to dismiss the charge based on the State's violation of Iowa's speedy indictment rule. We transferred the case to the court of appeals. The court of appeals affirmed the district court's judgment and preserved Utter's ineffective-assistance-of-counsel claim for possible postconviction relief proceedings. The court found Utter's trial counsel breached an essential duty by failing to file a motion to dismiss based upon the State's violation of the speedy indictment rule, but could not determine if prejudice resulted due to the inadequacy of the record on direct appeal. Utter filed an application for further review, which we granted.

II. Issue.

We must decide whether trial counsel provided ineffective assistance by allowing Utter to plead guilty despite the fact that the State failed to issue a speedy indictment pursuant to Iowa Rule of Criminal Procedure 2.33(2)( a).

III. Scope of Review.

We generally review a defendant's challenge to a guilty plea for correction of errors at law. State v. Ortiz, 789 N.W.2d 761, 764 (Iowa 2010). However, because Utter claims her guilty plea resulted from her trial counsel's ineffective assistance, a constitutional claim, our review is de novo. Id.; see also State v. Vance, 790 N.W.2d 775, 785 (Iowa 2010) (“Ineffective-assistance-of-counsel claims have their basis in the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution.”). We normally preserve ineffective-assistance-of-counsel claims for postconviction relief proceedings. State v. Palmer, 791 N.W.2d 840, 850 (Iowa 2010). Nonetheless, we will consider the merits of these claims on direct appeal as long as the record is adequate. Id. We believe the record is adequate in this case.

IV. Discussion and Analysis.

A. Generally. A defendant's plea of guilty is a serious act that he or she must do voluntarily, knowingly, and intelligently with an awareness of the relevant circumstances and consequences. Hill v. Lockhart, 474 U.S. 52, 56, 106 S.Ct. 366, 369, 88 L.Ed.2d 203, 208–09 (1985); Brady v. United States, 397 U.S. 742, 748, 90 S.Ct. 1463, 1468–69, 25 L.Ed.2d 747, 756 (1970); State v. Straw, 709 N.W.2d 128, 133 (Iowa 2006). Whether a defendant's guilty plea was intelligently made depends, in part, on whether the defendant was properly advised by competent counsel. Brady, 397 U.S. at 756, 90 S.Ct. at 1473, 25 L.Ed.2d at 760–61. “It is well established that a defendant's guilty plea waives all defenses and objections which are not intrinsic to the plea.” State v. Carroll, 767 N.W.2d 638, 641 (Iowa 2009). This means

[w]hen a criminal defendant has solemnly admitted in open court that he is in fact guilty of the offense with which he is charged, he may not thereafter raise independent claims relating to the deprivation of constitutional rights that occurred prior to the entry of the guilty plea. He may only attack the voluntary and intelligent character of the guilty plea....

Tollett v. Henderson, 411 U.S. 258, 267, 93 S.Ct. 1602, 1608, 36 L.Ed.2d 235, 243 (1973).

One way a defendant can intrinsically challenge the voluntary and intelligent nature of his or her guilty plea is to prove “the advice he [or she] received from counsel in connection with the plea was not within the range of competence demanded of attorneys in criminal cases.” Carroll, 767 N.W.2d at 642; accord Lockhart, 474 U.S. at 56–57, 106 S.Ct. at 369, 88 L.Ed.2d at 208–09; Tollett, 411 U.S. at 266–67, 93 S.Ct. at 1608, 36 L.Ed.2d at 243; Zacek v. Brewer, 241 N.W.2d 41, 50 (Iowa 1976). In Carroll, we recognized that all categories of ineffective-assistance-of-counsel claims can potentially survive a guilty plea. Carroll, 767 N.W.2d at 644. We stated,

Only through a case-by-case analysis will a court be able to determine whether counsel in a particular case breached a duty in advance of a guilty plea, and whether any such breach rendered the defendant's plea unintelligent or involuntary.

Id.

On appeal, Utter claims her trial counsel failed to perform an essential duty by failing to file a motion to dismiss based on the State's violation of the speedy indictment rule. She claims her trial counsel's failure worked to her actual and substantial disadvantage because the court would have dismissed the charge against her based upon the State's speedy indictment violation. Inherent in Utter's argument is the claim that her trial counsel's failure to file a motion to dismiss caused her to improvidently plead guilty to a charge that the State would have otherwise been barred from pursuing had her counsel performed effectively.

Accordingly, we must determine whether Utter's trial counsel breached an essential duty prior to her guilty plea and whether this breach rendered her plea unintelligent or involuntary. Id. As with all ineffective-assistance-of-counsel claims, Utter must establish her counsel failed to perform an essential duty and prejudice resulted from such failure. Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 687, 104 S.Ct. 2052, 2064, 80 L.Ed.2d 674, 693 (1984); Carroll, 767 N.W.2d at 644. Utter must prove both elements by a preponderance of the evidence. Straw, 709 N.W.2d at 133.

B. Failure to Perform an Essential Duty. Utter must prove her trial counsel “made errors so serious that counsel was not functioning as the counsel guaranteed the defendant by the Sixth Amendment,” in order to establish her counsel failed to perform an essential duty. Strickland, 466 U.S. at 687, 104 S.Ct. at 2064, 80 L.Ed.2d at 693. We begin with the presumption that counsel performed competently and measure counsel's performance objectively, “by determining whether counsel's assistance was reasonable, under prevailing professional norms, considering all the circumstances.” Vance, 790 N.W.2d at 785 (quoting State v. Lyman, 776 N.W.2d 865, 878 (Iowa 2010)) (internal quotation marks omitted). Because Utter's trial counsel has no duty to pursue a meritless issue, we must first consider whether the State violated the speedy indictment rule. Carroll, 767 N.W.2d at 645.

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