State v. Young

Decision Date03 April 2015
Docket NumberNo. 13–0983.,13–0983.
Citation863 N.W.2d 249
PartiesSTATE of Iowa, Appellee, v. Archaletta Latrice YOUNG, Appellant.
CourtIowa Supreme Court

Mark C. Smith, State Appellate Defender, Rachel C. Regenold, Assistant Appellate Defender, and Austin Mouw, Student Legal Intern, for appellant.

Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, Sharon K. Hall, Assistant Attorney General, John P. Sarcone, County Attorney, and Kevin D. Hathaway, Assistant County Attorney, for appellee.


APPEL, Justice.

In this case, we consider whether a misdemeanor conviction pursuant to a guilty plea by an incarcerated poor person who did not have the assistance of counsel, may later be used by the State as a predicate offense for application of a theft statute in which the crime is enhanced if the defendant has two prior theft offenses. The district court concluded the prior uncounseled misdemeanor conviction could be used as an offense to trigger enhanced punishment when the facts surrounding the prior conviction were that the defendant failed to appear; she was arrested and held in jail for one day prior to her initial appearance; and at the initial appearance, upon pleading guilty, she was sentenced to one day in jail, with credit for time served.

For the reasons expressed below, we conclude that under the right to counsel provision of article I, section 10 of the Iowa Constitution, a misdemeanor defendant has a right to the assistance of counsel when the defendant faces the possibility of imprisonment. Because the poor defendant in this case was not provided the assistance of counsel and the State stipulated there was not a valid waiver, the prior misdemeanor conviction cannot be used as a predicate offense to enhance a later punishment consistent with fundamental fairness demanded by the due process clause of article I, section 9 of the Iowa Constitution. As a result, we reverse the decision of the district court and remand for further proceedings.

I. Factual and Procedural Background.

In June 2003, Archaletta Young was issued a citation for theft in the fifth degree for stealing $104.28 worth of merchandise from Walmart. See Iowa Code § 714.2(5) (2003). She failed to appear at her initial appearance, however, and the court issued a warrant for her arrest. At her initial appearance, without counsel, Young pled guilty to theft in the fifth degree, a simple misdemeanor, and was sentenced to one day in jail with credit for time served and received a fine.

About nine-and-one-half years later, Walmart store security observed Young stealing $94.87 worth of clothing. The State filed a trial information alleging theft in the third degree under Iowa Code section 714.2(3) (2011).1 This Code section provides: “the theft of any property not exceeding five hundred dollars in value by one who has before been twice convicted of theft, is theft in the third degree.” Id. “Theft in the third degree is an aggravated misdemeanor.” Id.

The State claimed Young was guilty of theft in the third degree based on her current crime and two prior theft convictions. One of the prior theft convictions that the State alleged supported theft in the third degree was Young's 2003 conviction of theft in the fifth degree. Young does not challenge the propriety of using the other prior fifth-degree-theft conviction as an enhancement predicate and thus no issues in this appeal are raised in connection with that conviction. However, under the statute, two prior fifth-degree-theft offenses are required to trigger the elevation of a subsequent fifth-degree-theft conviction to theft in the third degree.

Prior to trial, Young filed a motion to strike the 2003 prior theft conviction as a basis to support the charge of third-degree theft. In her motion, Young asserted that because she was not represented by counsel when she pled guilty and served a term of incarceration, the conviction was infirm under article I, sections 9 and 10 of the Iowa Constitution. As a result, Young argued the conviction could not be used to enhance her later crime. The State resisted, asserting that under applicable precedent, the uncounseled misdemeanor conviction could be used to enhance the later offense.

The trial court held a hearing on the issue. Young asked the court to judicially notice the content of the 2003 misdemeanor file, which the court agreed to do. The State recognized State v. Allen, 690 N.W.2d 684, 687 (Iowa 2005), stands for the proposition that a conviction cannot be used to enhance a later crime if the defendant was denied his or her constitutional right to counsel in the prior proceeding. The State contended, however, that Young had no right to counsel in the 2003 simple misdemeanor proceedings because realistically in these proceedings the defendant is given either a fine or credit for time served. The State further argued that in cases like Young's 2003 misdemeanor, a defendant would not benefit from counsel because no additional term of incarceration normally results after the entry of a guilty plea.

In rebuttal, Young noted that a client facing a simple misdemeanor conviction should be advised that the conviction could be used later to enhance a subsequent crime. She also asserted Iowa Rule of Criminal Procedure 2.19(9) supported her assertion that the uncounseled misdemeanor conviction could not be used to enhance her later crime.

The State responded that sentence enhancements are collateral matters that do not give rise to ineffective-assistance claims. The State further asserted that rule 2.19 does not create an independent right to counsel.

Upon the conclusion of oral argument, the court asked the parties to file briefs in support of their respective positions. Young repeated her assertion that in order for a conviction to serve as a basis for enhancement it must be constitutionally valid. Young claimed the 2003 simple misdemeanor could not be a predicate to enhancement because she did not have an attorney; did not waive her right to an attorney; was ultimately sentenced to a term of imprisonment, namely one day with credit for time served; and received a fine. As a result, Young claimed her 2003 conviction was constitutionally infirm and could not be used to support an enhanced charge in the case.

In response, the State conceded Young did not have an attorney and did not waive the right to have one. Citing Allen, 690 N.W.2d at 693, the State argued an uncounseled simple misdemeanor conviction may be used to enhance a later charge when the defendant was not actually sentenced to a term of incarceration. While the State recognized Young was incarcerated for one day for her failure to appear in court, the State argued that the incarceration for one day was not punishment for the underlying offense, but was designed to ensure the defendant's presence for the criminal proceedings. Thus, according to the State, the 2003 uncounseled simple misdemeanor conviction was not constitutionally defective.

The district court rejected Young's argument and found the one day of incarceration was not additional incarceration resulting from her guilty plea. Although Young cited the wrong rule of criminal procedure, the court cited Iowa Rule of Criminal Procedure 2.61(2) and concluded Young's situation was not one in which “the defendant face[d] the possibility of imprisonment” requiring the appointment of counsel under the rule.

Young waived a jury trial and stipulated to a trial on the minutes. The district court found Young guilty of theft in the third degree and possession of a controlled substance and sentenced Young to consecutive suspended sentences of two years and two years of probation. Young appealed.

II. Standard of Review.

Constitutional issues are reviewed de novo, but when there is no factual dispute, review is for correction of errors at law. State v. Majeres, 722 N.W.2d 179, 181 (Iowa 2006). In interpreting the Iowa Rules of Criminal Procedure, our review is for correction of errors at law. State v. Jones, 817 N.W.2d 11, 15 (Iowa 2012).

III. Discussion.

A. Preliminary Issues. Several preliminary aspects of this case deserve attention. First, the State concedes that if the 2003 conviction was obtained in violation of Young's right to counsel, then the 2003 conviction cannot be used to enhance Young's 2012 offense. Second, the State concedes Young did not waive her right to counsel during the 2003 proceeding. Thus, if Young's 2003 conviction was obtained in violation of Young's right to counsel under the State or Federal Constitution, it cannot be used to enhance the 2012 offense.

There is also a potential preservation issue in this case. In the written motion to strike the enhancement, the defendant relied on Allen, 690 N.W.2d at 263, and the right-to-counsel and due process provisions of the Iowa Constitution. At oral argument and in postargument submissions, the defendant also cited the right-to-counsel and due process provisions of the United States Constitution. The district court order explicitly considered Allen and the Iowa Constitution, but did not address the question under the United States Constitution.

Even if there was a failure to preserve issues under the United States Constitution, such claims, and any other claim inartfully made or not preserved, could be resurrected under the aegis of an ineffective-assistance-of-counsel claim. See State v. Brubaker, 805 N.W.2d 164, 170 (Iowa 2011) (“Failure of trial counsel to preserve error at trial can support an ineffective-assistance-of-counsel claim.”). Because we conclude that under the Iowa Constitution, a defendant facing the possibility of imprisonment in a misdemeanor proceeding has a constitutional right to counsel, Young's uncounseled 2003 misdemeanor conviction cannot be used to enhance her 2012 crime. As a result, any failure to preserve the issue under the Federal Constitution or any other claim is of no consequence.

B. Setting the Contextual Stage: Do Misdemeanor Convictions Matter? Misdemeanors are by definition crimes less serious than...

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