Supreme Court Overturns Felony Guilty Plea for 35% Surcharge Omission
December 23, 2017—in State v. Jason Weitzel, an Iowa criminal direct appeal companion case to Diallo issued the same day, Iowa Supreme Court Justice Wiggins’ opinion for the court again addressed whether a district court substantially complied with the rules of criminal procedure accepting a guilty plea without notifying a defendant of a required 35% surcharge on a fine. Whereas Diallo was a written serious misdemeanor plea, the Wietzel case involved a felony and an in person colloquy with the judge.
The Court noted that an Iowa district court criminal plea taking can run afoul of Iowa R. Crim. Pro. 2.8 by failing to properly lay out the range of penalties. The Court spent considerable distinguishing “rules based” violations from due process violations, as did the Court of Appeals before it. The line between a mere “rules based” violation and a due process violation can be blurred, the Court noted. The Court therefore refused to draw “a line of demarcation” between rules based violations and due process violations.
Substantial compliance with the rule, Justice Wiggins wrote, is “the essence of each requirement [in the rule] expressed to allow the court to perform its important role in each case.” Technical failures will sometimes be excused, the Court held.
The Court recalled an earlier case where a judge “failed” to notify a defendant that he waived a jury trial if he pled guilty. This failure was deemed merely “technical” because that judge in the example had, however, advised the defendant that if “he pled not guilty, he would be entitled to a jury trial.” The Court noted that if you plead not guilty and get a jury trial, the converse would also be true, e.g., if you plead guilty you don’t get a jury trial. In that case, it held, there was substantial compliance with the rule.
Justice Wiggins noted that “surcharges are punishment” and that the defendant had a right to know to what punishment he subjected himself by pleading guilty. Unlike the jury trial right example above, the Court noted that the district court in the case at bar committed a “wholesale omission” of the surcharge without a “hint” of compliance wherein the Weitzel defendant was therefore “uninformed of the true maximum possible punishment.”
In so doing, the Court failed to substantially comply with Rule 2.8 and the case had to be reversed and remanded to the district court.
NOTE: David A. Cmelik Law PLC has no affiliation to the Weitzel case.
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