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Iowa Supreme Court Reverses OWI-2nd for Defective Stipulation to Prior Convictions

Today the Iowa Supreme Court in State v. Clark Brewster held that a district associate court judge’s colloquy was insufficient to demonstrate the knowing voluntary waiver of the second part of an OWI-2nd offense jury trial.

Justice Hecht wrote the opinion for the Court. He noted that in a jury trial for OWI-2nd or 3rd offense, the State must prove that the Defendant operated under the influence and that they have one or more prior convictions for the same offense, respectively.

The trial is bifurcated, or, split, so that the jury is not aware of the prior offense accusation while they are deliberating the merits of the operating under the influence.

In Brewster, the Court inquired as to whether the Defendant wished to stipulate to the prior offense:

THE COURT: So you and [your counsel] have discussed the fact that the separate trial will be required to determine whether or not you had the prior conviction in the event the jury finds you guilty in this case?

THE DEFENDANT: Yes, ma’am.

THE COURT: My question to you at this time is whether or not you are willing to admit that you have previously been convicted of the offense of Operating While Under the Influence in Linn County within the past 12 years or whether or not you wish the jury to find whether or not you are the same person who has that prior conviction?

THE DEFENDANT: Yes. Because — yes, ma’am.

THE COURT: You are the same person?

THE DEFENDANT: Yes, ma’am. THE COURT: So you are willing to admit at this time that in the event the jury finds a verdict of guilty in this case, that it would be as a second offense? THE DEFENDANT: Yes, ma’am.

THE COURT: And you do not need the jury to decide that separate element.


Brewster at 2-3.

Justice Hecht, comparing the colloquy to its 2017 decision in the Harrington case, held that the OWI and habitual felon offender status enhancements were similar in kind if not degree. In the Harrington case, the Court required that stipulation, or, waiver of a trial on the merits of the enhancement required a thorough exchange between the judge and the defendant to impose the habitual felony to triple felony sentences up to a maximum of fifteen years effectively increasing Class “D” and Class “C” felony convictions from five and ten years, respectively, to fifteen with mandatory minimum three years in prison.

Judges must find a factual basis that the enhancement applies, that defendants were represented during their prior convictions, and that they understand the range of increased penalties to which they subject themselves by giving up and stipulating to the previous cases. The exchange must also detail the trial rights a defendant gives up by stipulating to the priors, including all attendant trial rights to which they are entitled in the first half of the trial. The Court held that the exchange in Brewster failed to advise the Defendant of his trial rights, that the prior OWI conviction could be a basis for enhancing the classification of the crime and the sentence only if he was represented by counsel in the first drunk driving conviction, and that it failed to inform him that the stipulating to the offense exposed him to minimum seven days in jail and maximum two years in prison.

The opinion reversed the judgment of conviction and vacated the sentence for OWI, second offense, and remand for further rule 2.19(9) proceedings consistent with its opinion.

NOTE: David A. Cmelik Law PLC has no affiliation with the Brewster case.

If you or a loved one have been arrested for OWI (DUI) in Cedar Rapids or other Iowa community, contact David A. Cmelik Law PLC for a free initial consultation. However, remember that a blog is not legal advice and that sending unsolicited information to a lawyer over the Internet does not establish an attorney-client relationship.

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