Iowa Supreme Court: deferred judgment revocations subject to appeal
November 6, 2020 - In State v. Ashley Thompson, the Iowa Supreme Court reversed a criminal conviction for child neglect entered upon revocation of a deferred judgment. The case involved a 2019 Iowa law change that limits direct criminal appeals from guilty pleas. The State’s argument on appeal was that it was barred by the new law. However, the State acknowledged that the order revoking the deferred judgment lacked written findings showing the factual basis. If the court reached the merits, the State reasoned, the case would have to go back to the lower court for a new hearing.
In 2019, the Iowa Legislature passed, and the Governor signed into law, a bill that significantly restricted direct criminal appeals from guilty pleas unless “good cause” exists. The Iowa Supreme Court recounted its relatively recent history interpreting this law, noting that in State v. Damme, the Iowa Supreme Court defined “good cause” as a “legally sufficient reason.” The Court noted that a defendant may have good cause to appeal a guilty plea where the sentence is neither mandatory nor agreed upon. In this new case, State v. Thompson, the Iowa Supreme Court extended that rule to criminal sentencing orders revoking deferred judgments after the “good cause” criminal appeal law took effect-- even those deriving from deferred judgments granted before 2019.
In Thompson, a child protective services representative conducted a visit on the home of a disabled toddler. When the social worker arrived, the father allegedly fled out the back door. Inside, authorities say they seized methamphetamine and knives. According to law enforcement, the toddler tested positive for methamphetamine and marijuana and showed signs of medical and nutritional neglect.
According to the Iowa Supreme Court opinion, a pediatrician opined to police that the child was denied medicine, nutrition, and safety resulting in a surgery to replace a medical device—all of which, say police, resulted in a risk of injury or death due to medical neglect.
The biological mother pled guilty to child neglect and the court entered an order deferring judgment. The Court ultimately revoked that deferred judgment—but did not state the reasons on the record or in the sentencing order, which is required under Iowa law.
The biological mother appealed the sentence revoking the deferred judgment but not the underlying guilty plea. The Iowa Supreme Court held that she could do so under the 2019 law. However, it merely reversed and remanded with instructions to hold another probation revocation hearing to determine whether the defendant should be revoked and, if so, for the lower court to state its reasons.
Note: David A. Cmelik Law PLC had no involvement in State v. Thompson.
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