Iowa Supreme Court to hear arguments in three criminal cases on Aug. 8

By: Rox Laird on August 7th, 2019

The Iowa Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in three criminal appeals on Aug. 8. Following are brief summaries of the three cases. For more information, go to On Brief’s Cases in the Pipeline page to read the briefs and other documents related to these appeals.

State v. Macke

Set for oral argument Aug. 8, 9 a.m.

Erin Macke appeals a March 20 Iowa Court of Appeals decision affirming her conviction and sentence in Polk County District Court on four counts of child endangerment, which were brought after she left her children home alone while she traveled to Germany. Macke agreed to a plea agreement with Polk County prosecutors where she would enter an “Alford plea,” in which she maintained her innocence while acknowledging the State has enough evidence to win a conviction. In exchange, the State agreed to seek a deferred judgment and probation.

At sentencing, however, instead of requesting a deferred judgment, as it had earlier agreed, the State asked for a suspended sentence and probation. Macke’s trial counsel did not object to the State’s change at the sentencing hearing, and Macke now asks the Supreme Court to reverse her sentence, claiming ineffective assistance of counsel.

In her application for further review, Macke’s appellate counsel also asks the Supreme Court to adopt plain error review in such cases, where the error at the trial-court level was not that of the defense counsel but another party, such as the prosecutor. Iowa is one of two states that have not adopted the plain error rule.

Plain error review, as explained in federal rules of civil procedure, provides that a “plain error that affects substantial rights may be considered even though it was not brought to the court’s attention.”

Macke’s appellate counsel points out that, in concurring opinions, individual Iowa Supreme Court justices have suggested adopting plain error review in Iowa. For example, Justice Edward Mansfield in a 2014 concurring opinion, wrote: “In some respects, we are using ineffective assistance as a substitute for a plain error rule, which we do not have in Iowa. . . . Even as we use the terminology ‘ineffective assistance’ as a tool to review criminal convictions, I think is especially important that we do not appear to be criticizing counsel when we are talking about a legal construct of this court.”

State v. Draine

Set for oral argument Aug. 8, 9 a.m.

Darreon Corta Draine seeks review of a May 15 Iowa Court of Appeals decision affirming his conviction, judgment and 10-year sentence for willful injury causing serious injury following his guilty plea in Scott County District Court.

Draine argues the trial court erred in denying a motion by Draine’s counsel for an order that the defendant undergo a competency examination.

Draine, age 16 at the time of the trial, was charged with physically assaulting and injuring a counselor at a juvenile facility where he had been living. Juvenile authorities had diagnosed Draine with emotional disabilities and low intellectual abilities. At a hearing to consider the motion for a competency evaluation, Draine’s attorney told the court he had difficulty communicating with the defendant, Draine didn’t recognize his attorney when he visited him in jail, and at one point threatened him.

Daine asks the Supreme Court to reverse his conviction and remand his case for further proceedings.

State v. Trane

Set for argument Aug. 8, 9 a.m.

Benjamin G. Trane appeals from his conviction in Lee County District Court for assault with intent to commit sexual abuse, sexual exploitation by a counselor and child endangerment. Trane urges the Supreme Court to reverse the trial court’s denial of his motion for a new trial, and remand for a hearing on grounds raised in his motion for a new trial, or remand for a new trial or for dismissal.

Trane raises six issues on appeal, including an issue of first impression: May a defendant raise a claim of ineffective assistance of trial counsel when seeking a new trial in a criminal case?

Trane owned and supervised Midwest Academy, a therapeutic boarding school for juveniles in Keokuk. He was accused of sexual abuse by a female resident, who was 16 when she entered the facility. Following a jury conviction, and the withdrawal of his trial counsel, Trane sought a new trial after he retained new counsel, arguing among other things ineffective assistance of his trial counsel.

In a brief on behalf of Trane filed with the Supreme Court, Trane’s appellate counsel wrote that the trial court was wrong to rule that Trane could not present claims of ineffective assistance of counsel in seeking a new trial.

“Practically speaking,” the appellate counsel wrote, “ineffective-assistance claims are rarely raised by counsel under Rule 2.24 [of Iowa’s rules of criminal procedure] because the attorney would be criticizing his or her own work from only months or weeks earlier. To that end, trial counsel is typically not allowed to withdraw between trial and sentencing. However, the ‘ordinary’ does not dictate an individual’s constitutional right to a fair trial, nor does it control this Court’s interpretation of Rule 2.24. Here, Trane’s trial counsel did withdraw, the trial court authorized the withdrawal, and new counsel did intend to raise several meritorious claims in support of a new trial.”

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On Brief is devoted to appellate litigation, with a focus on the Iowa Supreme Court, the Iowa Court of Appeals, and the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit.
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