This appeal presents a frontal attack on the validity of a key provision in our supervisory orders promulgated in response to the COVID-19 global pandemic. The defendant, represented by counsel, signed and entered his written plea of guilty to a class "C" felony. He brings this direct appeal challenging the validity of that plea.
He argues that the rules of criminal procedure, our precedent, and due process require an in-person plea colloquy in open court and that our supervisory orders temporarily allowing written pleas violate due process and separation of powers. We adopted these supervisory orders as a health and safety measure during the pandemic, and it is worth noting that attorneys in the Office of the State Appellate Defender, which represents the defendant, have often asked our court during the pandemic to be excused from appearing in person before our court for similar health and safety reasons. The State argues the appeal should be dismissed because the defendant cannot establish the requisite good cause to proceed under Iowa Code
On our review, we hold the defendant meets the good cause requirement by presenting questions of first impression as to the validity of our supervisory orders and his written guilty plea to a felony. We uphold our supervisory orders as lawful exercises of our constitutional and inherent authority during the pandemic. We reject his due process and separation of powers challenges to his written plea, and we affirm his conviction.
I. Background Facts and Proceedings.
On June 6, 2019, Fayette Police Department Chief Benjamin Davis received a phone call at 10:45 p.m. from a former tenant of a rental townhouse who was awaiting the return of his security deposit and came back to see if the house cleaner was doing her job. He looked through a window and saw her with a man inside weighing a "mound of cocaine." Chief Davis called the owners who said they had a house cleaner but no one should be inside the townhouse at that hour.
Police arrived to find two individuals in the garage: Terri Woods and Timothy Basquin. Chief Davis ordered them to remain in the garage while he entered the townhouse to look for other persons. He found baggies containing a white powder, a pipe, and a scale on the kitchen counter. Woods and Basquin were arrested and transported to jail, where Basquin turned over another baggie with a white substance. Police confiscated approximately four grams of methamphetamine in total.
The owners identified Woods as the house cleaner, whom they had not given permission to live there. They knew Woods had a friend who helped her haul trash. The owners gave police permission to search the entire townhouse. The police found clothing, makeup, and bedding that indicated Woods was living there. Basquin's motorcycle was in the garage. No additional controlled substances were found.
On June 7, at Basquin's initial appearance, the court appointed counsel to represent him. His bond was later modified to permit pretrial release. On June 17, the attorney moved to withdraw due to a breakdown in the attorney-client relationship. The court allowed the withdrawal and appointed new counsel on June 17. The second lawyer moved to withdraw. The court granted the motion and appointed a third attorney to represent Basquin on July 9. The same day, the State filed, and the court approved, the trial information charging Basquin for the manufacture, delivery, or possession with intent to manufacture or deliver a controlled substance— methamphetamine—in violation of Iowa Code section 124.401(1)(c)(6) (2019), and burglary in the third degree, in violation of sections 713.6A(1) and 713.1. On July 19, Basquin filed a written arraignment and plea of not guilty and waived his right to speedy trial.
After cycling through five different attorneys and after numerous procedural delays, pursuant to the supervisory order concerning COVID-19, Basquin was permitted to file a written Alford guilty plea on November 12, 2020, in lieu of an in-person hearing. In the written plea, Basquin affirmed in writing that he was represented by counsel who was "willing to defend [him] at trial if [he] desire[s] a trial"
Basquin stated in writing that he understood the plea agreement to be in exchange for his plea to the drug charge, the State would dismiss the burglary charge and recommend probation for two years and the suspension of fines, surcharges, and court costs. The prosecutor initialed the terms of the plea agreement. Basquin affirmed his understanding in writing of the maximum and minimum sentence for the drug charge and the enumerated rights he was forfeiting, including his right to a trial. Basquin marked that he understood "that the Court is not bound by the plea agreement and may sentence [him] up to the maximum sentence provided by law," but he also wrote "n/a" off to the side of that provision.
His written plea waived his right of allocution and his "right to a hearing in open court for [his] guilty plea and for sentencing." The written document requested that he be sentenced immediately. Basquin acknowledged in writing that he has "discussed all possible legal defenses with [his] attorney" and understood that by "pleading guilty to a felony [he] may lose [his] right to serve on a jury, vote, and own firearms" and "may also become ineligible to receive state and federal benefits." He affirmed in writing that he understood that he has "no absolute right to appeal a guilty plea" and that if he alleges "good cause and/or a defect in this plea proceeding," he has thirty days to appeal. Basquin acknowledged in writing:
Basquin appeared in person at the sentencing hearing on November 13. The district court found that "the plea was freely, voluntarily and intelligently made and that there was a factual basis for the plea." Basquin was found guilty of violating section 124.401(1)(c)(6) and was sentenced to a suspended ten-year prison sentence, suspended fines and surcharges, and informal probation for two years. The court found that Basquin was unable to reasonably pay category "B" restitution. The court considered the nature of the offense, the plea agreement, and his prior record. Basquin did not file a motion in arrest of judgment. On December 1, Basquin's counsel filed a notice of appeal.
On appeal, Basquin, through new counsel, argues the Iowa Supreme Court's COVID-19 supervisory orders authorizing written felony guilty pleas violated "precedent, due process, and separation of powers." The State argues Basquin lacks good cause to appeal under section 814.6(1)(a)(3) and our court has "the authority and duty to temporarily amend or suspend a rule of criminal procedure during a crisis" without violating due process or separation of powers. We retained the case.
II. Standard of Review.
"We review constitutional issues de novo." Klouda v. Sixth Jud. Dist. Dep't of Corr. Servs., 642 N.W.2d 255, 260 (Iowa 2002). "We review challenges to plea proceedings for correction of errors at law."
We begin our analysis with an overview of how our supervisory orders temporarily changed our traditional guilty plea procedure. We then review the State's argument that we lack jurisdiction under section 814.6(1)(a)(3) to hear this appeal. After concluding we have jurisdiction, we review our authority to issue supervisory orders during the COVID-19 pandemic and Basquin's separation of powers and due process claims. To the extent Basquin blames his lawyer for his guilty plea, his ineffective assistance of counsel claim must be presented in postconviction proceedings. See Iowa Code § 814.7; State v. Tucker, 959 N.W.2d 140, 152 (Iowa 2021) ("[T]he law merely diverts all claims of ineffective assistance of counsel to postconviction-relief proceedings and requires they be resolved there in the first instance.").
The court should also inquire if there is a plea deal and "[t]he terms of any plea agreement shall be disclosed." Id. r. 2.8(2)(c). We permit district courts to accept a written guilty plea for serious or aggravated misdemeanors if the defendant desires. Id. r. 2.8(2)(b) (last paragraph). We have held "that a written guilty plea to a felony could not `serve as a substitute for a question the court is required to pose to the defendant directly.'" State v. Loye, 670 N.W.2d 141, 153 (Iowa 2003) (quoting State v. Hook, 623 N.W.2d 865, 870 (Iowa 2001) (en banc), abrogated in part on other grounds by State v. Barnes, 652 N.W.2d 466, 468 (Iowa 2002) (per curiam)); see also State v. Finney, 834 N.W.2d 46, 59 n.3 (Iowa 2013) (refusing to extend the written guilty plea practice to felonies "[b]ecause of the graver consequences resulting from a felony conviction").
Basquin entered his written guilty plea on November 12, 2020. Although the State Public Defender, in subsequent correspondences, had by then pulled back to some extent from his April 9 "work directive," the office remained opposed to in-person hearings "except in limited circumstances." Our governing supervisory order issued on May 22, 2020, provided: "Through December 31, 2020, district courts may accept written guilty pleas in felony cases in the same manner as in serious and aggravated misdemeanors cases. See Iowa R. Crim. P. 2.8(2)(b) (last paragraph)." May 2020 Supervisory Order, at 7 (emphasis added). This order was designed to "provide an up-to-date list of the measures now in effect because of COVID-19 outbreak and their expected duration" and "provide a timetable for the resumption of more normal court operations." Id. at 1.
We have not yet adjudicated the validity of written guilty pleas to felonies entered pursuant to our supervisory orders. Basquin's challenge to his guilty plea raises constitutional issues of first impression. Indeed, the State's routing statement urges our court to retain this appeal because it "poses a substantial constitutional question, issue of first-impression, issue of fundamental and urgent public importance, or question of enunciating or changing legal principles." We conclude Basquin has good cause to appeal, allowing us to decide his claims on the merits.
We conclude that we had the constitutional authority to issue the supervisory orders that temporarily suspended
We recently reviewed our court's constitutional powers in State v. Thompson. "The constitutional duty of the judicial department is to exercise the judicial power to provide for the fair and impartial administration of justice." Thompson, 954 N.W.2d at 410. "The judicial department has several fonts of authority to regulate court practice and procedure in all Iowa courts." Id. at 411. The constitution grants us the ability to "exercise a supervisory and administrative control over all inferior judicial tribunals throughout the state." Iowa Const. art. V, § 4. "The grant of the power of supervision and administration implies a duty to exercise it. In fact, the language of the constitution is mandatory that we must do so. And necessarily this power must apply to something beyond the ordinary appellate procedure and correction of errors of law...." In re Judges of Mun. Ct., 256 Iowa 1135, 130 N.W.2d 553, 554 (1964) (per curiam). The constitution grants us "unlimited supervisory control over inferior tribunals throughout the state, and authority to issue all writs and process necessary to secure justice to parties." Hutchins, 157 N.W. at 889; see also State v. Davis, 493 N.W.2d 820, 822 (Iowa 1992) ("Iowa Rule of Criminal Procedure 54 and Iowa Rule of Civil Procedure 309 do not limit our article V constitutional power to grant discretionary review of decisions rendered by other judicial tribunals."). The constitution allows us to use our supervisory and administrative authority when necessary, which includes responding to a global pandemic.
Additionally, we have inherent, statutory, and common law authority to prescribe rules of practice for Iowa courts. "The judicial department possesses inherent authority to craft protocols and procedures in its courts." Thompson, 954 N.W.2d at 411; see also Hammon v. Gilson, 227 Iowa 1366, 291 N.W. 448, 451-52 (1940) (recognizing "that courts have the inherent power to prescribe such rules of practice and rules to regulate their proceedings, in order to expedite the trial of cases, and to keep their dockets clear, and to facilitate the administration of justice"). We have statutory authorization to "prescribe all rules of pleading, practice, evidence, and procedure, and the forms of process, writs, and notices, for all proceedings in all courts of this state, for the purposes of simplifying the proceedings and promoting the speedy determination of litigation upon its merits." Iowa Code § 602.4201(1); see Thompson, 954 N.W.2d at 411.
Certain rules, such as the rules of criminal procedure, are subject to the rulemaking process in section 602.4202, and permanent rule changes to those certain rules must be submitted to the legislative council before the rules can
In addition, "the judicial department possesses residual common law authority to meet its `independent constitutional and statutory responsibilities.'" Thompson, 954 N.W.2d at 411 (quoting Iowa C.L. Union v. Critelli, 244 N.W.2d 564, 569 (Iowa 1976) (en banc)). For example, "our cases have consistently recognized the inherent common-law power of the courts to adopt rules for the management of cases on their dockets in the absence of statute." Critelli, 244 N.W.2d at 568-69. "[A] contrary holding might leave the courts without rules of practice." Id. at 569. Indeed, for many years, district courts have conducted trials on the minutes of testimony without a permanent rule or statute authorizing that practice.
The Iowa Constitution also grants the legislature "authority to regulate the practice and procedure in all Iowa courts." Thompson, 954 N.W.2d at 411; see also Iowa Const. art. V, §§ 4 ("The supreme court shall have appellate jurisdiction ... under such restrictions as the general assembly may, by law, prescribe...."), 6 ("The district court shall ... have jurisdiction in civil and criminal matters arising in their respective districts, in such manner as shall be prescribed by law."), 14 ("It shall be the duty of the general assembly to provide for the carrying into effect of this article, and to provide for a general system of practice in all the courts of this state."). "It is the legislative department's constitutional prerogative to establish a general system of practice in all Iowa courts so long as those restrictions and regulations do not impede the immediate, necessary, efficient, or basic functioning of the appellate courts." Thompson, 954 N.W.2d at 418.
Given the legislature's power to regulate the courts, "[w]e may not `change [statutory] terms under the guise of judicial construction.'" Root v. Toney, 841 N.W.2d 83, 89 (Iowa 2013) (second alteration in original) (quoting Iowa Dep't of Transp. v. Soward, 650 N.W.2d 569, 571 (Iowa 2002)); see also Iowa Code § 602.4202(4) ("If the general assembly enacts a bill changing a rule or form, the general assembly's enactment supersedes a conflicting provision in the rule or form as submitted by the supreme court."). In Root v. Toney, we concluded that "the time allowed to file a notice of appeal cannot be reduced without legislative approval" because the legislature had enacted Iowa Code section 4.1(34), providing for an extension of time to file an appeal. 841 N.W.2d at 89-90. In the instant case, the legislature has not enacted a statute prohibiting written guilty pleas to felonies. Thus, our constitutional, inherent, statutory,
For those reasons, we reject Basquin's claim that we lacked authority to issue the supervisory orders temporarily allowing written guilty pleas to felonies.
Iowa Const. art. III, Three Separate Departments, § 1. The doctrine is not rigid. Klouda, 642 N.W.2d at 260. "[S]ome acts can be properly entrusted to more than one branch of government, and some functions inevitably intersect." Id. (quoting State v. Hoegh, 632 N.W.2d 885, 889 (Iowa 2001)). The constitution has entrusted both the legislature and the judiciary with ensuring that the judicial branch functions and administers justice. See, e.g., Iowa Const. art. V, §§ 4, 6, 14.
The separation of powers doctrine prohibits a department of the government "from exercising `powers that are clearly forbidden' to it," "from exercising `powers granted by the constitution to another branch,'" and from "impair[ing] another in the performance of its constitutional duties." Thompson, 954 N.W.2d at 410 (quoting Klouda, 642 N.W.2d at 260 (emphasis omitted)). "[E]ach department of government must be and remain independent if the constitutional safeguards are to be maintained." Id. (quoting Webster Cnty. Bd. of Supervisors v. Flattery, 268 N.W.2d 869, 873 (Iowa 1978) (en banc)).
To decide if the judiciary exercised forbidden powers or powers committed to another branch, "we first look to the words used by our framers to ascertain intent and the meaning of our constitution and to the common understanding of those words." Id. (quoting Chiodo v. Section 43.24 Panel, 846 N.W.2d 845, 851 (Iowa 2014)). Article V, section 4 of the Iowa Constitution grants the judiciary supervisory and administrative power, which necessarily "must apply to something beyond the ordinary appellate procedure and correction of errors of law." In re Judges of Mun. Ct., 130 N.W.2d at 554.
Our COVID-19 supervisory orders providing for temporary procedural measures in response to a global pandemic fall well within this grant of constitutional authority dedicated to the judicial branch. We also can rely on our inherent, statutory, and common law authority, as discussed above, as a source of power for the COVID-19 supervisory orders. We likewise did not use any power granted exclusively to another branch of government.
Critelli, 244 N.W.2d at 569. The legislature has not attempted to countermand the supervisory orders at issue. Basquin's separation of powers argument fails.
Departures from the in-person colloquy required under Iowa Rule of Criminal Procedure 2.8(2)(b) do not automatically render Basquin's plea involuntary. McCarthy v. United States, 394 U.S. 459, 464-65, 89 S.Ct. 1166, 22 L.Ed.2d 418 (1969); State v. Kirchoff, 452 N.W.2d 801, 804 (Iowa 1990) (en banc). In McCarthy v. United States, the Supreme Court explained that the procedure embodied in the federal rule of criminal procedure governing guilty pleas "is designed to assist the district judge in making the constitutionally required determination that a defendant's guilty plea is truly voluntary." 394 U.S. at 465, 89 S.Ct. 1166. It "is intended to produce a complete record at the time the plea is entered of the factors relevant to this voluntariness determination" and the more the procedure is followed, "the more it tends to discourage, or at least to enable more expeditious disposition of, the numerous and often frivolous post-conviction attacks on the constitutional validity of guilty pleas." Id.
In Brainard v. State, we concluded that "[b]y taking the few minutes required to engage in this colloquy, the trial judge can assure the defendant is on notice of the basic rights waived by his guilty plea and obviate the burden and necessity upon later review of searching the entire record for evidence of that knowledge." 222 N.W.2d 711, 717 (Iowa 1974) (en banc). In State v. Kirchoff, we applied those principles to our rules of criminal procedure:
452 N.W.2d at 804. The rule helps ensure constitutional requirements for guilty pleas
"We have indicated that `the process due in each case is flexible depending on the particular circumstances.'" In re A.B., 956 N.W.2d 162, 170 (Iowa 2021) (quoting In re M.D., 921 N.W.2d 229, 235 (Iowa 2018)). We rejected a due process challenge to our COVID-19 supervisory order allowing telephonic testimony in proceedings to terminate parental rights and the juvenile court's denial of a parent's motion for a continuance until the hearing could be conducted in person. Id. at 170-71. We agreed with the reasoning of a thorough, published opinion of our court of appeals that reached the same conclusion. Id. at 170 (citing In re A.H., 950 N.W.2d 27, 39-41 (Iowa Ct. App. 2020)). In that decision, the court of appeals carefully balanced the competing interests, including the health risks of in-person hearings, the risk or error, and the cost of delayed permanency, in determining that due process requirements were met. In re A.H., 950 N.W.2d at 33-41; see also Mathews v. Eldridge, 424 U.S. 319, 335, 96 S.Ct. 893, 47 L.Ed.2d 18 (1976) (setting forth the balancing test for procedural due process claims).
In balancing the competing interests here, Basquin's due process challenge fails. We give considerable weight to the governmental interest in safeguarding the public from the spread of contagious diseases. See Beeks v. Dickinson County, 131 Iowa 244, 108 N.W. 311, 312-13 (1906) (rejecting tort claims against public officials who imposed a quarantine for smallpox). The State Public Defender supported shutting down in-person hearings and offered no criticism of our supervisory orders allowing written guilty pleas to felonies before Basquin's appeal. Written pleas avoided the considerable cost of delaying court cases until in-person proceedings could safely resume—a price paid most painfully by those who otherwise would have remained in jail. The risk of error is minimized by the detailed terms of the written guilty plea and the assistance of defense counsel.
We have long utilized written guilty pleas for misdemeanor offenses, and we have held the defendants can waive in writing the right to an in-person colloquy in open court. See, e.g., Barnes, 652 N.W.2d at 468. The expectation is that defense counsel will carefully review the terms of the written plea agreement with the defendant to ensure the plea is knowing and voluntary and supported by a factual basis. The written plea agreement Basquin signed and initialed adequately covered the same points that would have been addressed orally during an in-person colloquy in open court.
Basquin's attorney reviewed the written guilty plea with him. Basquin argues he didn't understand it. To the extent he blames his lawyer, he makes a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel that he can only pursue in postconviction proceedings. See Iowa Code § 814.7; Tucker, 959 N.W.2d at 152.
For those reasons, we affirm Basquin's judgment of conviction.