Thursday, May 24, 2007

Habitual Offender Status Challenged on Appeal

State v. Gordon, no. 04-1474 (Iowa May 18, 2007)

Gordon was convicted of a class D felony and received the habitual offender enhancements (generally known among criminal cognoscenti as 'the bitch'). He appealed his sentence because the two prior predicate felonies were contemporaneously acquired on the same day.

The core issue presented was whether Gordon could challenge his status as an habitual offender for the first time on appeal. The Supreme Court held that what Gordon did was plead guilty to criminal mischief and admitted his prior convictions. Because the predicate offenses were not enough to classify him as an habitual offender, the sentence was illegal.

The State sought leave to amend the trial information to include other felonies (of which Mr. Gordon had plenty) but the Court refused, holding that the State had its opportunity in a full and fair hearing to support its cause but muffed it.

The lesson for prosecutors is clear. Careful drafting and knowledge of the applicable decisions affecting the habitual offender is the sine qua non of a scucessful prosecution.


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