Welcome to the Department of Justice, Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller

For immediate release - Tuesday, September 30, 2003.

Contact Bob Brammer - 515-281-6699.

U.S. Supreme Court
Agrees to Hear Iowa Case

The U.S. Supreme Court announced today that it would hear the Iowa Attorney General's appeal in State v. Tovar. "We are very pleased that the Supreme Court has decided to review the Iowa Court's reversal of Mr. Tovar's third-time felony drunk driving conviction," said Attorney General Tom Miller.

The Iowa Supreme Court ruled last January 23rd that even if people know they are guilty because they committed the crime, they might not know of possible defenses, and so must be told by a judge that an attorney might help advise whether it is wise to plead guilty. Without this warning from a judge, an earlier conviction will not count against a person who commits another offense, according to the Iowa Supreme Court ruling.

"We disagree that a defendant who knows he was driving drunk, but wants to plead guilty and knows of the right to counsel must be cautioned that an attorney might help find an overlooked, technical defense," Miller said.

In this case, Felipe Tovar was an ISU student in 1996 when he pleaded guilty to drunk driving. He did not have an attorney. In 2001, he was charged with drunk driving in Iowa City as a third-time offender. Tovar argued that the earlier conviction could not be used against him because he had not intelligently waived his right to an attorney in 1996. The district court and the Iowa Court of Appeals said the earlier conviction could be counted as a prior offense for purposes of enhancing the 2001 charge. The Iowa Supreme Court disagreed and said Tovar could only be charged as a second-time drunk driver.

The decision is affecting many criminal cases in Iowa, and repeat offenders are now receiving diminished sentences, Miller said. Guilty pleas account for the vast majority of criminal convictions in Iowa and nationally. The U.S. Supreme Court taking up the matter will help establish a uniform standard nationally, he said.

"Like the dissenting justices in the Iowa decision, we believe the current rule is not practical and it unnecessarily diminishes a solemn admission of guilt in open court," Miller said.

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