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Edwardson v. State

Supreme Court of North Dakota

December 12, 2019

Donald Robert Edwardson, Petitioner and Appellant
v.
State of North Dakota, Respondent and Appellee

          Appeal from the District Court of Cass County, East Central Judicial District, the Honorable Thomas R. Olson, Judge.

          Kiara C. Kraus-Parr, Grand Forks, ND, for petitioner and appellant.

          Leah J. Viste, Assistant State's Attorney, Fargo, ND, for respondent and appellee.

          OPINION

          JENSEN, JUSTICE.

         [¶1] Donald Edwardson appeals from a judgment dismissing his application for post-conviction relief. Edwardson argues he is entitled to post-conviction relief because he received ineffective assistance of counsel during the underlying criminal proceedings, he discovered new evidence justifying the withdrawal of his plea of guilty, the underlying criminal charge was unlawful, and he was not informed of the minimum mandatory sentence before he entered his plea of guilty. We affirm.

         I

         [¶2] Edwardson was charged with failing to register as a sexual offender in violation of N.D.C.C. § 12.1-32-15. The State alleged Edwardson had failed to register his temporary residence while he was residing at a hotel from March 1, 2017, through March 31, 2017. The charging document included a statement of the minimum mandatory sentence.

         [¶3] At Edwardson's initial appearance he was informed of the minimum mandatory sentence for the offense. After a contested preliminary hearing, the district court found probable cause to bind the case over for further proceedings. Immediately after the conclusion of the preliminary hearing there were brief discussions between counsel for the State and Edwardson's attorney, followed by a brief discussion between Edwardson and his attorney. As a result of those discussions Edwardson decided to enter a plea of guilty to the charge. The parties informed the court they had reached an agreement, Edwardson was advised of his rights, he entered a guilty plea and he was sentenced. The facts to which Edwardson agreed as part of his change of plea included the following: "[t]he charge of Failure to Register as a Sexual Offender in violation of North Dakota Law, in that on or between March 1, 2017 to March 31, 2017, you failed to register as a sex offender as required by law."

         [¶4] On appeal Edwardson asserts he received ineffective assistance of counsel during the underlying criminal proceedings. He argues an email generated by an administrative assistant at the Bureau of Criminal Investigations (BCI) subsequent to his change of plea is newly discovered evidence justifying the withdrawal of his guilty plea. He further argues the email conclusively establishes the charge of failing to register was unlawful because the city of Fargo was imposing registration requirements for a homeless person inconsistent with the BCI email. Finally, Edwardson argues he was not sufficiently informed of the minimum mandatory sentence prior to his plea of guilty.

         II

         [¶5] The BCI's email is the foundation for Edwardson's assertions he received ineffective assistance of counsel, there is newly discovered evidence, and the charge of failing to register as a sexual offender is unlawful. The email was sent by an administrative assistant at the BCI to the Fargo Police Department in response to an inquiry about the registration requirements for homeless individuals. Edwardson claims he was in compliance with the registration requirements for a homeless person as outlined in the BCI email, his counsel was ineffective by failing to investigate the registration requirements and assert compliance as a defense, and the charge against him is unlawful because the registration requirements imposed by the City of Fargo are inconsistent with the BCI email.

         [¶6] Edwardson's focus on the BCI email is misplaced. The factual foundation for the charge as asserted by the State and agreed to by Edwardson as part of his change of plea was that Edwardson had been staying at a hotel from March 1, 2017, to March 31, 2017, and he failed to register the address of the hotel. The definition of "homeless" as it applies to the requirement to register excludes "individuals who are temporarily domiciled or individuals residing in public or private shelters." N.D.C.C. § 12.1-32-15(1)(c). "Temporarily domiciled" includes being "at a location for longer than ten consecutive days." N.D.C.C. § 12.1-32-15(1)(h). Edwardson was required to register the location he was temporarily domiciled. N.D.C.C. § 12.1-32-15(2). Regardless of whether the BCI email accurately recites the registration requirements for individuals who are homeless and whether Edwardson satisfied the requirements for a homeless individual, he agreed he failed to register the location where he was temporarily domiciled. The registration requirements for individuals who are homeless as described in the BCI email is therefore not legally relevant to this case.

         III

         [¶7] This Court applies the Strickland test in reviewing claims of ineffective assistance of counsel which requires Edwardson to prove two prongs to establish his claim. Stein v. State, 2018 ND 264, ¶ 6, 920 N.W.2d 477 (citing Garcia v. State, 2004 ND 81, ¶ 5, 678 N.W.2d 568; Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 687-88, 104 S.Ct. 2052, 80 L.Ed.2d 674 (1984) (providing the analytical framework for ineffective assistance claims)). Prong one requires Edwardson to prove his attorney's performance fell below an objective standard of reasonableness. Stein, at ¶ 6. An attorney's performance is measured through consideration of the prevailing professional norms. Id. Edwardson must provide sufficient proof to overcome the strong presumption that his counsel's representation fell within the wide range of reasonable professional assistance, and this Court is required to consciously attempt to limit the distorting effect of hindsight. Id. Prong two requires Edwardson to show that the attorney's deficient performance resulted in prejudice. Id. To establish prejudice where a defendant has ...


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