- Associated Press - Saturday, April 18, 2015

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - The Iowa Supreme Court has ordered a new sentencing hearing for woman who pleaded guilty to threatening a Des Moines bus driver, saying a district court judge failed to properly spell out his reasoning for her sentence.

The opinion released Friday stems from the first-degree harassment case of Tina Lynn Thacker, The Des Moines Register reported (https://dmreg.co/1G5S8nL ). Thacker became angry over the bus’ air conditioning system after she boarded it in October 2013, prosecutors said, and threatened to kill the bus driver.

As part of an agreement with prosecutors, Thacker pleaded guilty to a serious misdemeanor, and District Court Judge James Birkenholz sentenced her to a suspended one-year prison sentence and ordered her to pay a $315 fine.

But a majority of the Iowa Supreme Court said there’s no way to tell whether Birkenholz considered sentencing recommendations spelled out in the plea bargain, because there’s no record of the hearing.

At her sentencing, Thacker waived her right to have the hearing recorded by a court reporter, and the exact terms of the plea agreement were not included in the court record. On a sentencing form, Birkenholz simply checked a box labeled “plea agreement” as the reasoning behind Thacker’s sentence.

An attorney for Thacker appealed, arguing that Birkenholz violated state law requiring judges to “state on the record” the factors behind a criminal defendant’s sentence.

“Even if there was an agreed upon recommendation for sentencing, we do not know from the record whether the district court followed it in every particular or deviated from it in some respects,” Justice Brent Appel wrote for the majority.

Chief Justice Mark Cady and two others warned in a dissent that the ruling could overburden lower courts dealing with misdemeanor cases.


Information from: The Des Moines Register, https://www.desmoinesregister.com

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