CHARLES CITY – A Rockford man’s domestic violence, impaired driving and drug charges will be moved back to the court docket because a judge didn’t notify him of all the surcharges he faced when he pleaded guilty in 2016.
Jason Gene Weitzel had pleaded to the charges as part of an agreement that dismissed an intimidation charge, but he later appealed because the sentencing judge neglected to tell him of the statutory 35 percent surcharge placed on fines.
The appeal went to the Iowa Supreme Court, which heard oral arguments during a special session at Cedar Falls High School in November. The high court issued its 24-page decision on Friday, finding that because Weitzel wasn’t informed of the surcharge on one of the fines, he didn’t fully understand the consequences of his plea, so his plea was invalid.
The opinion allows Weitzel to withdraw his pleas and sends the case back to Floyd County District Court for trial and reinstates the dismissed charge.
“Surcharges are a form of punishment. We have stated fines themselves are a form of punishment that the district court must disclose before accepting a guilty plea,” said the opinion, which was written by Justice David Wiggins.
Justice Edward Mansfield wrote a dissenting option that was joined by Justice Thomas Waterman.
“Weitzel was sentenced to nine years in prison and received a combined fine and surcharge that was less than a tenth of the maximum he was told he could receive,” Mansfield wrote.
During the appeal, prosecutors had argued that the sentencing judge had substantially complied with rules surrounding the plea because he informed Weitzel of the maximum jail sentences and maximum fines that applied to the charges.