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Appeal denied for Mason City man with “horrible criminal history”

DES MOINES – A judge spoke powerful words about a Mason City man while sentencing him last year to prison for crimes such as domestic assault with strangulation, third offense drunk driving and child endangerment.

In what some would say is a rare case of a North Iowa judge going above a “slap on the wrist” for a hardened criminal, Judge Karen Salic rejected the lenient sentences outlined in a plea deal between Cerro Gordo county prosecutors and attorneys for 25-year-old Aaron Michael Hermen of Mason City and instead imposed harsher sentences recommended in a presentence investigation report.

As part of the plea deal, the State had agreed to dismiss all other charges and to recommend one year in jail with all but thirty days suspended on the domestic assault charge, a five-year sentence with all but thirty days suspended on the OWI, and sixty days in jail on the child endangerment charge. The State was also to recommend the two thirty-day sentences be served consecutive to each other but concurrent with the sixty-day sentence.

However, a presentence investigation report was prepared, which recommended concurrent sentences of five years for domestic assault, five years for OWI, and two years for child endangerment.  These were the sentences that Judge Salic imposed for his crimes, along with $9,840.64 in court costs and fines.

Aaron Hermen appealed the sentences imposed by Judge Salic following his guilty pleas to the charges of domestic abuse assault by strangulation, OWI third offense, and child endangerment. He contended his trial counsel was ineffective in not objecting to the State’s supposed breach of the plea agreement and the trial court abused its discretion in sentencing.  Hermen has been free on bond ever since he appealed.

On April 16, 2014, the Iowa Court of Appeals upheld the conviction and sentences imposed by Judge Salic.

According to court documents, at sentencing in district court in July of 2013, the prosecutor said:

Your Honor, the—going through each of the three counts, for Count I, the Domestic Assault of Impeding Air Flow, as an aggravated misdemeanor, the State’s recommendation is a one year in jail, with all but thirty days suspended, credit for time served, that he be placed on probation for a period of two years, receive a suspended minimum fine, and be required to—be required to complete the batterer’s education program. For—we ask that that sentence be consecutive to Count II and concurrent to Count III. Count II the recommendation for an O.W.I., Third, is a term in prison not to exceed five years, with all but thirty days being suspended, credit for time served, the minimum fine, and be placed on probation for three years, and also be required to complete a substance abuse evaluation, if he’s not already done so and follow through on any recommended treatment. We ask that that be consecutive to Count I and concurrent with Count III.

And then for Count III, the Child Endangerment, the recommendation is sixty days and a $625.00 fine, which is the minimum fine, as well as credit for time served. And as I already stated that is to be concurrent with the other two counts. We’ve already dismissed Count IV, so no recommendation is needed there.

The history as stated in the PSI and so the Court can review that as well as in the court file. The State’s requesting restitution as stated in their statement of pecuniary damages that they’ve already filed for the utility pole that Defendant hit in this case, and that’s to be paid to Alliant Energy in the amount of $2,947.39. I’m not aware of any other restitution.

So in light of that, these recommendations seem very reasonable considering the severity of the charges and the facts that are behind them such as getting in an accident, he was very uncooperative with the police saying—using language like, FU; and so in light of that, this recommendation seems reasonable and we ask the Court to adopt it.

The State’s sentencing recommendation was in accord with paragraph twelve of the written plea agreement. Hermen’s counsel did not object to the prosecutor’s recommendation. Hermen’s attorney said, “We are also asking the Court to adopt the recommendations as set forth in the plea agreement.” The attorney then enumerated several mitigating factors before closing with, “So we would ask that you accept the State’s recommendations set forth in the plea agreement.”

However, the Judge Salic rejected the lenient sentencing recommendation, telling Hermen at his sentencing:

cerro gordo_courthouse_closeupMr. Hermen, the law requires that I take a number of factors into account when deciding what an appropriate sentence is for someone. One of those things obviously is your rehabilitation, not just your need for it but also your potential for it. Also protecting the community. In this particular case, you have specific victims, but the protection of the community as a whole. And also deterring others from committing similar offenses.

Some of the things that are kind of subcategories of those considerations, your age, your family situation, your criminal history, the nature of this offense, and anything that I considered in reading the Pre-Sentence Investigation Report and what I have learned about you in the hearing today both through your statements as well as the argument of your counsel.

And as I’m sure you understand and even Ms. Turner has alluded to it, you have a horrible criminal history for someone who’s twenty-five years of age. In November of 2006, you were convicted of a weapons charge. While you were still on probation for that offense, you—and an O.W.I. sorry; while you were on probation for those offenses, you were charged with Assault Causing Bodily Injury in June of 2007. Because of that offense you had a probation revocation proceeding on the first two charges where there was a contempt finding. You were placed on probation for the assault charge which has now been revoked apparently. In October of 2007, you have a new charge of Possessing a Firearm as a Felon, there was a prison term on that which was suspended but has since been revoked. 2009 you had an Eluding charge, given probation and that has also been revoked, along with an O.W.I., Second Offense, that occurred at the same time.

And as I’m sure you’ve noticed this pattern of weapons, of alcohol violations of driving, of assaulting people, and that’s unacceptable. Obviously, it’s illegal and we’re here today on charges of you strangling your wife, of endangering your child and of you driving drunk for the third time. Every attempt to have you on probation has failed. And I have no reason to believe given your history that we’re going to have any other result on this—these charges. And so I’m not going to adopt the recommendations of the parties. I will adopt the recommendation of the pre-sentence investigator.

In light of your recent employment and other compliance with the Department of Human Services, I am going to order that these sentences be served concurrently with hopes that when you do return from prison, that you will start on the right path.

At appeal, Hermen contended his trial counsel was ineffective in failing to object to the district court’s supposed breach of the plea agreement and the imposition of the stiffer prison sentences.

Citing previous court cases as precedent, the appeals court ruled that there was no breach of the plea deal, that Judge Salic was well within her boundaries when leveling the stiffer sentence, and that Hermen was not treated unfairly when Judge Salic refused to follow the plea deal sentencing recommendation.

Hermen, Aaron Michael APPEAL REJECTED
Hermen, Aaron Michael

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