Arson Charges Against Iowa Firefighter Dismissed As Violating Plea Agreement

The Iowa Supreme Court handed down a ruling last week dismissing four counts of arson against a volunteer firefighter, holding that a plea agreement in an earlier arson case was a binding contract that prosecutors could not simply rescind. The case involved Chance Ryan Beres, a volunteer firefighters with the Montezuma Fire Department. Beres, 20 at the time of the fires, was also a paramedic with Midwest Ambulance Service.

Shortly after Beres joined the Montezuma Fire Department in 2018, he came under suspicion for a rash of suspicious fires. His truck matched the description of one seen in the area of at least one fire, members noticed he seemed ready for responses before anyone else, he made “odd comments” at fire scenes, and he reported two of the fires. Investigators obtained a search warrant to place a GPS tracking device on his vehicle. Beres was subsequently arrested following a barn fire. The GSP tracker showed he had been present at the scene before the fire was reported.

During questioning, Beres admitted to setting the barn fire and several other recent fires. He was charged with a single count of arson in the second degree for the barn fire, and reached an agreement with prosecutors whereby he would plead guilty and cooperate with investigators about the other fires. In exchange, prosecutors agreed not to charge him for those other fires. As explained by the Iowa Supreme Court:

  • The plea agreement here provided that the defendant would plead guilty to his pending charge of second-degree arson, that he would cooperate in an interview regarding some other suspicious fires that had occurred, and that the State would not bring charges regarding those other fires.
  • After the defendant pled guilty, the State changed its mind and decided it did not need or want the interview.
  • It advised the defendant before sentencing he would be charged with other arsons and gave him an opportunity to withdraw from the plea agreement.
  • The defendant declined to withdraw.
  • Nonetheless, the State brought four additional arson charges.
  • The defendant moved to dismiss them as a breach of the plea agreement.
  • The district court denied the motion, and we granted interlocutory review.
  • Consistent with the law of contracts, we now hold that the State could not unilaterally withdraw from the plea agreement either by declining to conduct the interview or by making an offer of rescission that the defendant did not accept.
  • Because the State remains bound by its plea agreement under these circumstances, we reverse the order denying the defendant’s motion to dismiss and remand with directions to grant that motion.

Here is a copy of the decision:

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.
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