Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Iowa Supreme Court Opinions

Missed this set of three from last Friday. Of note:



Defendant Darryl McCoy was the brother of a wanted murder suspect, Lawrence McCoy. Detective Thomas applied for a search warrant to look for Lawrence McCoy. On the way, Thomas saw a vehicle he knew Lawrence McCoy had been driving, so he stopped it and removed the occupants of the vehicle at gunpoint. Defendant Darryl McCoy was driving the vehicle. Upon identifying him, the detectives placed him in the back seat of a police vehicle and brought him to the police station for an interview. Defendant read and signed a sheet waiving his Miranda rights, Thomas conducted a videotaped interview. Eventually, defendant admitted being present while Lawrence McCoy and Chance Barnes killed the victim, and that he had helped clean the apartment and dispose of the body. The State tried the defendant separately. At the jury trial, the State —without objection from defense counsel — offered into evidence the videotaped interview. The jury convicted the defendant of both charges. He appealed, claiming ineffective assistance of counsel.


To prevail on an ineffective assistance claim, a defendant must show that his trial counsel failed to perform an essential duty and that prejudice resulted from this failure.

The record showed that in looking to pick up Lawrence McCoy, the police had a reasonable suspicion to stop the vehicle the defendant was driving. When they stopped the vehicle, the detectives seized the defendant and the passenger within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment. The detectives could ask enough questions to dispel any notion that Lawrence McCoy was in the vehicle, but once having learned the identity of the occupants, the reasonable scope of the intrusion ended. Any further detention would necessitate that the detectives had probable cause to arrest the defendant. There is no indication the police had any evidence implicating the defendant in the crime and therefore no probable cause to arrest him. In fact, the testimony suggests the police simply took the defendant to the station for investigative purposes, knowing full well they had no legal reason to detain him. There is nothing in this testimony to indicate the defendant voluntarily went to the station.

The defendant also claimed ineffective assistance for failing to move to suppress his statements to the police, on the grounds that Detective Thomas’s promises of leniency rendered his confession involuntary. The State contends that Detective Thomas made no direct promises of leniency. Alternatively, the State suggests that if we find that the statements Detective Thomas made do qualify as promises of leniency, we should analyze the claim of promissory leniency applying the federal totality-of-the-circumstances test under the due process clause of the federal constitution rather than applying a per se exclusionary rule. Under the federal totality-of-the-circumstances test, the courts look at “both the characteristics of the accused and the details of the interrogation.”

Detective Thomas’s statement during defendant’s interview that “If you didn’t pull the trigger, you won’t be in any trouble,” repeated at least twenty-five times, indicates leniency in exchange for defendant’s confession. Moreover, Detective Thomas’s statement suggested that it would be advantageous for defendant if he offered a confession or made inculpatory statements. The implication of Detective Thomas’s repeated statement was, if the defendant didn’t shoot Jonathan Johnson, he would not be in any trouble and he would [be] free to go or at least not be charged with Johnson’s murder; this statement repeated twenty-six times in an hour and a half could only lead one to believe that a statement given would not result in charges being filed against the defendant.

Given these circumstances, an attorney acting within the range of normal competency would certainly consider filing a motion to suppress the incriminating statements. The defendant’s trial counsel testified that after viewing the videotape it never occurred to him that he could move to suppress the defendant’s statements. He testified further that he could think of no grounds for filing a motion to suppress the statements. There was therefore no strategic or tactical reason for not filing the motion.

To establish prejudice, a defendant must show that “‘there is a reasonable probability that, but for the counsel’s unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different.’” The crux of the State’s case was that the defendant aided and abetted his brother Lawrence and Chance Barnes in the murder of Jonathan Johnson. The State’s whole case under this theory hinged on the defendant’s incriminating statements; apart from them, the only evidence the State had against him was the fact that he was present at the scene. Given testimony that the defendant was not involved in the argument between Lawrence McCoy and the victim, the district court may well have granted the defendant’s motion for judgment of acquittal on the first-degree murder charge, or the jury may well have acquitted the defendant given the instruction on aiding and abetting, but for the defendant's incriminating statements. Thus, defendant established both prongs of his claim of ineffective assistance of counsel on the illegal seizure issue.

The Court held that the State may not use the videotape either in its case-in-chief or for impeachment purposes on retrial because the defendant’s statements in that videotape were involuntary, and that the State was also foreclosed from using the defendant’s prior trial testimony on retrial in its case in chief because that testimony was impelled by the use of the defendant’s involuntary statements. The State was also foreclosed from using the defendant’s prior trial testimony on retrial for impeachment purposes because the involuntary nature of the defendant’s video statements taints his trial testimony: He was impelled to testify because of his involuntary statements.



On August 18, 2003, an officer of the Le Mars Police Department stopped Richard Lee Price for illegal passing. The officer suspected that Price had been drinking. He asked him to perform a preliminary breath test (PBT). The PBT showed Price had a breath alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.107. The officer arrested Price for operating while intoxicated and transported him to the Plymouth County sheriff’s office. The officer then administered a DataMaster breath test at the sheriff’s office. This test took place approximately ninety minutes after the initial stop. The test showed Price had a BAC of 0.081.

Price filed a motion in limine seeking to exclude the results of the DataMaster test under Iowa Code section 321J.2(10) and Iowa Rule of Evidence 5.403. Section 321J.2(10) provides:

In any prosecution under this section, the results of a chemical test shall not be used to prove a violation of subsection 1, paragraph “b” or “c”, if the alcohol, controlled substance, or other drug concentration indicated by the chemical test minus the established margin of error inherent in the device or method used to conduct the chemical test does not equal or exceed the level prohibited by subsection 1, paragraph “b” or “c”.

Id. § 321J.2(10). The established margin of error for the DataMaster test was 5%. Thus, Price argued the DataMaster results could not be introduced to prove a violation of section 321J.2(1)(b).[1] Further, Price argued that under Iowa Rule of Evidence 5.403, the State should be precluded from using the results to prove a violation of section 321J.2(1)(a) because

any probative value of such evidence is substantially outweighed by the danger of confusion of the issues or misleading the jury. Specifically, the jury may be led to erroneously believe that the Defendant is or can be found guilty of the offense of operating while intoxicated simply because the results of the DataMaster test purportedly indicate an alcoholic concentration of .08 or more.

The trial court reasoned that proof of a BAC of .08 was not proof that a person was “under the influence,” so the DataMaster results were not relevant under rule 1.402 when a defendant is only charged under the driving “under the influence” component of section 321J.2(1). Alternatively, the court reasoned: “Proof of violation of Section 321J.2(1)(b) in a prosecution under 321J.2(1)(a) . . . constitutes proof of uncharged misconduct and is per se potentially prejudicial.” Therefore, the court stated that even assuming the evidence was relevant, “the danger of unfair prejudice outweighs its probative value.”


The Court found that the evidence was probative in that "Clearly, a BAC showing some level of alcohol in the blood makes it more probable that a person was under the influence of alcohol than without the evidence."

The Court then discussed the district court conclusion that the test results constituted “proof of uncharged misconduct” and were thus “per se potentially prejudicial.” The Court found that the district court apparently misread section 321J.2(1)(a) and (b) as constituting two separate offenses, instead of one offense: operating while intoxicated, and subsections (a) through (c) set forth alternative ways of committing the offense. Thus, Price’s 0.081 BAC is not “uncharged conduct.” He was charged with operating while intoxicated, and his BAC was relevant to his guilt of that charge.

In addition, his DataMaster results were not the kind of evidence that “‘[a]ppeals to the jury’s sympathies, arouses its sense of horror, provokes its instinct to punish, or triggers other mainsprings of human action that may cause the jury to base its decision on something other than the established propositions in the case.’” Because his results were not unfairly prejudicial, their probative value could not have been substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice.

Of course, at trial, Price can argue that he was not under the influence when he was operating his vehicle. The jury can then weigh the evidence and make its determination. There is no reason to think that, properly instructed, they would not follow the law.

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