Iowa Supreme Court’s September lineup: 26 cases on the calendar with 15 oral arguments

by Rox Laird | September 11, 2017

The Iowa Supreme Court begins its 2017-18 term Sept. 13 with a calendar packed with oral arguments over five days and two road trips to hear arguments outside the Judicial Branch Building.

The court has scheduled to hear arguments in 15 cases in September, and 11 cases will be submitted without oral arguments. (Go to the Supreme Court’s website for a complete list of the cases on the September argument calendar.)

Following are brief backgrounds on several cases of interest. Watch this site for more detailed previews in select cases ahead of the argument days.

Withdrawing a guilty plea

Schmidt v. State of Iowa (Sept. 13): Jacob Lee Schmidt seeks to withdraw his guilty plea to charges of intent to commit sex abuse and incest, and now argues he is actually innocent after his accuser recanted his testimony.

This case was argued and submitted to the court in February but held over for reargument this term. The court asked the parties to submit additional briefs focusing on several questions, among them: What standard should apply if a guilty plea does not always bar an actual-innocence claim? How does the district court account for the statute of limitations, the type of evidence of actual innocence and the applicability of the four-part test for newly discovered evidence established by the court in 2016, or the test established by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1995?

See our earlier post on this case before it was argued last term and a recap of the oral argument.

Legality of traffic-enforcement cameras

City of Cedar Rapids v. Leaf, and Behm, et al. v. City of Cedar Rapids and Gatso USA (Sept. 20): Among the issues raised in these two appeals: Do traffic citations generated by automated traffic cameras violate the due process, equal protection and privileges and immunities provisions of the U.S. and Iowa constitutions? Did the city unconstitutionally delegate core police functions to a private contractor to install and operate the speed cameras? Did the city have clear and convincing evidence of a speeding violation? Does the city’s ordinance unlawfully grant jurisdiction to an administrative board or hearing officer?

Juvenile criminal sentences

The court is again asked to revisit the issue of juvenile sentencing in light of a string of U.S. Supreme Court and Iowa Supreme Court decisions regarding long prison sentences for crimes committed by juveniles. Three cases are on the argument calendar for September:

State v. White (Sept. 13; non-oral): Khasif Rasheed White appeals his mandatory prison sentence arguing the trial judge erred in ruling on his resentencing in light of the court’s 2014 decision in State v. Lyle that the district court must hold a special hearing focusing on the factors unique to the offender before sentencing a juvenile defendant to mandatory minimum prison sentence.

In the Interest of T.H., Minor Child (Sept. 13): The appellant – who was 14 at the time of the offense – argues that being placed on the sex-abuse registry is cruel and unusual punishment for a juvenile adjudicated as delinquent for a crime that would trigger the registry requirement for an adult.

State v. Zarte (Sept. 14): Rene Zarte argues that a sentencing statute amended in light of the Supreme Court’s 2014 decision in State v. Lyle, which imposed limits on mandatory minimum sentences for juvenile offenders, is unconstitutional because it mandates that sentencing courts consider improper sentencing factors for juveniles and removes discretion from trial courts to prescribe individualized sentences for juvenile offenders.

Fourth Amendment

State v. Ingram (Sept. 19 – Hoover High School). Bion Blake Ingram appeals his conviction for possession of methamphetamine, arguing the trial court should have excluded evidence obtained from the search of the contents of a car he was driving. Police searched the vehicle to inventory the contents prior to impounding the vehicle and found a bag containing illegal drugs. Ingram, who was borrowing the car, said the bag was not his nor was he aware of it contents.

State v. Brown (Sept. 20): Danielle Brown appeals her conviction of possession of marijuana, arguing the evidence obtained from a search of her purse should have been excluded at trial. Police discovered the marijuana in a search of her purse, which was near her on the floor of a room she and several other people were found in when police executed a search warrant. Brown was not named in the warrant.

State v. Scheffert (Sept. 14; non-oral): Michael Scheffert appeals his conviction of possession of marijuana arguing the police stop was illegal because he was stopped for driving in a county park after the 10:30 p.m. closing when there were no signs posted identifying it as a park or stating a closing time.

Removal of a county attorney

State v. Watkins (Sept. 14): Abraham Watkins appeals his removal by the Van Buren District Court from his elected position of Van Buren county attorney for misconduct or maladministration by engaging in sexual harassment. Watkins argues his removal was illegal because it was initiated by the Van Buren Board of Supervisors, who are not authorized by statute to file a petition to remove a public official from office. Watkins also argues that it was not proved for purposes of removal that he committed sexual harassment with “evil” or “corrupt” intent.

Employment, attorney-client privilege

Fenceroy v. Gelita USA et al. (Sept. 15 – Iowa City): Defendants in this employment discrimination and harassment case argue on interlocutory appeal that the trial court incorrectly overruled their motion for an order to protect privileged attorney-client communication and work product. The district court ruled that the attorneys waived their right to the privilege in asserting a defense strategy that put the disputed attorney-client and work-product information an issue in the trial. In the alternative, the defendants argue that the trial court should have considered whether other means exist to obtain the information.

Inheritance taxes

Tyler and Alcorn v. Iowa Department of Revenue (Sept. 20): Paula Tyler and Mark Alcorn argue that Iowa’s inheritance-tax law that creates two classes of stepchildren violates the equal protection clause of the Iowa Constitution. State law defines stepchild as “the child of a person who was married to the decedent at the time of the decedent’s death, or the child of a person to whom the decedent was married, which person died during the marriage to the decedent.” If the natural parent dies during the marriage, the stepchildren’s inheritance from the stepparent is exempt from inheritance taxes. If the marriage if their parent to the stepparent ends in divorce, the stepchildren pay the interitance tax. This, distinction between two similarly situated individuals, the appellants argue, is unconstitutional.


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