UPDATES & ANALYSIS

9.13

Iowa Supreme Court to hear arguments in 12 cases Sept.14 and 15

by Rox Laird | September 13, 2022

The Iowa Supreme Court will hear arguments in 12 cases Sept. 14 and 15. Five other appeals will be submitted to the Court without oral argument. Go to On Brief’s Cases in the Pipeline page to read the briefs filed with the court in these cases.

 

State v. Hess

Scheduled for oral argument Sept. 14, 9 a.m.

Question: Did a sentencing court err in failing to consider suspending defendant’s sex-offender sentence? If not, was the mandatory minimum sentence of a juvenile in adult court unconstitutional?

Cameron James Hess appeals his sentence in Polk County District Court following his conviction on four counts of second-degree sex abuse. Hess argues the trial court erred in failing to recognize that it possessed discretion under Iowa Code section 901.5(13) to suspend the special sentence and sex offender registry requirements under Iowa Code section 692A.128(2)(a). In the alternative, if the Court does not rule that the trial court erred on sentencing discretion, he urges the Court to hold that the special sentence provision under mandatory minimum sentence of Iowa Code section 903B.1 as applied to a juvenile sentenced in adult court without consideration of the mitigating circumstances of youth is cruel and unusual punishment under the U.S. and Iowa constitutions.

 

Braaksma v. Sibley-Ocheyedan Community School District

Scheduled for oral argument Sept. 14, 9 a.m.

Question: May a school teacher be fired for cause prior to completing an Intensive Assistance Plan to improve her teaching skills?

The Board of Directors of the Sibley-Ocheyedan Community School District seeks further review of a Dec. 15, 2021, Iowa Court of Appeals decision reversing the Osceola County District Court’s holding that the board had legal cause for firing Spanish teacher Danna Braaksma. Braaksma argued her firing was illegal because she had not been allowed to complete an Intensive Assistance Plan as directed by the district to improve her teaching skills. The Court of Appeals agreed, saying she could not be fired before completing the Intensive Assistance Plan, provided for by Iowa Code section 284.8. On appeal, the school district argues Braaksma was fired for reasons other than those cited in her Intensive Assistance Plan, and that a teacher may be terminated for just cause under Iowa Code section 279.27 when an Intensive Assistance Plan has not been completed.

 

Farnsworth v. State

Will be submitted to the Court Sept. 14 without oral argument.

Question: Did a defendant’s trial counsel fail to provide effective assistance at his trial for murder?

James Farnsworth II seeks further review of a Nov. 3, 2021, Iowa Court of Appeals decision affirming the Cerro Gordo District Court’s denial of his application for post-conviction relief following his jury conviction for second degree murder. The Iowa Court of Appeals denied all of Farnsworth’s claims of ineffective assistance of counsel based on alleged errors at trial with one exception: The Court of Appeals did, however, hold that Farnsworth’s counsel had a duty to object to the trial court’s intent to apply Farnsworth’s $50,000 cash appearance bond to his restitution obligation. Farnsworth argues his trial counsel “was ineffective from start to finish” by among other things failing to sequester witnesses, failing to submit jury instructions, and failing to state in his closing arguments that the standard of proof was beyond a reasonable doubt.

 

State v. Hanes

Scheduled for oral argument Sept. 14, 1:30 p.m.

Question: Did a trial court wrongly accept a defendant’s guilty plea without ensuring there was a factual basis for the plea?

John Hanes III argues in this direct appeal that the Scott County District Court failed to ensure there was a factual basis for his plea of guilty to charges of criminal gang participation, possession of a firearm by a felon, and carrying weapons. A necessary element of the crime of criminal gang participation under Iowa Code section 732A.2 is that the Defendant “willfully aids and abets any criminal act.” Hanes argues there was nothing in the record showing he aided and abetted a criminal act except his possession of a firearm as a felon. He argues that he cannot be guilty of aiding and abetting his own crime.

 

State v. Stendrup

Scheduled for oral argument Sept. 14, 1:30 p.m.

Question: Was evidence insufficient to convict a defendant of first-degree murder?

Jeffrey Stendrup appeals his conviction following a bench trial in Jasper County District Court for first-degree murder and first-degree robbery of Jeremy McDowell. Stendrup argues the evidence was insufficient to establish that McDowell’s death was caused by blows administered by Stendrup with a baseball bat. He cites the State Medical Examiner’s testimony that McDowell’s methamphetamine use was sufficient to cause his death and that injuries from the blunt force trauma from the assault alone were not sufficient to kill McDowell. Stendrup also argues his theft conviction should also be reversed because the evidence was insufficient that he had specific intent to commit a theft.

 

State v. Patten

Will be submitted to the Court Sept. 14 without oral argument.

Question: Did the State breach its plea agreement with a defendant through a prosecutor’s statements at sentencing?

Mychael Patten seeks further review of a Dec. 15, 2021, Iowa Court of Appeals decision affirming the Lee County District Court’s sentencing of Patten to seven years in prison following his entry of a guilty plea to charges of domestic abuse assault, strangulation with bodily injury, child endangerment, assault with a dangerous weapon, and false imprisonment. As part of the plea agreement, the State agreed to recommend a suspended sentence. On appeal, Patten argues the State breached the plea agreement through the prosecutor’s statements at sentencing that the “sole driving force” behind the State’s recommendation of a suspended sentence was the victim’s desire, which he suggests implied reservation about the recommendation. In upholding the District Court, the Court of Appeals said the sentencing judge considered a variety of factors, including Patten’s age, education, criminal history and probation violation, and the seriousness of his offenses, and said there was no evidence the prosecutor explicitly or implicitly disapproved of the State’s recommendation of a suspended sentence.

 

State v. Ellison

Scheduled for oral argument Sept. 15, 9:30 a.m.

Question: Should a criminal defendant convicted of manslaughter receive a new trial because of errors in jury instructions?

Deonte WB Ellison appeals from his conviction by a Dubuque County jury for voluntary manslaughter and seeks a new trial. Ellison argues the trial court should not have used “stand your ground” jury instructions because he was not raising a stand-your-ground defense. Rather, his sole defense was that he acted with justification because his victim was the aggressor. Nor should the trial court have allowed a jury instruction barring a justification defense if the defendant was engaged in “illegal activity,” because he argues the term “illegal activity” is unconstitutionally vague. Ellison also argues a jury instruction should not have been allowed that was based on Iowa Code section 704.2B(2), which prohibits the destruction, alteration, concealment, or disguising of physical evidence in order to claim a justification defense. He argues the statute violates criminal defendants’ constitutional right against self-incrimination.

 

State v. Tucker

Scheduled for oral argument Sept. 15, 9:30 a.m.

Questions: Was a defendant wrongly convicted of possession with intent to deliver marijuana due to trial court errors? And was he denied his constitutional right to a jury representing a fair cross section of the community?

Tyjuan Tucker seeks further review of a Jan. 12 Iowa Court of Appeals ruling affirming his conviction by a Polk County jury for possession of a marijuana with intent to deliver. Tucker argues on appeal that the trial court committed a number of errors and challenges the sufficiency of the evidence supporting the jury’s finding of guilt. He also argues he was denied the right under the Iowa Constitution to a jury drawn from a fair cross section of the community due to “systematic exclusion” of African-Americans in the jury-selection process. He cites the State’s exclusive use of voter registrations and driver’s licenses to create jury pools and argues minority groups have lower rates of participation in both. The trial court held, and the Court of Appeals agreed, that Tucker failed to offer proof of evidence or expert testimony to tie Iowa’s use of the two lists to systematic underrepresentation of a minority group.

 

State v. Bremmer

Will be submitted to the Court Sept. 15 without oral argument.

Question: Was a criminal defendant denied the right to a public trial when the judge closed the courtroom to public and press in response to the Iowa Supreme Court’s Covid-19 supervisory orders?

Ronald Bremmer appeals from his conviction by a Dubuque County jury of sexual abuse in the second degree. Bremmer argues the evidence was insufficient to establish that anyone aided and abetted his commission of sexual abuse, thus failing to support his conviction for second-degree sexual abuse rather than for the lesser-included offense of third-degree sexual abuse. Bremmer also seeks a new trial arguing that his right to a public trial guaranteed by the U.S. and Iowa constitutions was denied by the trial court’s “total closure” of the courtroom due to Covid-19 concerns.

 

State v. Sallis

Scheduled for oral argument Sept. 15, 1:30 p.m.

Question: Was there probable cause for a traffic stop based on stale evidence and an incomplete misdemeanor?

Maurice Sallis appeals from his conviction by a Black Hawk County jury for possession of cocaine with intent to deliver, drug stamp violation, and unlawful possession of a prescription drug (Hydrocodone). Sallis argues the District Court wrongly denied his motion to suppress evidence of what he describes as an incomplete misdemeanor and stale driving-record information that do not support a finding of reasonable suspicion or probable cause for the officer’s traffic stop. Sallis also argues the trial court erred in denying his right to have a pro bono attorney make a limited appearance when he was represented by court-appointed counsel, and it erred in failing to grant a mistrial after the state elicited testimony depicting Sallis as a flight risk.

 

Nationwide v. Polk County Board of Review

Scheduled for oral argument Sept. 15, 1:30 p.m.

Question: Did the Polk County Board of Review properly set the market value of Nationwide’s downtown headquarters buildings?

The Polk County Board of Review seeks further review of a Feb. 16 Iowa Court of Appeals decision reversing the Polk County District Court’s ruling affirming the Board’s assessment of Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co.’s two downtown Des Moines headquarters buildings. The Board argues on appeal that its two outside experts must be considered competent expert witnesses, that it is not reliable to use sales comparisons alone to determine a valuation, and that the Court of Appeals failed to follow existing law by not considering admissible evidence to determine which evidence is more credible.

 

State v. Jones

Will be submitted to the Court Sept. 15 without oral argument.

Questions: Was appellant’s application for post-conviction relief wrongly denied? And was his pro se notice of appeal barred by statute?

Arzel Jones appeals from the Marshall County District Court’s denial of his application for post-conviction relief following his conviction by bench trial for third-degree kidnapping, assault causing bodily injury, assault with intent to inflict serious injury, second-degree sexual abuse, and third-degree sexual abuse. Jones claims ineffective assistance of counsel at trial, prosecutorial misconduct, and constitutional violations. Jones argues his pro se notice of appeal to the Iowa Supreme Court prior to the appointment of appellate counsel is not barred by statute.

 

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