UPDATES & ANALYSIS

11.16

Iowa Supreme Court to hear arguments in five cases Tuesday and Wednesday

by Rox Laird | November 16, 2020

The Iowa Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in five cases Tuesday and Wednesday. Six more cases will be submitted to the Court without oral argument. Following are brief summaries of the cases that will be submitted to the Court this week. Go to On Brief’s Cases in the Pipeline page to read the briefs filed in these cases.

All of this week’s oral arguments were moved to video conference on the Iowa Courts YouTube channel due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

State v. Ernst

To be argued Nov. 17, 9 a.m.

Issue: Was circumstantial evidence of intent to commit a burglary sufficient to support verdict?

The State seeks further review of a May 13 Iowa Court of Appeals decision reversing Anthony Ernst’s conviction of third-degree attempted burglary by a Dubuque County jury. The Court of Appeals held that circumstantial evidence that Ernst broke into a garage with the intent to commit a theft was not sufficient to support the jury’s verdict and remanded for a judgment of acquittal. The State argues that a rational fact-finder could have inferred that Ernst broke into the garage and that he acted with specific intent to commit a theft.

State v. Smith

To be submitted without argument Nov. 17

Issue: Did the State’s delays in filing a criminal complaint violate the defendant’s right to due process and to a speedy trial?

The State appeals a Dubuque County District Court ruling dismissing a robbery charge against Deaonsy Smith Jr. because the State’s eight-month delay between issuing a warrant and filing the criminal complaint against Smith violated his right to due process and a speedy trial. The District Court found that the delay in filing a trial information against Smith while he was incarcerated on a different charge violated the Fifth Amendment and the 45-day requirement under Iowa Rule of Criminal Procedure 2.33. The State argues Smith failed to establish that his defense suffered “actual prejudice” because of the delay and that the delay was unreasonable.

State v. Swift

To be argued Nov 17, 1:30 p.m.

Issue: When may a prosecutor introduce inconsistent or hearsay evidence to impeach the prosecution’s own witness?

Derris Swift who was convicted of a weapons charge and attempted murder seeks further review of a May 13 decision of the Iowa Court of Appeals affirming the Scott County District Court’s ruling allowing admission of witness statements he challenged as inconsistent and hearsay. Swift cites the Iowa Supreme Court’s 1990 decision in State v. Turecek, which said the State cannot put on a witness expected to give unfavorable testimony and then impeach that witness with otherwise inadmissible evidence.

State v. Buman

To be argued Nov. 17, 1:30 p.m.

Issue: May the nursing standard of care in Iowa Administrative Rules be applied in a criminal prosecution?

The State seeks further review of a divided July 1 Iowa Court of Appeals ruling reversing and remanding Michael Buman’s conviction by a Plymouth County jury on a charge of wanton neglect of a resident in a health care facility. Buman, a registered nurse, is accused of discontinuing a resident’s medication without a doctor’s authorization. Buman argues that the District Court’s jury instruction was misleading by confusing the Iowa Administrative Rules’

standard of care for a license revocation with elements of a criminal offense. The State argues that there is nothing improper in quoting a standard of professional care contained in an exhibit and informing the jury how it could consider that standard in its deliberations.

In the Interest of N.C., minor child

To be submitted Nov. 17 without oral argument.

Issue: Is evidence that N.C. was sexually abused sufficient to warrant Child In Need of Assistance?

The father of N.C., minor child, seeks further review of an Aug. 19 Iowa Court of Appeals ruling reversing a Monroe County Juvenile Court judge’s dismissal of a State petition alleging N.C. is a Child in Need of Assistance (CINA) and ordering the child returned to her father. The State and N.C.’s guardian ad litem challenged the Juvenile Court’s conclusions that there is not “clear and convincing evidence N.C. was sexually abused by her father or is imminently likely to be sexually abused by him.” The Iowa Supreme Court stayed enforcement of the order and assigned it to the Court of Appeals, which held that N.C. is in need of assistance.

In the interest of J.H., minor child

To be submitted to the Court without oral argument Nov. 17.

Issue: Does the State have sufficient grounds to terminate a father’s parental rights?

The State seeks further review of a divided Sept. 2 Iowa Court of Appeals decision reversing a Polk County District Court decision terminating the parental rights of the father of J.H. In his appeal the father challenged the sufficiency of the evidence supporting statutory grounds for termination, which he argued is contrary to the child’s best interests. The Court of Appeals held that the State failed to meet its burden for termination of the father’s parental rights.

Benskin v. West Bank

To be argued Nov. 18, 9 a.m.

Issue: Was a contract dispute properly dismissed on a pre-answer motion to dismiss?

West Bank seeks further review of a March 4 Iowa Court of Appeals decision reversing a Polk County District Court ruling granting West Bank’s motion to dismiss Benskin’s claims against West Bank of breach of contract regarding a loan agreement, fraud, and slander of title. Without ruling on the merits, the Court of Appeals held that Benskin’s petition “adequately alleged the doctrine of equitable estoppel as a response to West Bank’s statute-of-limitations defense,” and that the Benskin petition “adequately apprised West Bank of the claim of slander of title.” West Bank argues the District Court correctly granted its motion to dismiss the breach of contract and fraud claims on statute of limitation grounds, and the claim of slander of title for failure to state a claim.

State v. Goodson

To be submitted to the Court without oral argument Nov. 18

Issues: Was a trial court wrong in admitting evidence of a defendant’s prior crimes; should the judge have recused; and should two of the charges have been merged?

Mario Goodson seeks further review of a July 1 Iowa Court of Appeals ruling affirming his jury convictions and sentence in Black Hawk County District Court for first-degree burglary, operating a motor vehicle without its owner’s consent, domestic abuse assault causing bodily injury, and third-degree sexual abuse. In his application for further review Goodson argues the trial court erred in allowing the introduction of evidence of his other crimes, wrongs, or bad acts; that the trial judge should have recused himself; and that two of the charges should have been merged.

State v. El-Amin

To be submitted to the Court Nov. 18 without oral argument.

Issue: Did defendant’s trial counsel provide ineffective assistance by allowing him to plead guilty?

Ajamu El-Amin seeks further review of an April 29 Court of Appeals ruling affirming his conviction in Polk County District Court following his guilty plea to two counts of third-degree sexual abuse. El-Amin conceded in his appeal that there was sufficient factual basis for his guilty plea to the first count, but he argues his trial counsel was ineffective for allowing him to plead guilty to the second count.

State v. Fontenot

To be argued Nov. 18, 9 a.m.

Issue: Was a video interview with an alleged victim inadmissible hearsay evidence?

Timothy Fontenot seeks further review of a June 3 Iowa Court of Appeals ruling affirming his convictions by a jury in Linn County District Court on two counts of indecent contact with a child. Fontenot argues that a video of a forensic interview with the alleged victim amounted to hearsay and should not have been admitted at trial.

State v. Hawk

To be submitted to the Court Nov. 18 without oral argument

Issue: Does recent legislation foreclose a criminal defendant’s appeal?

Christopher Hawk appeals his conviction and sentence in Wayne County District Court for possession with intent to deliver methamphetamine following a guilty plea. Hawk argues that his appeal should be heard despite legislation amending Iowa Code section 814.6(1) to bar direct appeal from a final judgment of sentence from a conviction where the defendant pled guilty. Hawk argues the legislation does not apply because he entered his guilty plea prior to the July 1, 2019, effective date of the amendment. If the Court finds the statute applies to offenses prior to its effective date, Hawk argues that would not prohibit him from challenging his sentence. In the alternative, he urges the Court to find that, if the amendment applies, it should be invalidated for improperly restricting the jurisdiction of Iowa’s appellate courts, and that it violates equal protection and denies due process.

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