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Iowa court: assault with car different than injurious assault



Driver behind wheel smiling
The Iowa Supreme Court has ruled that prosecutors may not at the last minute change a garden variety assault causing bodily injury to an assault while displaying a dangerous weapon. Prosecutors attempted to do just that when they alleged that a driver attacked her ex-boyfriend with a car turning it into a dangerous weapon. Justice McDonald in the four justice majority held that it is a "wholly new offense" that cannot be amended on the day of trial after an indictment has already approved for serious misdemeanor assault causing bodily injury.

In State v. Jameesha Allen, the Iowa Supreme Court has held that the Iowa criminal charge of assault causing bodily injury, a serious misdemeanor, cannot be converted on the day of trial to assault with a dangerous weapon, a more serious aggravated misdemeanor, because it charged a "wholly new offense," thus violating Iowa's criminal rules.


In the Allen case, the State accused the defendant of jumping a curb and running down her ex-boyfriend with a moving car. Law enforcement learned of the incident when the ex-boyfriend called 911 and reported someone scratched his car and stabbed him in a parking lot. When he called back, he said five people were trying to kill him in two cars and that he had been run over. He fled to a nearby Hy-Vee and a manager reported he was in the store bleeding.


According to the opinion, surveillance video showed a blue car registered to the Allen defendant jumping a curb and “grazing” a pedestrian, presumably the ex-boyfriend. The blue car left the scene. The next day, officers interrogated the Allen defendant and she allegedly admitted chasing her ex-boyfriend with the car.


The Court examined the Iowa Rules of Criminal Procedure which allow the prosecutor to amend a “trial information,” or, indictment alleging a formal charge. The courts will allow the change if the amendment does not charge a “wholly new offense” and the Court finds it would not “prejudice” the Defendant to do so.


Writing for the four justice majority, Justice McDonald noted that the Court has long held that two crimes cannot be considered similar if they each have different elements, or, individual parts that must be proven to make the whole crime. The rule works in practice, he wrote, and the tradition and stability of following long standing court rulings—called “stare decisis” in Latin— requires adherence to such holdings when they are working. Applying the rule, the Court found that a last minute change to the indictment, or, formal charge, violated the rule and could not stand—even though a trial judge allowed it and the jury convicted the Allen defendant. The high court thus overturned a jury verdict of guilty. The Allen Defendant thus won her appeal but may be retried on the original case.


The Court earlier this year decided another case called Vandermark in which it ruled in the same way, reiterating a “bright-line rule for determining whether an offense is wholly new and different” that “protect[s] the role of the agency that screened the charge,” and “promotes consistency in the administration of justice.”


The majority opinion reasoned that assault causing bodily injury requires a bodily injury while assault while displaying a dangerous weapon requires the display of a dangerous weapon. Because both charges required different elements, reasoned Justice McDonald, they had to be "wholly new offenses" and swapping them at the last minute was illegal.


The decision was on “further review” from the Court of Appeals which reversed the lower court’s decision to allow the last minute charge. The Iowa Supreme Court agreed with the Court of Appeals and vacated the jury verdict, stating that the trial court ruling violated the Iowa Rules of Criminal Procedure. Note: civil cases, including personal injury claims and divorces, are governed by the Iowa Rules of Civil Procedure. Criminal cases where police make arrests and elected prosecutors seek criminal indictments are thus not the same as other cases.


Justice Mansfield, joined by Chief Justice Susan Larson Christiansen and Justice Waterman, dissented. Justice Mansfield noted that the rules of criminal procedure do not consider different charges to be “wholly new offenses” if they are merely a different way to file a charge for the exact same misconduct. But because the dissent only had three votes and the majority opinion had four votes, the majority opinion is now law.


The dissent took umbrage at the majority’s assertion that the “agency” deciding the proper charge is the law enforcement agency that “screened” it first—noting that it is the Court’s job to determine proper charging.


“The ‘agency’ that screened the original charge was the district court, and the district court had to—and did—approve the amended trial information under the same screening standard that it applied to the original [indictment].”


In two unusual situations so far, Justice McDonald has become the swing vote on the Iowa Supreme Court. For example, since his appointment he has found law enforcement trash “rips” or “grabs”—searching through garbage to build a case without a warrant—illegal. Now, Justice McDonald has found that a prosecutor overreached to file a “wholly new offense” on the day of the trial when they tried to change the original indictment of assault causing bodily injury to assault while displaying a dangerous weapon. Stay tuned.


NOTE: David A. Cmelik Law PLC had no role in the Allen case.


If you or a loved one is charged with an Iowa criminal offense in Cedar Rapids, Iowa City, or other Iowa community, contact us for a free initial consultation.