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Poised to strike: shovel can be dangerous weapon says Iowa court


An Iowa Court of Appeals panel has decided that holding a shovel, “poised to strike,” is indeed sufficient evidence to support a guilty verdict in a jury trial for assault with a dangerous weapon.

In State v. Deaton, Judge Amanda Potterfield, Senior Judge for the Iowa Court of Appeals, examined whether a defendant who held up a shovel like a baseball bat and urged a neighbor that he “best be on [his] way” was enough to support a jury verdict of guilty.

In Deaton, an apparent dispute among neighbors about the placement of a foundation escalated when the Deaton defendant began using a shovel to chip away at it. A neighbor, Fugate, went down an alley to confront the Deaton defendant, along with Fugate’s fourteen year old son.

When Fugate told him he could not chip away at the third party’s foundation, Deaton allegedly told him he “best be on his way” and held the shovel he was using up like a baseball bat.

Fugate and his fourteen year old son testified at trial that they began to walk away and the Deaton defendant sprayed Fugate with pepper spray as Fugate retreated.

Police investigated. The Deaton defendant claimed self-defense, alleging Fugate was the aggressor. The State charged Deaton with assault with a dangerous weapon—apparently not for pepper spraying Fugate but, instead, for holding the shovel in a threatening manner. A jury convicted the Deaton defendant.

Writing for the Court, Judge Potterfield noted that there are alternative means to prove that a weapon is dangerous, including per se dangerous weapons like firearms, any “instrument or device used primarily for use in inflicting death or injury . . . and is capable of inflicting death,” along with the third alternative that both the State and the Deaton defendant agree was at issue here: an instrument or device of any sort . . . which is actually used in such a manner as to indicate that the defendant intends to inflict death or serious injury upon the other, and which, when so used is capable of inflicting death upon a human being.”

Fugate’s fourteen year old son testified that the Deaton defendant held the shovel “above his head, like holding it like a bat almost” and that the minor child noticed Deaton “walked close to [their] driveway while holding the shovel up.

The Court noted that it had previously decided a case in State v. Lambert, where someone used a three foot metal pipe as a dangerous weapon when the Lambert defendant stood over his victim “poised to strike.”

Even though the Deaton defendant neither swung nor hit the complaining witnesses, that “does not defeat the finding of dangerous weapon.”

The Court also noted that it must view the evidence in “a light most favorable to the verdict,” a rule that honors the deliberations of the jury because they are in the best position to hear, see, and understand the evidence. It therefore found that substantial evidence supported the Deaton defendant’s conviction.

NOTE: David A. Cmelik Law PLC had no involvement in the Deaton case.

If you or a loved one have been arrested for an assault, domestic assault, assault causing bodily injury, assault with a dangerous weapon, or any other Iowa prosecution and you are seeking a criminal defense lawyer to represent you in such matter, contact us for a free initial consultation. This firm is exclusively limited to the practice of criminal law. We do nothing else. Call us today. However, remember that a blog is not legal advice and that sending unsolicited information to a lawyer over the Internet does not establish an attorney-client relationship.

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