In State v. Ken Kuhse, the Iowa Supreme Court has upheld a Linn County jury conviction for domestic abuse assault, rejecting Defendant’s argument that the instruction on all the elements for the domestic abuse charge should have included that the State must disprove the defendant’s justification defense.
In the Kuhse case, the Court found that the defendant and his wife were married for nine years without children. They lived in the same house though the husband spent most of the time in the basement and his wife lived upstairs. One night, the Kuhse defendant was drinking with his friends in the basement when his wife came downstairs and the two called each other names. Justice Mansfield, writing for the court, noted that “the verbal altercation escalated to physical abuse,” with the defendant “strangl[ing] [his wife] to the point that she could not breathe and the necklace she was wearing broke.”
The Court continued, writing that the wife was “swiping” at the defendant as he held her at bay with long arms, a point his wife says the defendant made during the argument when he said the length of his arms were a “a good thing . . . because there ain’t a damn thing [she] can do about this right now.” The court stated that the melee continued when the defendant grabbed her two more times “slamming” her toward an entertainment center and a coffee table.
Defendant’s wife left and went to a friend’s apartment where she called police. Police observed her injuries and called an ambulance, which the wife refused because of a lack of health insurance. Eventually, she allowed her friend to drive her to the emergency room.
For his part, Defendant said that his wife was “attempting to start a fight with him all day” and that he “acted in self-defense.” The police did notice a scrape on his nose and a bruise on his arm, which he said resulted from his wife “bumping in him” and “throwing herself onto his arm,” according to the Court’s opinion.
The defendant’s version came in through two responding police officers who testified during the prosecution’s case. The defendant did not testify.
The instruction on the elements of abuse accurately laid out what the State had to prove but did not also include what it had to disprove—the self-defense claim. There were other instructions, including specific instructions on self-defense, reasonable doubt, and an instruction on how all of the instructions together form the law the jury must follow in the case and that no single instruction forms the law they had to follow.
Justice Mansfield noted that of the 27 instructions, nine addressed “justification,” or, self-defense. One such instruction directed the jury that “[t]he State must prove the Defendant was not acting with justification.” The Court also found that both sides made justification “the focal point” of their closing arguments, confirming for the jury “that justification was an essential part of its deliberations.”
Therefore, the Court wrote, it did not share the Court of Appeals concern that the jury believed its job was simply done when it found the elements of domestic abuse. The Court thus affirmed the conviction.
David A. Cmelik Law PLC had no involvement in the Kuhse case.
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