Appellate Case Summaries
Below you will find summaries of some of our more noteworthy successful appeals. The result for any client’s case in a similar matter are dependent on the specific facts and legal circumstances presented.
Appellate Case Summaries
Defendant was convicted in the District Court, Polk County, Jeffrey Farrell, J., of fraudulently passing or redeeming, or attempt to fraudulently pass or redeem lottery ticket and tampering with lottery equipment. Defendant appealed. On transfer from the Supreme Court, the Court of Appeals, 885 N.W.2d 831, reversed conviction for fraudulent passing or redeeming, affirmed conviction for tampering charge, and remanded. Defendant’s request for further review was granted.
In this forfeiture case the Iowa Supreme Court set important precedent for property owners to be able to make claims for seized property while challenging the legality of the property seizure and maintaining their right to not answer questions in order to be heard. A vehicle with New Jersey plates was stopped on I-80 for alleged speeding by a Department of Transportation vehicle enforcement officer who admitted his stop was motivated because he believed it may be transporting drugs or currency. Following the stop, the DOT officer immediately questioned the occupants about their travels and eventually searched the vehicle, seized it, and let the occupants go without any charges because no contraband was found. When the DOT officer was alerted in the coming days that the vehicle owner had requested through counsel to have the vehicle released, he found this suspicious and obtained a search warrant to search the vehicle further. Forty five thousand dollars in cash was then seized from a hidden compartment and the State sought to forfeit the vehicle and cash. The owner of the vehicle asserted he was an innocent owner and the driver asserted he owned the cash. In his claim the owner asserted the stop, seizures and searches were unlawful and that he objected to answering any questions concerning the cash until the State had established it was lawfully seized. The trial court summarily dismissed the claimant’s claim because he did not assert how and when he acquired the currency as required by statute. The Court then summarily forfeited the currency. After many months, the State returned the vehicle to the owner, but refused to pay any legal fees. The State claimed they had “voluntarily” withdrawn their forfeiture against the vehicle. The trial court denied all legal fees.
The Iowa Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court opinions. Stowers & Sarcone challenged that decision on further review to the Iowa Supreme Court. The Iowa Supreme Court agreed with Stowers & Sarcone in a significant precedent-setting opinion. The Iowa Supreme Court found that a claimant had the right to not comply with the statutory claim requirements by virtue of the Fifth Amendment right to silence and the constitutional right to challenge the legality of the search and seizure prior to a hearing on the alleged forfeiture claim of the State. The Court further held that a person who claims to be an innocent owner of property the State seeks to forfeit is entitled to reasonable attorney fees incurred when the State resists returning the property even if they eventually return the property before a formal hearing on the claim of innocent ownership. The Iowa Supreme Court remanded the case to the trial court to award attorney fees and to also determine the legality of the search and seizure.
Detention of driver on I-80 ruled impermissibly prolonged resulting in illegal search. In this case the Defendant was stopped for alleged speeding by an Iowa State Trooper. The Trooper then proceeded to conduct an investigation of other unspecified criminal activity based upon hunch and not reasonable suspicion. The Court relied on our successful decision in Pardee (see within) and the United States Supreme Court decision in Rodriguez to determine the Trooper impermissibly prolonged and expanded the stop for speeding without first having sufficient grounds to do so. Mr. Campbell’s convictions for possession with intent to distribute marijuana and his conviction for failure to possess a tax stamp, and his 10-year prison term, were vacated. The case was then dismissed.
Searing Cross-Examination of Trooper Leads to Suppression In Drug Interdiction Stop
Nick and Dean’s client, Mr. Hanrahan, was stopped by a state police officer for going four miles per hour over the speed limit on the interstate. After informing Hanrahan that he was only going to be given a warning for the speeding violation, the state trooper conducted a routine interview where he asked Hanrahan where he began his journey, where he was going, and his plans upon arrival. Following this interview, the officer requested to detain Hanrahan in order to have a drug dog sniff the car, but Hanrahan refused. Despite this refusal, the officer detained Hanrahan and conducted a drug dog sniff, which led to a search of the car. The Iowa Court of Appeals found that the officer did not have reasonable suspicion of criminal activity in order to detain Hanrahan for the sniff, and therefore the sniff had violated his Fourth Amendment protection against illegal searches and seizures. State v. Bergmann, 633 N.W.2d 328, 335 (Iowa 2001) (finding that if the purpose of the stop has concluded, the officer must have reasonable suspicion to detain a suspect). Even though the state argued that Hanrahan’s travel from California (a major drug state) and the map, cooler, and food in Hanrahan’s backseat raised reasonable suspicion to support the search, during what the court characterized as a “searing cross-examination,” Dean uncovered that Hanrahan had actually been travelling to, not from, California, and that the items in the backseat were all consistent with such long travel. The court agreed, finding that the mere opinion of the officer that all travelers going to California must be involved in illegal drugs did not justify the unconstitutional search.
Avid Representation Changes the Way Civil Commitment Experts Are Allowed to Testify
As recently as 2013, Dean defended Mr. Stenzel, who faced civil commitment as a sexually violent predator. The state was seeking commitment based on an offense that Stenzel had committed over 20 years prior, even though Stenzel had successfully completed sex offender treatment and had engaged in no other offenses during his time in prison. At trial, the state placed an expert on stand who gave details of the various screening processes that the state goes through before deciding to seek civil commitment for an individual. The expert told the jury that only a very small amount of offenders meet this screening process, and stated that Stenzel meeting this process was one of the factors he had used to determine that the client was at high risk of re-offending.
On appeal in front of the Iowa Supreme Court, Dean and Nick successfully argued that the expert’s testimony was improper. The expert’s testimony had taken the determination of whether Stenzel would re-offend out of the hands of the jury by implying that the decision had already been made through the state’s extensive screening processes. The court agreed, and reversed and remanded the lower court’s ruling. The court also ruled that it had been unfair to allow the expert to testify from a police report about a prior dropped charge and about prior minutes of testimony at Stenzel’s trial, because both of these sources were extremely biased, given that they had both been previously prepared by the prosecution for the purpose of prosecuting Stenzel. Iowa R. Civ. P. 5.703.
Successful Appellate Advocacy Leads to New Trial in Armored Truck Robbery
In a Puerto Rican District Court, Mr. Cabrera-Rivera was found guilty on three counts connected with the robbery of an armored truck in Bayamón, Puerto Rico. Dean Stowers appealed Mr. Cabrera-Rivera’s convictions in the First Circuit Court of Appeals on the basis that the district court permitted the government, over objection, to use the out-of-court statements of Cabrera-Rivera’s accused accomplices as evidence of his guilt. The First Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with Mr. Stowers and found that Cabrera-Rivera’s Confrontation Clause rights were violated by the admission of hearsay evidence. All Cabrera-Rivera’s convictions were vacated and a new trial was ordered.
Tenacious Representation Reduces Setence from 30 Years to Time Already Served
The saga of Mr. Cornelius’ three appeals illustrates the tenacious, never-quit representation that Dean Stowers provides his clients. Dean first became involved in representing Mr. Cornelius, who was convicted of being a felon in possession of a firearm following the first appellate decision of the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals that supported the government’s argument that Cornelius was subject to being sentenced under the Armed Career Criminal Act and as a Career Offender under the Federal Sentencing Guidelines to a term of up to life as opposed to the penalty for his offense of conviction alone, not more than 10 years. See 931 F.2d 490 (8th Cir. 1991). This outcome would have led to a sentence of 30 years for Cornelius.
Dean then represented Cornelius at his resentencing hearing and raised a number of issues not raised previously concerning whether Cornelius was in fact an Armed Career Criminal and a Career Offender. The trial judge disagreed with those arguments and sentenced Cornelius to 30 years because he believed he was bound to follow the first appeal decision and could not consider new arguments or allow Cornelius to attack the constitutional validity of his 1970 burglary conviction, sustained at age 17. In the appeal the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with the arguments of Dean and ruled that the district court erred in refusing to consider the new arguments Cornelius had raised at resentencing as to whether he was an Armed Career Criminal. The Eighth Circuit also found that Cornelius was entitled to collaterally attack the constitutional validity of his 1970 conviction. Cornelius’ case was again remanded for resentencing. See 968 F.2d 703 (8th Cir. 1992).
At Cornelius’ second resentencing, Dean again argued that the sentencing judge should not consider Cornelius’ 1970 burglary conviction because Cornelius did not waive two of his three fundamental rights as required by Boykin v. Alabama , 395 U.S. 238 (1969). The judge disagreed and Dean again appealed Cornelius’ sentence to the Eighth Circuit. The Eighth Circuit agreed with Dean and found that the 1970 burglary conviction could not be used to enhance Cornelius’ sentence, making him subject to a ten year maximum penalty. 999 F.2d 1293 (8th Cir. 1993).
In Cornelius’ third resentencing Dean successfully argued that Cornelius was neither a Career Offender nor an Armed Career Criminal and that he had actually served more time from his initial arrest to that date than provided for under the Federal Sentencing Guidelines. Cornelius was then sentenced to time served and was released in the courtroom.
Judgment of Contempt Vacated by Iowa Supreme Court
A trial court held Mr. Huyser in contempt after finding he willfully failed to pay child support. Dean Stowers sought petition for certiorari from the Iowa Supreme Court because Huyser’s non-payment was the result of a private agreement with his ex-wife that he had relied upon in good faith in not making the payments. Even though Mr. Huyser’s private agreement was unenforceable because it was not approved by a court order at the time, Dean argued Huyser was not acting willfully by relying on this agreement. The Iowa Supreme Court agreed with Dean’s arguments and vacated the judgment of contempt.
Request for an Independent Blood or Urine Test During OWI Stop Not a Refusal to Take Breath Test
Mr. Ginsberg had his driver’s license revoked after he allegedly refused to submit to a breath test following his arrest for operating while intoxicated. Dean Stowers asserted that Ginsberg was merely asserting his right to an independent test and that assertion of this right was not a refusal of the officer’s request. The Iowa Supreme Court agreed with Dean and held that Ginsberg’s request that his blood or urine be tested was not a “refusal”, but rather an assertion of his statutory right to independent testing.
Aggressive Advocacy Leads to New Trial and Probation on Lesser Charge
Mr. O’Conner was convicted on charges of cocaine distribution and conspiracy to distribute cocaine. Dean Stowers became involved after trial and assisted in presenting a new trial motion based upon wrongfully withheld evidence. The trial court denied Mr. O’Connor’s new trial motion and sentenced him to ten years. Dean appealed to the Eighth Circuit, arguing that the government had denied a fair trial by failing to inform Mr. O’Conner and his trial counsel of threats by one government witness against another “to get his story straight” and of attempts to influence a second government witness similarly. The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed this evidence was exculpatory under Brady v. Maryland , 373 U.S. 83 (1963) because it showed the witnesses were colluding on their testimony. Mr. O’Connor was ordered to receive a new trial. Mr. O’Connor was then released from federal custody and the case was resolved with Mr. O’Connor receiving a sentence of time served and probation upon a lesser charge.
Conviction Vacated Resulting in Significantly Shorter Sentence
Prior to the decision in Bailey v. U.S. , 516 U.S. 137 (1995), Mr. Halter plead guilty to conspiracy to distribute, using and carrying a firearm during a drug offense, and money laundering. The trial judge agreed with Dean Stowers that Halter’s plea to the using and carrying a firearm during a drug offense was constitutionally invalid because Halter had not admitted to “actively employing” a firearm. However, the trial judge declined to set aside his mandatory five year sentence for the gun offense because the judge believed Halter had to demonstrate his actual innocence on dismissed drug trafficking charges that the judge believed were “more serious” due to their maximum penalties. Dean argued on the appeal to the Eighth Circuit that those dismissed counts would have had no effect on Halter’s sentence by virtue of their treatment under the Federal Sentencing Guidelines. The Eighth Circuit agreed with Dean and found that the actual punishment as determined by the Sentencing Guidelines was the proper basis for identifying the “more serious charge.” Halter’s gun conviction was vacated and the case was remanded for resentencing. Upon resentencing, Halter received a significantly shorter sentence.
Dogged Representation Leads to Exlusion of DNA Evidence
Mr. Moyer was charged with conspiracy to commit armed bank robbery, armed bank robbery, use of a firearm in relation to a crime of violence, and unlawful possession of a firearm. Dean Stowers requested the trial judge to bar the government’s DNA testing of saliva extracted from the robbers’ ski masks because it was disclosed on the eve of trial. The district court granted this motion finding that the exclusion of the DNA evidence was appropriate as a sanction for the government’s failure to comply with the discovery rule. The Government appealed this decision. The United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in excluding the DNA evidence and that the trial judge had discretion to take into account the disruption to his own schedule caused by the late disclosure which would have necessitated a delay of the trial. Mr. Moyer and his codefendants received substantial benefit from this ruling in their plea agreements reached following the case being won on appeal.
Successful Appeal Changes Improper Polk County Distirct Court Practices
Mrs. Hager was charged with terrorism and going armed with intent as a result of a bizarre shooting incident and vehicle chase. Mrs. Hager strenuously contested any wrongdoing, believing her actions were justified by her beliefs. After the trial court’s deadline to accept a plea had passed and on the morning of trial, Mrs. Hager accepted a new plea agreement offered by the County Attorney whereby she would be able to enter an Alford plea, a type of plea that does not require an admission of guilt. The trial court would not allow Mrs. Hager to accept the Alford plea because the judges in Polk County had adopted a fixed policy against trial date pleas in the interests of judicial economy. Mrs. Hager was then forced into a trial and was convicted of felonies requiring her incarceration upon the adverse verdicts of the jury and which further required the imposition of prison time. Dean Stowers undertook this appeal. The Iowa Supreme Court agreed with Dean’s argument that the trial judge abused his discretion by relying on the fixed judicial policy against trial date pleas because the judge was required to consider each defendant and the circumstances in the exercise of it’s discretion. Mrs. Hager’s convictions were set aside and she was released from prison, whereupon Mrs. Hager was allowed to accept the County Attorney’s original misdemeanor plea agreement with a sentence of probation.
Vigorous Appellate Advocacy Leads to Acquittal on All Charges
Mr. Cruz was convicted of conspiring to distribute methamphetamine, possession with intent to distribute methamphetamine, and possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime. Dean Stowers argued vigorously that there was simply no evidence to connect Mr. Cruz to the drugs, gun, or the crimes. Dean appealed Mr. Cruz’s convictions and all Mr. Cruz’s convictions were reversed. The Eighth Circuit held that the evidence was insufficient to prove that Mr. Cruz had constructive possession of the house where police had found methamphetamine, that the evidence was insufficient to prove that Mr. Cruz resided in the house, and that the evidence was insufficient to support Mr. Cruz’s convictions for conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine.
Appeal Leads to Reversal of Murder Conviction and Not Guilty Verdict on Retrial
Dean Stowers represented Mr. Esse in an appeal from Mr. Esse’s convictions and life sentence for murder in the first degree and robbery in the first degree. Among other things, Dean argued that the trial judge had erred in refusing to instruct the jury that the statements made by Esse’s interrogators asserting facts and speculative theories not shown in the trial evidence were not to be considered as true because the interrogator statements were prejudicial speculation and hearsay. The Iowa Court of Appeals agreed with Dean and all Mr. Esse’s convictions were vacated. Mr. Esse was found not guilty at his retrial wherein the limiting instruction was given.
Nick’s client, Mr. Pardee, was a passenger in an out-of-state car traveling in Iowa. As a part of a criminal interdiction effort, an Iowa state trooper pulled over the vehicle for minor traffic violations. In addition to preparing warnings for the traffic violations, the trooper extensively questioned and detained both the driver and Mr. Pardee for about 25 minutes while a narcotics dog was brought to the scene. The dog alerted on the car. The search of the vehicle uncovered marijuana and over $33,000 in cash.
Subsequently, Mr. Pardee was found not guilty of possessing marijuana. However, the State, intending to seize and keep the cash, also initiated a forfeiture case. The district court and the court of appeals ordered the money forfeited. The case was brought to the Supreme Court of Iowa.
Arguing in front of the Supreme Court of Iowa, Nick relied on a recent United States Supreme Court decision in Rodriguez v. United States, where the Court found that police cannot prolong traffic stops without reasonable suspicion of criminal activity. Nick contended that, under Rodriguez, the trooper violated Mr. Pardee’s constitutional rights by prolonging a quick traffic stop to conduct extensive investigative questioning and then a dog sniff while detaining both the driver and Mr. Pardee.
The Iowa Supreme Court agreed and stated that a traffic stop should be directed only at the traffic-related mission-i.e., checking driver’s license, vehicle registration, insurance, and outstanding warrants, and preparing warnings. Here, it would have taken the trooper no more than 10 minutes to do that. The trooper had to let the driver and Mr. Pardee continue their trip and could not prolong the traffic stop to 25 minutes without reasonable suspicion.
The Court found no reasonable suspicion here. The California plates, the slowing down to sixty-five miles per hour, the failure to make eye contact with the trooper, the oversight of leaving the right signal light on after pulling over, the initial nervousness, the lived-in look of the vehicle, or the air freshener-did not provide it. Moreover, even if the trooper developed reasonable suspicion of the criminal activity, he developed it-if at all-only by prolonging the initial stop beyond the time reasonably necessary to execute the traffic violation warnings while illegally detaining Mr. Pardee. As a result, the Supreme Court of Iowa remanded this forfeiture case back to the district court. The district court ordered the State to return cash back to Pardee.