245 N.W.2d 308 (Iowa 1976), 58533, State v. Snethen

Docket Nº:58533.
Citation:245 N.W.2d 308
Party Name:STATE of Iowa, Appellee, v. Daniel SNETHEN, Appellant.
Case Date:August 30, 1976
Court:Supreme Court of Iowa

Page 308

245 N.W.2d 308 (Iowa 1976)

STATE of Iowa, Appellee,


Daniel SNETHEN, Appellant.

No. 58533.

Supreme Court of Iowa.

August 30, 1976

Page 309

James A. Smith, of Mike Wilson Law Firm, Des Moines, for appellant.

Richard C. Turner, Atty. Gen., David L. Brown, Asst. Atty. Gen., Ray A. Fenton, County Atty., for appellee.


McCORMICK, Justice.

Defendant Daniel Snethen appeals his conviction and sentence for first-degree murder in violation of §§ 690.1 and 690.2, The Code. Defendant contends the trial court erred (1) in placing the burden on him to prove his insanity in a hearing to determine his competency to stand trial, (2) in overruling in part his motion to suppress inculpatory statements (3) in permitting testimony of a State psychiatrist in violation of the physician-patient privilege, and (4) in overruling his motion for directed verdict on the ground of insufficiency of the evidence to show his capacity to form the intent necessary for first-degree murder. We affirm the trial court.

The murder charge arose from the brutal slaying of Timothy Hawbaker in Polk County on August 31, 1974. The State alleged defendant killed Hawbaker late that night near a levee south of Des Moines by choking him and beating him with a bumper jack.

Viewed in its light most favorable to the verdict, the evidence showed defendant met Hawbaker in downtown Des Moines during the evening involved when an automobile driven by defendant was in a minor accident with an automobile driven by Hawbaker. Defendant was driving a car owned by his halfbrother, Glenn 'Luke' Foster, who was a passenger in the vehicle. Hawbaker asked Luke not to report the accident. He offered Luke and defendant a ride in his car, and they accepted. After riding around for about an hour, the trio ended up near a levee south of Des Moines, close to the site of an Iowa Power and Light Company building. Defendant and Hawbaker had been arguing. The three men left the car, and defendant and Hawbaker

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began to scuffle with each other. Luke left the scene on foot because he did not wish to be involved. Defendant choked Hawbaker, struck him on the head several times with a bumper jack, and stabbed him numerous times in the chest. The blows from the bumper jack caused Hawbaker's death. Defendant dragged Hawbaker's body into a nearby cornfield, took his wrist-watch, and left the body there. Defendant burned the Hawbaker automobile near the scene of the homicide.

The present charge was later brought. At the request of defense counsel, a trial was held to determine defendant's competency to stand trial. After the jury found he was not competent to stand trial, he was sent to the medical security facility at Oakdale under the provisions of § 783.3, The Code. Subsequently, in accordance with § 783.4, The Code, the director of the medical security facility reported defendant was 'mentally restored' and competent to stand trial. Another competency trial was then conducted. On this occasion, the jury found defendant competent to stand trial. He was then tried and convicted of first-degree murder. This appeal followed.

I. Burden of proof in the second competency trial. Defendant contends the trial court erred in instructing the jury in the second competency trial that he had the burden of proving his incompetency. He took timely and adequate exception to the court's instruction on the issue.

Both competency trials were conducted pursuant to chapter 783, The Code. The purpose of each trial was to determine defendant's 'sanity' within the meaning of § 783.1, The Code. A defendant is 'insane' under that provision if he lacks mental capacity to appreciate the charge against him, understand the proceedings, and help conduct his defense. Hickey v. District Court of Kossuth County, 174 N.W.2d 406, 409--410 (Iowa 1970).

The burden of proving his insanity in a chapter 783 proceeding is placed on the defendant by the statute. § 783.2, The Code ('the defendant shall hold the burden of proof'). Defendant alleges this provision does not apply in a second competency trial when, as here, the defendant has met his burden in a prior competency trial to prove his insanity. He relies on the principle that when insanity is once established, it is presumed to continue until the contrary is shown, and the burden to so show is on the one who alleges a return to sanity. See State v. Allan, 166 N.W.2d 752, 758 (Iowa 1969).

The effect of the presumption of insanity on chapter 783 proceedings was confronted and decided in Hoskins v. Bennett, 256 Iowa 1370, 131 N.W.2d 510 (1964), a case not mentioned in defendant's appellate brief. The Hoskins case was a habeas corpus action by a prisoner who sought to upset several convictions entered in Lyon County on pleas of guilty. While the first charge against him was pending, he was found in a competency trial to be incompetent to stand trial. He was committed to the insane ward at Anamosa 'until he was sane' under the provisions of § 783.3, The Code, 1958. More than a year later the staff of the insane ward found he was 'mentally restored', and the warden of the reformatory notified the sheriff and county attorney of Lyon County of that fact in accordance with § 783.4, The Code, 1958. He was returned to Lyon County where his convictions later occurred.

In the habeas corpus action, Hoskins contended that the adjudication of insanity in his competency trial created a presumption of continuing insanity which should have barred acceptance of his guilty pleas until another competency trial to establish his competency was conducted.

This court held the presumption of continuing insanity is overcome and the presumption of sanity returns when a person is discharged as cured from a psychiatric facility in which he is confined after an adjudication of insanity. The court found the insane ward at the reformatory to be such a facility and the notification by the warden and subsequent procedures under § 783.4 to be a discharge upon cure. 256 Iowa at 1373--1374, 131 N.W.2d at 513.

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The provisions of § 783.4 are the same now as they were then except that the psychiatric facility involved is the Iowa medical security facility at Oakdale instead of the insane ward of the reformatory. The principle of the Hoskins case is applicable here. When the director of the medical security facility notified the sheriff and county attorney that defendant was mentally restored, the presumption of continuing insanity ended and a presumption of sanity returned.

Consequently, at the...

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