Marshall v. State (In re Marshall)

Decision Date02 September 2011
Docket NumberNo. 10–0652.,10–0652.
Citation805 N.W.2d 145
PartiesIn the Matter of Justin Alexander MARSHALL.Justin Alexander Marshall, Appellee, v. State of Iowa, Appellant.
CourtIowa Supreme Court


Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, Sharon K. Hall, Assistant Attorney General, Janet M. Lyness, County Attorney, and Meredith Rich–Chappell, Assistant County Attorney, for appellant.

Rachel C.B. Antonuccio of Cole & Vondra, LLP, Iowa City, for appellee.

APPEL, Justice.

In this case, we consider the scope of the State's authority under Iowa Code chapter 804 to detain a person whom the State asserts is a material witness to a crime. The district court concluded that the authority of the State to detain a material witness is extinguished when a trial date is set for the underlying crime and the material witness is served with a subpoena. The State sought an interlocutory appeal from the district court's order, which we granted. We now affirm the order of the district court for the reasons expressed below.

I. Factual and Procedural Background.

In October 2009, Iowa City police responded to a 911 call and found the body of John Versypt in a hallway of an apartment building in Iowa City. Versypt was the victim of a gunshot wound to the head.

As part of their investigation, police spoke with Justin Marshall, who resided at the apartment building where Versypt's body was found. Marshall provided police with incorrect statements about his whereabouts at the time of the murder and provided inconsistent statements to police about his knowledge of the murder and surrounding events. Marshall agreed to take two polygraph tests and on both occasions provided answers that police regarded as deceptive.

At the time of the murder, Marshall was staying with his aunt in her apartment in the building. His aunt and one of her daughters, however, moved from Iowa City to Chicago after the shooting. Although Marshall's father resided in Iowa City in the past, an arrest warrant, which had been issued in 2008, was outstanding and his whereabouts were unknown. Police were aware of no other relatives of Marshall's in the Iowa City area. As the investigation continued, police received information from tenants in the apartment building that Marshall's aunt had purchased a bus ticket for Marshall to Texas, where criminal charges were pending against him.

In light of the crime, the belief that Marshall had information relating to it, Marshall's lack of current family connections to Iowa City, and his apparent plan to leave the area, the State filed a material witness complaint against Marshall and sought an arrest warrant for him. A magistrate approved the warrant, and the warrant was executed on November 18, 2009. At the time of Marshall's arrest, no one had been charged with the murder of Versypt. The magistrate entered an order requiring $100,000 in sureties, which Marshall did not produce. On February 11, 2010, the State charged Charles Thompson with murder in connection with Versypt's death.

On February 8, 2010, three days before the State charged Thompson, Marshall's attorney filed a motion to dismiss the material witness complaint alleging that Marshall's continued detention violated the Due Process, Equal Protection, and Cruel and Unusual Punishment Clauses of the Iowa and United States Constitutions. The district court, however, requested additional briefing on the question of the proper interpretation of Iowa Code section 804.11, which provides for the arrest of a material witness when the witness might be unavailable for “service of a subpoena.” Iowa Code § 804.11 (2009).

The district court held that the State lacked statutory authority to continue Marshall's detention and ordered his release. The district court concluded that the original detention was lawful as there was probable cause to believe that Marshall possessed information related to the murder and that, at the time of his arrest, a subpoena could not be served on him as Thompson had not been arrested and a trial date for the underlying crime had not been set. According to the district court, however, the posture changed after Thompson was charged with the murder of Versypt and a trial date set. At this point, the district court reasoned, probable cause to believe that Marshall would be unavailable for the service of a subpoena “disappeared.” As a result, the district court concluded that there was no further basis for detaining Marshall.

The State filed an application for interlocutory review of the district court's order. We granted interlocutory review and now affirm.

II. Standard of Review.

The district court's dismissal of the material witness complaint was based on an interpretation of Iowa Code sections 804.11, 804.23, and 811.2. Our review of questions of statutory interpretation is for errors at law. State v. Fischer, 785 N.W.2d 697, 699 (Iowa 2010).

III. Issues Presented on Appeal.

The nub of Marshall's claim is that the State lacked statutory authority under the facts and circumstances of this case to hold him as a material witness after a trial date had been set for the underlying criminal trial and a subpoena could be served on him. The question involves the proper interpretation of Iowa Code sections 804.11, 804.23, and 811.2.

Iowa Code section 804.11 provides:

When a law enforcement officer has probable cause to believe that a person is a necessary and material witness to a felony and that such person might be unavailable for service of a subpoena, the officer may arrest such person as a material witness with or without an arrest warrant.

Iowa Code § 804.11.

Iowa Code section 804.23 provides:

The officer shall, without unnecessary delay, take the person arrested pursuant to section 804.11 before the nearest or most accessible magistrate to the place where the arrest occurred.

.... The magistrate may order the person released pursuant to section 811.2.

Id. § 804.23.

Iowa Code chapter 811 establishes the framework for pretrial and posttrial release through bail for defendants. Iowa Code section 811.2 contains several provisions designed to allow the magistrate to “assure the appearance ... as required,” “assure the appearance of the person for trial or deferral of judgment,” “assure appearance as required,” and “assure the defendant's appearance.” See Iowa Code § 811.2(1), .2(1)( e), .2(2).

Marshall asserts that the narrow language in Iowa Code section 804.11 authorizing the arrest of a necessary and material witness to a felony when such person might be “unavailable for service of a subpoena” means that once a subpoena can be served on the witness, he must be released as the purpose of the arrest no longer exists.

The State counters that Marshall's focus on the language in Iowa Code section 804.11 is too narrow. The State argues that because Iowa Code section 804.23 incorporates the bail provisions of Iowa Code section 811.2, a material witness may be detained to secure “the appearance of the person for trial” even though Iowa Code section 804.11 authorizes arrest only to ensure service of a subpoena.

IV. Overview of Witness Detention Prior to Trial.

A. The Concept of Witness Detention. In Stein v. New York, 346 U.S. 156, 184, 73 S.Ct. 1077, 1092, 97 L.Ed. 1522, 1542 (1953), overruled on other grounds by Jackson v. Denno, 378 U.S. 368, 391, 84 S.Ct. 1774, 1788, 12 L.Ed.2d 908, 924 (1964), Justice Robert Jackson observed in an often-cited passage that [t]he duty to disclose knowledge of crime ... is so vital that one known to be innocent may be detained, in the absence of bail, as a material witness.” No one can seriously doubt that obtaining the testimony of witnesses in a criminal trial is important to society. A civilized society justly demands that citizens who have knowledge of crime provide testimony to ensure that the criminal laws are effectively enforced. See State v. Hernandez–Lopez, 639 N.W.2d 226, 236 (Iowa 2002).

Yet, at the same time, the notion of incarcerating an innocent individual who happens to be a witness to a crime is troublesome. How can it be, for instance, that a wealthy person accused of a serious crime may be free on bail pending trial while an innocent but indigent witness of the crime who is unable to post required sureties is detained prior to trial? Is it fair for the state to infringe on a witness's liberty interest through incarceration when the state lacks probable cause to arrest the witness for a crime? Why do we allow a criminal defendant to demand a speedy trial, but afford no analogous right to a jailed witness? Constitutional implications of due process, equal protection, and search and seizure lurk in the shadows of these nettlesome questions.1

B. Historical Concerns Regarding Witness Detention.

Concerns about the potential abuse of witness detention have historically triggered periodic calls for reform.2 For example, in New York, police officials in the 1870s called for the repeal of material witness detention because the public was so intimidated by its potential use that public cooperation with law enforcement had been seriously undermined. See Wesley MacNeil Oliver, The Rise and Fall of Material Witness Detention in Nineteenth Century New York, 1 N.Y.U. J.L. & Liberty 727, 728 (2005).

Concerns regarding witness detention were so great early in the twentieth century that, in 1912, the committee on Jurisprudence and Law Reform of the American Bar Association recommended that under no circumstances should a witness have to undergo detention for his inability to post bond. Comment, Cessante Ratione Legis Cessat Ipsa Lex ( The Plight of the Detained Material Witness ), 7 Cath. U.L.Rev. 37, 40 (1958) [hereinafter Cessante Ratione Legis Cessat Ipsa Lex].

Although this sweeping bright-line recommendation was ultimately rejected, the American Bar Association approved a resolution that detention of material witnesses should occur only under extraordinary circumstances and that, when detention was necessary, due regard should be...

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