State v. Hernandez-Lopez

Decision Date24 January 2002
Docket NumberNo. 00-1855.,00-1855.
Citation639 N.W.2d 226
PartiesSTATE of Iowa, Appellee, v. Antonio HERNANDEZ-LOPEZ, Joe Edward Ramirez, and Alberto Ruiz, Appellants.
CourtIowa Supreme Court

Michael J. Jacobsma of Klay, Veldhuizen, Bindner, De Jong & Pals, P.L.C., Orange City, for appellants.

Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, Karen Doland, Assistant Attorney General, and Mark J. Schouten, County Attorney, for appellee.

CADY, Justice.

This application for discretionary review provides us with our first opportunity to interpret Iowa's material witness statute. See Iowa Code § 804.11 (1999). Although the issues in this appeal are technically moot, we address a portion of the challenge to the constitutionality of the statute because it is likely to recur yet evade appellate review. On our review, we find the statute survives the substantive and procedural due process facial challenges. We therefore affirm the decision of the district court.

I. Background Facts and Proceedings.

On August 5, 2000, Antonio Hernandez-Lopez, Joe Edward Ramirez, Alberto Ruiz,1 and Angel Alvarado Esquivel were occupants in an automobile involved in a fatal accident with a motorcycle. Esquivel was driving the automobile, while the other three occupants were passengers. All four occupants fled the scene of the accident. They were apprehended by members of the Sioux County Sheriff's Office the following day.

The initial investigation of the accident revealed the automobile had caused the accident by crossing the highway centerline and striking the motorcycle head-on. However, the investigating officers were unable to discern who was driving the automobile at the time of the accident. None of the vehicle's occupants would acknowledge the identity of the driver. In fact, Esquivel and Ramirez provided false names and explanations of their whereabouts on August 5 upon questioning by the officers. Consequently, all four individuals were arrested as material witnesses pursuant to Iowa Code section 804.11.

On August 7, Esquivel and the defendants were brought before a magistrate for an initial appearance. See Iowa Code § 804.23 (individual arrested as material witness pursuant to section 804.11 must be brought before nearest magistrate without unnecessary delay). The magistrate found probable cause to believe they were material witnesses. An appearance bond of $32,500 was set for each defendant.

The deputy sheriff who was in charge of investigating the accident, and who arrested the defendants, filed a complaint and affidavit on August 8. The deputy claimed in the complaint that he had reason to believe the defendants were necessary and material witnesses to a felony and that they might be unavailable for service of a subpoena. He further stated in the affidavit that the defendants were occupants of a motor vehicle involved in the fatal collision. Additionally, the affidavit indicated the defendants fled the accident scene and were later apprehended by law enforcement personnel.

The county attorney subsequently filed trial informations against the defendants claiming they were material witnesses under section 804.11. Each information contained the proposed witness testimony of the deputy who filed the complaint and affidavit. The minutes of testimony further explained the defendants were Mexican nationals believed to have entered this country illegally. The Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) had placed detainers on the defendants.2 The detainer required the State to immediately transfer the defendants to INS custody upon release from state custody.

A bond review hearing was held on September 5. The State resisted the defendants' request to reduce the $32,500 bond to an unsecured appearance bond. The State cited the defendants' critical role in the ongoing investigation of the accident and the likelihood they would be unavailable for trial if released. The district court denied the defendants' application.

Laboratory reports completed by the Department of Criminal Investigation on September 11 revealed Esquivel was the driver of the automobile on August 5. On October 17, Esquivel was formally charged by trial information with committing the crimes of vehicular homicide and leaving the scene of an accident.3 The defendants gave depositions in the underlying matter on October 24. Esquivel and his counsel were permitted to conduct their own examination of the defendants during the depositions.

A second bond review hearing was held on October 30. The defendants advanced both facial and as-applied constitutional challenges to section 804.11. Specifically, the defendants contended section 804.11 violated their rights to due process under the state and federal constitutions. Additionally, the defendants alleged the statute violated the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution by infringing upon their right to be free from excessive bail. Both the State and Esquivel resisted the application. The district court denied the request.

The defendants then applied for discretionary review with this court. We granted the application on January 3, and reduced the appearance bond to $1,000 for each defendant. Esquivel subsequently pled guilty to vehicular homicide in violation of section 707.6A(2) and leaving the scene of an accident in violation of section 321.261(3). Following the rendering of the guilty plea, the material witness charges were dismissed. The district court released the defendants on January 8.

Because the defendants were no longer in state custody, the State filed a motion to dismiss this appeal as moot. Pursuant to the INS detainer, the defendants were transferred to INS custody upon their release from the county jail. The defendants have since been deported from this country.

On appeal, the defendants continue to claim the material witness statute violates due process and equal protection under our state and federal constitutions, and that bail was excessive under the Eighth Amendment to the federal constitution. Additionally, the defendants now claim the statute violates the Search and Seizure Clause to the state and federal constitutions, and also advance further equal protection arguments. Finally, they claim their rights under the statute were violated because they should have been released after their depositions were secured.

II. Standard and Scope of Review.

We review constitutional challenges to a statute de novo. State v. Keene, 629 N.W.2d 360, 363 (Iowa 2001); State v. Cronkhite, 613 N.W.2d 664, 666 (Iowa 2000). In doing so, we must remember that statutes are cloaked with a presumption of constitutionality. Santi v. Santi, 633 N.W.2d 312, 316 (Iowa 2001); Keene, 629 N.W.2d at 364. The challenger bears a heavy burden, because it must prove the unconstitutionality beyond a reasonable doubt. Keene, 629 N.W.2d at 364. Moreover, "the challenger must refute every reasonable basis upon which the statute could be found to be constitutional." Id. Furthermore, if the statute is capable of being construed in more than one manner, one of which is constitutional, we must adopt that construction. Santi, 633 N.W.2d at 316.

III. Preservation of Error.

Generally, we will only review an issue raised on appeal if it was first presented to and ruled on by the district court. State v. McCright, 569 N.W.2d 605, 607 (Iowa 1997). This general rule includes constitutional issues. Id. Thus, a party wishing to attack the constitutionality of a statute must do so at the first available time during the progression of the case. Id. If a party fails to timely apprise the district court of an issue, the matter is deemed unpreserved for our review. Id.

In their second application to review the release conditions, the defendants contended section 804.11 violated their rights to due process under the state and federal constitutions. The district court rejected this claim. Consequently, we conclude the defendants adequately preserved error on their substantive and procedural due process claims. The defendants also claimed bond was excessive and the imposition of bond violated the Equal Protection Clause by creating a class of indigent witnesses unable to satisfy bail requirements and a class of witnesses with the ability to post bail. The district court rejected the claims and the issues were preserved. However, the defendants failed to preserve error on the remainder of the issues. Contrary to the defendants' argument, a mere assertion that a statute is "unconstitutional" does not encompass every conceivable constitutional violation. If we adopted such a rule, we would he bombarded by constitutional challenges never addressed by a lower court in the case. Instead, a party challenging the constitutionality of a statute must alert the court to what specific constitutional provisions are allegedly compromised by the statute.

The defendants in this case did not properly raise their claims in district court that the statute constituted an unreasonable search and seizure and violated the Equal Protection Clause. They did not frame any challenge before the district court in the context of the Fourth Amendment. Similarly, the equal protection claim presented to the district court was based solely on the defendants' status as indigents. On appeal, a second equal protection claim is raised in the context of greater rights afforded to those arrested for crimes than those arrested as material witnesses. Accordingly, this issue was not preserved for review.

We reject the defendants' suggestion that the importance and gravity of an unpreserved constitutional issue creates an exception to our error preservation rules. "[W]e do not recognize a `plain error' rule which allows appellate review of constitutional challenges not preserved at the district court level...." Id.

Likewise, the defendants raised the issue of a violation of their statutory rights for the first time in this appeal. Accordingly, this issue was also not preserved. Any other...

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