State v. Mootz

Decision Date11 May 2011
Docket NumberNo. 1-019 / 10-0418,1-019 / 10-0418
PartiesSTATE OF IOWA, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. JERIN DOUGLAS MOOTZ, Defendant-Appellant.
CourtIowa Court of Appeals

Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Scott County, Douglas C. McDonald, District Associate Judge.

Defendant appeals his conviction for assault on a police officer causing bodily injury. AFFIRMED.

Mark C. Smith, State Appellate Defender, and Martha J. Lucey, Assistant Appellate Defender, for appellant.

Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, Linda J. Hines, Assistant Attorney General, Michael J. Walton, County Attorney, and Dion Trowers, Assistant County Attorney, for appellee.

Considered by Sackett, C.J., Potterfield, J., and Huitink, S.J.* Tabor, J., takes no part.


Defendant, Jerin Mootz, appeals from the judgment and sentence entered upon a jury verdict finding him guilty of assault on a police officer causing bodily injury, in violation of Iowa Code section 708.3A(3) (2009). Mootz contends the district court erred in denying his peremptory strike of a minority juror. We find error, but consider it harmless. Therefore, we affirm.

I. Background Facts and Proceedings.

On June 6, 2009, a fight broke out in the back of the Phil and Larry's Saloon in Davenport. The fight moved outdoors and the police were called. Officer Epigemenio Canas, who is Hispanic, was dispatched to the location where he observed ten to fifteen people outside pushing, yelling, and screaming. He took into custody a Hispanic male who appeared to be an instigator and attempted to take custody of others when he saw a man quickly approaching him with a raised fist. The officer attempted to avoid a punch by turning his head to the side, but was unable to deflect it. He was struck above his right eye and received a laceration. The attacking gentleman, Jerin Mootz (Mootz), lost his balance and fell. Officer Canas positioned himself on top of Mootz and delivered several reactionary strikes with his fist in order to gain control of Mootz. Officer Canas's injuries required five stitches over his right eye. He also testified he experienced swelling in his cheek, pain and swelling in his right hand, and pain in his upper shoulder and neck.

Mootz was charged with assault on a police officer causing bodily injury. The case came to trial on February 8, 2010. Mootz waived the recording of voirdire; however, based on a subsequent court record, we are able to determine that the court advised the parties in a sidebar following voir dire it observed three minority people on the jury panel including two Hispanic males. The court advised the State and Mootz it considered one of the Hispanic males "strikeable" because the juror stated he was related to two area law enforcement people and had medical problems that affected his ability to serve on the jury that day. However, the court advised the parties before they began to exercise their peremptory challenges that it had "heard no sufficient reason" during voir dire that these other minority jurors should be stricken.

Mootz struck the first male Hispanic juror that the court considered "strikeable" and then sought to strike a second Hispanic male as well. The court then on the record outside the presence of the jury asked the State whether it objected to Mootz striking this second juror. The State responded it did object because the juror gave no indication why he could not serve. In response, Mootz argued first he had no obligation to justify why he was striking this juror. Secondly, Mootz argued he had good reasons to strike the juror as the juror was a former bartender who said he knew about intoxication, 1 and the juror also stated he had previously been arrested and the juror said he thought he deserved it. Mootz argued,

There's a lot of reasons why this man should not be on this particular jury. But I certainly have a legitimate reason to strike him beyond the fact he is Hispanic.
I might add that there are two other minorities on this panel.... [B]oth black women who remain on this panel. I don'thave a bias toward anyone here except as to what I believe may be a prejudice position or a prior experience that is going to affect my client's ability to get a fair trial. When the man says that the police cuffed him and he deserved it, I think that's enough for me....
So I would request the court to allow the peremptory strike of [this juror] to stand. I know of no authority and I think the State ought to give us some legal authority for the proposition that I can't do this.
The court refused to allow Mootz to strike the juror stating:
Well, that is the rule. You have to have a reason to do it. He answered the questions fairly. He said as a teenager he had problems, he was speeding or something, and the best I could hear him he said the police had stopped him and he deserved it or whatever. It didn't sound like it was anything very serious. It was kid stuff. So those weren't sufficient reasons to challenge him. I am not going to—we have a police officer who is a Hispanic and we make it a point to make sure that minorities are treated fairly like everyone else on our jury panels and I think that's important and that applies to both the Defendant and the State.
So I'm not going to allow you to strike [this juror]. So you need to strike somebody else on the list and [this juror] will be allowed to serve.

Under objection, Mootz struck another juror and the jury panel was sworn.

After the first two witnesses testified, the court broke for lunch. After lunch, but before the jury returned, Mootz made a motion for a mistrial on the basis he was denied his right to strike the juror. Mootz asserted he had the absolute right to make his peremptory challenges and he offered a race-neutral reason to strike the juror in question. He argued the court action compelling him to leave this juror on the panel denied him his Sixth Amendment right to a fair trial. The court responded,

All right. Well, you have made a record on it. My belief is that that rule applies to both parties. And we went for years here with white juries and people were excluded for racial—obviously racial reasons, and a stop has been put to that. We have an officer that was assaulted here, a victim, and he is of a Hispanicbackground and I think that it's fair that we have a proper mixture of backgrounds on the jury as far as both sides are concerned. There was no valid reason given for excluding him. He indicated that he could be fair. He had some experience with the police when he was younger. He deserved, in his opinion, what he got and he didn't show any bias one way or the other. Anyway, your record has been made on it, but I'm going to maintain my position on it.

The jury ultimately found Mootz guilty of assault on a police officer causing bodily injury.

Mootz made a motion for a new trial on February 17, 2010, asserting the court improperly denied him his right to strike the juror in question. In his motion Mootz brought to the court's attention that there were three Hispanic jurors on the panel, not two as the court originally thought. This third juror identified herself as Hispanic on the juror information sheet and Mootz made no attempt to strike her. The motion was set for hearing on February 24, 2010.

At the hearing, the court clarified it did not identify the female juror as Hispanic in the initial court proceeding because it did not have the juror information sheet at the time and the juror did not have a Hispanic last name. The court went on to articulate the reasons it did not allow the juror in question to be stricken.

[H]e had been a bartender earlier in his life out east somewhere.... We don't know any more details than that about it. He said he'd had his share of problems with police when he was younger, but he had no—no ongoing disputes over what they did, so I didn't feel that that was a sufficient reason to—that the peremptory challenge should be exercised on him, because it's important to us that we have a jury—we have juries that are, you know, selected not on the basis of race, but on—on the kind of answers that they give....
I just didn't hear any reasons at all that would justify striking him or challenging him.

Mootz asserted the State had the burden to show the reason he gave for striking this juror was pre-textual and failed to meet this burden. Mootz claimed he did in fact leave on the female Hispanic juror demonstrating he was not striking jurors based on race. Mootz stated he gave two good reasons to strike this juror that were race-neutral and the State failed to demonstrate he struck the juror for racially discriminatory reasons.

The court responded,

I heard no reasons why—no legitimate reasons why that you would have a real issue with [this juror] in serving, and I did it on my own, without the State's request. I think it's important to the overall justice of our system, the fairness of our system, that we not discriminate against people and make them—make the jurors feel that they are second-class citizens in any respect, because they aren't.

The court asked the State at this point what its position was on the issue. The State asserted it felt it was the judge's responsibility to make sure jury selection was done in a fair and legal manner. Mootz conceded the court had the right to bring up the issue in the manner in which it did because the Supreme Court has left the ultimate decision on whether peremptory strikes are being used in a discriminatory manner to the trial judge. But Mootz asserted he did provide race-neutral reasons for his strike and the State offered nothing to rebut it. The court ultimately ruled it did not believe Mootz gave race-neutral reasons for striking the juror; and therefore, denied Mootz's motion for a new trial.

Mootz was sentenced on the charge of assault on a police officer causing bodily injury to an indeterminate term of two years and the court imposed a fine of $1500. On March 15, 2010, Mootz filed his notice of appeal.

II. Standard of...

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