State v. Schuler, No. 07-1131.

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Iowa
Writing for the CourtAppel
Citation774 N.W.2d 294
PartiesSTATE of Iowa, Appellee, v. Russell William SCHULER, Appellant.
Decision Date04 September 2009
Docket NumberNo. 07-1131.
774 N.W.2d 294
STATE of Iowa, Appellee,
v.
Russell William SCHULER, Appellant.
No. 07-1131.
Supreme Court of Iowa.
September 4, 2009.
Rehearing Denied October 23, 2009.

[774 N.W.2d 295]

Philip B. Mears of Mears Law Office, Iowa City, for appellant.

Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, Elisabeth S. Reynoldson, Assistant Attorney General, Thomas J. Ferguson, County Attorney, and James Katcher, Assistant County Attorney, for appellee.

APPEL, Justice.


This case centers on the validity of the jury instruction for the crime of willful injury causing serious injury. The defendant asserts that the instruction fails to set forth the elements of willful injury as established by the Code of Iowa. Specifically, he alleges that the instruction impermissibly lowered the State's burden of proof by requiring that it prove only that the victim "sustained" a serious injury instead of demonstrating that the defendant's actions "caused" a serious injury. For the reasons expressed below, we agree with the defendant, reverse his conviction, and remand the case for a new trial.

I. Factual and Procedural History.

In the early morning hours of August 31, 2006, the defendant Russell Schuler, along with his sister Jennifer Schuler and several friends, was involved in a violent altercation outside Flirts Gentlemen's Club in Waterloo, Iowa. Although witness accounts varied considerably, the incident began shortly after Lucas Spinelli arrived at the club. Words were exchanged, and the interaction quickly turned violent between Spinelli, his dog, and Jennifer. Spinelli testified that Jennifer "socked me pretty good for a girl ... right in the side of my face." After this initial altercation, Spinelli left the scene and parked his car at the Iowa Community Credit Union, just a short distance from Flirts.

Russell soon joined Spinelli at the bank parking lot, followed by Jennifer and their group of friends. The fight quickly resumed. Spinelli, while admitting that he did not have a clear recollection of the events due to his injuries, testified that Russell attempted to choke him while

774 N.W.2d 296

someone else grabbed him from behind. Spinelli asserted that he was then attacked by multiple assailants—four men and two women—and was repeatedly kicked after he had fallen to the ground and that the attack only ceased after repeated begging and pleading. Spinelli described one of these assailants as having long, dark hair. The victim had no recollection, however, other than his initial faceoff with Russell, of any of the Schulers participating in the brawl. After the altercation, Spinelli made numerous attempts to stand up, falling to the ground on his face each time. A doctor later testified that a portion of the victim's injuries could be due to these falls.

The bank fight was witnessed by cab driver George Bowser. Bowser testified that he witnessed Spinelli and at least one other male pushing each other before others arrived at the scene. At that point, the group entered the melee with everyone at the scene participating. Bowser testified that the assault continued after Spinelli was on the ground. In particular, the witness observed a female in a white, button-up shirt with long, dirty blond hair run up and hit the injured man. Later the witness identified this shirt as the cover-up typically worn by dancers after performing at Flirt's. Spinelli also reportedly told police, "I couldn't believe that dancer was hitting me and kicking me." Finally, Bowser testified that a man continued kicking the victim after the rest of the group had stopped. The witness described the man as having long, dark hair. The cab driver was not able to positively identify any of the participants in the brawl.

Other witnesses offered different recollections. Holly Lorenz, a friend of the Schulers, testified that Spinelli had been the initial aggressor, attacking Russell with a two-by-four. Lorenz further asserted that another member of their group, Trevor Roberts, was involved in the altercation but that he had discontinued fighting after Spinelli had been subdued. At that point, only the Schulers were involved, with Jennifer only involved "a little bit." Lorenz further asserted that Spinelli fought back the entire time.

In addition to the live testimony, the State introduced Russell's and Jennifer's taped interviews with law enforcement. While maintaining that he acted in self-defense, Russell admitted, in colorful language, to striking Spinelli four or five times in the face with significant force. He also told police that no one else was involved in the altercation. Although not admitted as evidence against Russell, Jennifer's statements to law enforcement acknowledge an active role in the assault.

After the assault, Spinelli was transported to Allen Hospital where he was sedated, intubated, and transferred by helicopter to the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics due to his "life-threatening injuries." Spinelli's pallet was completely dislodged, and his nose and jaw were broken.

The Schulers, in turn, returned to Flirts to await the arrival of law enforcement. Law enforcement took numerous photographs of the two, as well as seized their clothing. Lab tests later revealed Spinelli's blood on Russell's and Jennifer's clothing. Their own blood was also identified at the scene as well as that of an unidentified individual. Over the course of that morning and the ensuing month, the two cooperated with local police and submitted to questioning. At the conclusion of the investigation, the Schulers along with Roberts were charged with willful injury causing serious injury in violation of Iowa Code section 708.4(1) (2005).

The defendants individually filed a number of pretrial motions, including a motion to sever their trials and a motion to produce the entirety of Spinelli's medical records from Allen and the University of Iowa

774 N.W.2d 297

Hospitals. The district court denied each of these motions.

A joint jury trial commenced on May 1, 2007. Prior to submission of the case to the jury, the defendants objected to the wording of Instruction No. 20, the jury instruction for willful injury causing serious injury. Russell asserted that the instruction failed to properly set forth the statutory requirements of willful injury as it did not require the jury to find that he "caused" Spinelli's serious injury. The defendant noted that this omission was particularly acute given the inclusion of the causation element in the instructions for the lesser-included offenses of assault. While acknowledging that there were "differences between the elements for a willful injury, whether it's causing a bodily injury or a willful injury causing serious injury," the district court overruled the objection.

On May 9, the jury returned a verdict of guilty against all three defendants, finding Russell and Jennifer guilty of the top count of willful injury causing serious injury and Roberts guilty of the lesser-included offense of assault causing bodily injury. Russell was sentenced to an indeterminate prison term of ten years and assessed a fine of $1000.

The defendant filed a timely notice of appeal. On appeal, he asserts that his conviction was in error as (1) the jury was improperly instructed as to the elements of willful injury, allowing it to find him guilty without finding that his actions "caused" the victim's serious bodily injury; (2) the trial court erred by refusing to sever his trial from that of his co-defendants; and (3) he was improperly denied access to the totality of the victim's medical records.

II. Standard of Review.

"We review jury instructions to decide if they are correct statements of the law and are supported by substantial evidence." State v. Liggins, 557 N.W.2d 263, 267 (Iowa 1996). The district court has a "duty to instruct fully and fairly" on the law applicable to "all issues raised by the evidence." State v. Stallings, 541 N.W.2d 855, 857 (Iowa 1995). The validity and sufficiency of jury instructions are not evaluated in isolation, but rather in context with other instructions as a whole. Id.

Discovery matters are committed to the sound discretion of the trial court and are reviewable for an abuse of discretion. State v. Groscost, 355 N.W.2d 32, 34 (Iowa 1984). An abuse of discretion will not be found unless the defendant demonstrates "`that such discretion was exercised on grounds or for reasons clearly untenable or to an extent clearly unreasonable.'" State v. Morrison, 323 N.W.2d 254, 256 (Iowa 1982) (quoting State v. Buck, 275 N.W.2d 194, 195 (Iowa 1979)).1

III. Discussion.2

A. Jury Instruction for Willful Injury. Iowa Code section 708.4(1)

774 N.W.2d 298

sets forth the elements of the crime of willful injury causing serious injury. Under Iowa law a person commits willful injury causing serious injury when a person "does an act which is not justified and which is intended to cause serious...

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45 practice notes
  • State v. Chavez, No. S-1-SC-37978
    • United States
    • New Mexico Supreme Court of New Mexico
    • April 12, 2021
    ...object to the joint trial) overruled on other grounds by State v. Tollardo , 2012-NMSC-008, ¶ 37 n.6, 275 P.3d 110 ; State v. Schuler , 774 N.W.2d 294, 297 n.2 (Iowa 2009) (holding that when a codefendant did not join his defendants in a motion to sever, he failed to preserve the error for ......
  • State v. Becker, No. 10–0631.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • July 20, 2012
    ...correctly state the law, but they do not need to “contain or mirror the precise language of the applicable statute.” State v. Schuler, 774 N.W.2d 294, 298 (Iowa 2009). We have stated that “the court is required to give a party's requested instruction so long as it ‘ “states a correct rule o......
  • State v. Hoyman, No. 14–0262.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • May 1, 2015
    ...n. 1 (Iowa 2011) (holding the omission of one element of the offense from a jury instruction necessitated a new trial); State v. Schuler, 774 N.W.2d 294, 298–99 (Iowa 2009) (finding an instruction that allowed the jury to convict the defendant without finding all elements of the offense was......
  • State Of Iowa v. Hanes, No. 08-1231.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • November 12, 2010
    ...v. Hasting, 461 U.S. 499, 510, 103 S.Ct. 1974, 1981, 76 L.Ed.2d 96, 107 (1983) (alteration in original))); see also State v. Schuler, 774 N.W.2d 294, 299-300 (Iowa 2009) (applying the standard that “prejudice is presumed but may be overcome upon a showing beyond a reasonable doubt that the ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
45 cases
  • State v. Chavez, No. S-1-SC-37978
    • United States
    • New Mexico Supreme Court of New Mexico
    • April 12, 2021
    ...object to the joint trial) overruled on other grounds by State v. Tollardo , 2012-NMSC-008, ¶ 37 n.6, 275 P.3d 110 ; State v. Schuler , 774 N.W.2d 294, 297 n.2 (Iowa 2009) (holding that when a codefendant did not join his defendants in a motion to sever, he failed to preserve the error for ......
  • State v. Becker, No. 10–0631.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • July 20, 2012
    ...correctly state the law, but they do not need to “contain or mirror the precise language of the applicable statute.” State v. Schuler, 774 N.W.2d 294, 298 (Iowa 2009). We have stated that “the court is required to give a party's requested instruction so long as it ‘ “states a correct rule o......
  • State v. Hoyman, No. 14–0262.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • May 1, 2015
    ...n. 1 (Iowa 2011) (holding the omission of one element of the offense from a jury instruction necessitated a new trial); State v. Schuler, 774 N.W.2d 294, 298–99 (Iowa 2009) (finding an instruction that allowed the jury to convict the defendant without finding all elements of the offense was......
  • State Of Iowa v. Hanes, No. 08-1231.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • November 12, 2010
    ...v. Hasting, 461 U.S. 499, 510, 103 S.Ct. 1974, 1981, 76 L.Ed.2d 96, 107 (1983) (alteration in original))); see also State v. Schuler, 774 N.W.2d 294, 299-300 (Iowa 2009) (applying the standard that “prejudice is presumed but may be overcome upon a showing beyond a reasonable doubt that the ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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