State v. Shorter, No. 18-1142

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Iowa
Writing for the CourtOXLEY, Justice.
Citation945 N.W.2d 1
Parties STATE of Iowa, Appellee, v. Montreal SHORTER, Appellant.
Decision Date12 June 2020
Docket NumberNo. 18-1142

945 N.W.2d 1

STATE of Iowa, Appellee,
v.
Montreal SHORTER, Appellant.

No. 18-1142

Supreme Court of Iowa.

Filed June 12, 2020
Amended August 18, 2020


Vidhya K. Reddy, Assistant Appellate Defender, for appellant.

Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, Zachary Miller, Assistant Attorney General, John P. Sarcone, County Attorney, Jesse Ramirez, Assistant County Attorney, for appellee.

OXLEY, Justice.

945 N.W.2d 4

The defendant was found guilty by a jury of violating Iowa Code section 724.4C, which criminalizes carrying a dangerous weapon while intoxicated. However, the jury instructions permitted the jury to convict if they found the defendant carried—or possessed—the dangerous weapon.

After the court of appeals affirmed the defendant's conviction, we granted further review to address whether section 724.4C extends to "possessing," as instructed to the jury. We now hold Iowa Code section 724.4C prohibits only carrying, which requires more than mere possession, and the jury instructions were thus erroneous. We further conclude this error requires reversal. Therefore, we vacate the decision of the court of appeals, reverse the judgment of the district court, and remand for retrial.

I. Background Facts and Proceedings.

On December 23, 2017, Montreal Shorter and a friend attempted to enter the Minx Show Palace, a "gentlemen's club" in Des Moines, around 2 a.m. Shorter and his friend had been drinking at the friend's apartment before coming to the club, where Shorter had previously left his car. Two security guards, Matthew Carroll and Anthony Weber, were working the door that night. Weber testified that when Shorter and his friend sought entry into the club, he asked whether Shorter or his friend had weapons on them. Shorter responded that he "kept [his] shit in the car."

Security denied Shorter and his friend entry to the Minx based on a dress code violation. Weber testified the friend then "squared up" with him, and after giving the friend three warnings, Weber pepper sprayed him. During this time, Carroll called the police.

Weber testified he heard Shorter say he was going to get his gun, and he walked toward his vehicle. Both Carroll and Weber testified that after the pepper spray altercation, Shorter reached into his vehicle for something, but neither saw what Shorter reached for or saw anything in his hand. Both also testified the Polk County sheriff's deputies were just entering the parking lot with lights and sirens on, and Shorter tossed back whatever he had reached for and walked away from the car. Neither security guard ever saw a gun.

When officers arrived, they found Shorter and his friend in the parking lot ten to fifteen feet behind Shorter's car. They initially talked to Shorter and his friend and assisted with treating them for the pepper spray. Deputy Bradley Hook interviewed the security guards, who told him that Shorter commented he "always carr[ied]" as he started walking toward his car. Deputy Hook testified that based on this statement, he went to Shorter's car, found the door to the car open, and saw Shorter's gun in a soft holster sitting on top of the center console. Carroll similarly testified Shorter "left his door open."

Shorter testified to a different version of events following the pepper spray altercation. According to Shorter, he did not return to his car but waited for the police in the parking lot because he knew they were on the way. Shorter testified he never entered his car or touched his gun after returning to the Minx. He also testified that he never opened the car door, and he disputed that his car door was open. Shorter did admit he kept his gun, for which he had a valid carry permit, in his center console, and wherever Deputy Hook found the gun—whether in or on the console—is where he had previously left it before he began drinking at his friend's apartment.

945 N.W.2d 5

The jury was shown dash camera footage of the officers arriving on the scene, but the video does not reveal whether the car door was open when the police arrived.

When Deputy Hook saw the gun, he alerted other officers to handcuff Shorter and his friend. Shorter insisted he was not intoxicated but blew a 0.113 in a subsequent preliminary breath test. Shorter was taken into custody for carrying a firearm while intoxicated.

The State charged Shorter with violating Iowa Code section 724.4C on January 31, 2018. On March 12, Shorter waived his right to a speedy trial. A jury trial was held on May 7 and 8.

At trial, the jury received instructions related to the charges against Shorter. Jury Instruction No. 11, the marshaling instruction, directed that the State must prove that Shorter was intoxicated and did any of the following: "a. [p]ossesse[d] or carrie[d] a dangerous weapon on or about his person" or "b. [p]ossesse[d] or carrie[d] a dangerous weapon within [his] immediate access or reach while in a vehicle."

Jury Instruction No. 15 explained that "to carry a dangerous weapon means to support and move it from one place to another." Jury Instruction No. 16 defined immediate access to a firearm as having actual possession or being within close proximity so the person could reach for or claim dominion or control over the weapon. Jury Instruction No. 17 addressed possession, stating,

The law recognizes several kinds of possession. A person may have actual possession or constructive possession. A person may have sole or joint possession.

A person who has direct physical control over a thing on his person is in actual possession of it.

A person who, although not in actual possession, has both the power and the intention at a given time to exercise dominion or control over a thing, either directly or through another person or persons, is in constructive possession of it. A person's mere presence at a place where a thing is found or proximity to the thing is not enough to support a conclusion that the person possessed the thing.

If one person alone has actual or constructive possession of a thing, possession is sole. If two or more persons share actual or constructive possession of a thing, possession is joint.

Whenever the word "possession" has been used in these instructions, it includes actual as well as constructive possession and sole as well as joint possession.

Shorter objected to Jury Instruction Nos. 11, 16, and 17 to the extent they addressed possessing, as opposed to carrying, a dangerous weapon. The district court overruled the objections, and the jury was instructed about both carrying and possessing a weapon.

At the close of the State's case and again at the close of all the evidence, Shorter moved for judgment of acquittal based on a lack of evidence that the gun was on Shorter's person or within his immediate reach or access while he was inside the vehicle. The State opposed the motions, asserting the act of opening the car door put Shorter within reach or access to the gun on the console to satisfy the statutory requirements. The district court denied both motions, concluding there was substantial evidence to make an inference of guilt.

In the State's closing argument, the State argued that constructive possession alone was enough to convict Shorter, even if the jury disagreed as to whether Shorter

945 N.W.2d 6

carried the gun. Specifically, the State told the jury,

Sub A [ section 724.4C(1)(a ) ] is simply that he reaches and he touches the gun. Sub B [ section 724.4C(1)(b ) ] is simply that he is -- he doesn't have to touch the gun. It just has to be there and he has to be within immediate reach of that gun. If you believe that he stepped in and leaned in or if he just opened up that car door and you're standing between an open car door and the center console and that gun's on the center console , that gun -- anything that's on that center console is within immediate access in reach of an individual.

(Emphasis added.)

Following defendant's closing argument, the State again highlighted the constructive possession portion of the instruction in its rebuttal argument. The last thing the jury heard before retiring to consider the evidence was from the State:

But I feel completely comfortable that any rational person that looks at this evidence will determine what happened that night. And what happened that night is simply that the defendant went for his gun, and he was within reach of it when he reached in, and that makes him guilty.

The jury found Shorter guilty of carrying a dangerous weapon while intoxicated. From the bench, the court also found Shorter guilty of public intoxication, in violation of Iowa Code section 123.46.

Shorter appealed, challenging the jury instructions related to "possession." He also asserted his trial counsel was ineffective for failing to object to another instruction involving his prior out-of-court statements. We transferred the appeal to the court of appeals, which affirmed Shorter's conviction. We granted Shorter's application for further review.

II. Standard of Review.

"We review challenges to jury instructions for correction of errors at law," State v. Hoyman , 863 N.W.2d 1, 7 (Iowa 2015) (quoting State v. Guerrero Cordero , 861 N.W.2d 253...

To continue reading

Request your trial
15 practice notes
  • State v. Zacarias, No. 19-0838
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • April 23, 2021
    ...correction of errors at law to determine whether the challenged instruction 958 N.W.2d 580 correctly states the law. State v. Shorter , 945 N.W.2d 1, 6 (Iowa 2020). "Erroneous jury instructions are prejudicial and require reversal when they ‘mislead the jury or materially misstate the law.’......
  • State v. Kraai, No. 19-1878
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Iowa
    • April 14, 2021
    ...prejudice, we ask whether the guilty verdict rendered wasPage 16"surely unattributable" to the faulty instruction. State v. Shorter, 945 N.W.2d 1, 9 (Iowa 2020) (citation omitted). "We consider the jury instructions as a whole" rather than in isolation. State v. Benson, 919 N.W.2d 237, 242 ......
  • Iowa v. Atkins, 20-0488
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Iowa
    • September 1, 2021
    ...To assess prejudice, we ask whether the guilty verdict rendered was "surely unattributable" to the faulty instruction. State v. Shorter, 945 N.W.2d 1, 9 (Iowa 2020) (citation omitted). "We consider the jury instructions as a whole" rather than in isolation. State v. Benson, 919 N.W.2d 237, ......
  • State v. Hunziker, 20-0086
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Iowa
    • January 12, 2022
    ...challenges to jury instructions for 15 correction of errors at law," ensuring they are accurate statements of the law. State v. Shorter, 945 N.W.2d 1, 6 (Iowa 2020) (citation omitted). Hunziker believes this deviation misstated, and was contrary to, Iowa law. Iowa has long followed some ite......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
15 cases
  • State v. Zacarias, No. 19-0838
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • April 23, 2021
    ...correction of errors at law to determine whether the challenged instruction 958 N.W.2d 580 correctly states the law. State v. Shorter , 945 N.W.2d 1, 6 (Iowa 2020). "Erroneous jury instructions are prejudicial and require reversal when they ‘mislead the jury or materially misstate the law.’......
  • State v. Kraai, No. 19-1878
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Iowa
    • April 14, 2021
    ...prejudice, we ask whether the guilty verdict rendered wasPage 16"surely unattributable" to the faulty instruction. State v. Shorter, 945 N.W.2d 1, 9 (Iowa 2020) (citation omitted). "We consider the jury instructions as a whole" rather than in isolation. State v. Benson, 919 N.W.2d 237, 242 ......
  • Iowa v. Atkins, 20-0488
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Iowa
    • September 1, 2021
    ...To assess prejudice, we ask whether the guilty verdict rendered was "surely unattributable" to the faulty instruction. State v. Shorter, 945 N.W.2d 1, 9 (Iowa 2020) (citation omitted). "We consider the jury instructions as a whole" rather than in isolation. State v. Benson, 919 N.W.2d 237, ......
  • State v. Hunziker, 20-0086
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Iowa
    • January 12, 2022
    ...challenges to jury instructions for 15 correction of errors at law," ensuring they are accurate statements of the law. State v. Shorter, 945 N.W.2d 1, 6 (Iowa 2020) (citation omitted). Hunziker believes this deviation misstated, and was contrary to, Iowa law. Iowa has long followed some ite......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT