State v. Smith

Decision Date09 April 2021
Docket NumberNo. 19-2011,19-2011
Citation957 N.W.2d 669
Parties STATE of Iowa, Appellant, v. Deaonsy SMITH Jr., Appellee.
CourtIowa Supreme Court

Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, Timothy M. Hau, Assistant Attorney General, C.J. May, County Attorney, and Brigit A. Barnes, Assistant County Attorney, for appellant.

Martha J. Lucey, State Appellate Defender, and Mary K. Conroy, Assistant Appellate Defender, for appellee.

Mansfield, J., delivered the opinion of the court in which Waterman, McDonald, Oxley, and McDermott, JJ., joined in full and Christensen, C.J., joined as to all but division III.E. Christensen, C.J., filed an opinion concurring specially in division III.E. Appel, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part.


When does prosecutorial delay in arresting and formally charging someone amount to a due process violation? By late December 2017, law enforcement had focused on a specific individual as the person who had likely committed a robbery. Yet the police did not file a criminal complaint against him until August 2018. In addition, they did not serve the arrest warrant until September 2019. The individual was serving a prison sentence on other charges, and although he tried to force a resolution of the robbery case, the county attorney declined to have him arrested or formally charged. This delay, for which the county attorney offered no reason or excuse, led the district court to dismiss the trial information in October 2019, after it finally was filed. The State appealed.

On appeal, we echo the district court's frustration with the unexplained delay in this case. However, we conclude the State's delay did not violate the speedy indictment rule because that rule is triggered only when the defendant is arrested and held to answer. We also conclude the State's delay did not violate due process because the defendant failed to show actual prejudice. Accordingly, with some reluctance, we reverse the dismissal of this case and remand for further proceedings.

I. Facts and Procedural Background.

At 11:30 p.m. on December 8, 2017, M.B. stopped her automobile in front of the apartment building where she lived in Dubuque. While sitting in her automobile, M.B. noticed a man standing in front of the building. The man waved his hands at M.B. to get her attention. The man started to talk to M.B. through the passenger side window. After a few moments, the man opened her passenger side door, got into the vehicle, and shut the door. Once inside, the man asked M.B. for money to feed his grandchildren. M.B. reluctantly gave him twenty dollars. The man demanded more. M.B. refused to give him more money. At this point, the man became angry and told her that he had a gun and threatened to rape and shoot her.

The man took M.B.’s purse, emptied it, and forced her to drive to a local ATM. At the ATM, M.B. withdrew $200 for the man. Next, the man demanded M.B. return to her apartment complex and show him exactly where she lived. Upon their arrival, M.B. was instructed to park at the rear of the apartment buildings. The man revived his threats to rape and kill M.B. if she reported this incident to the police. In efforts to hamper M.B. from following him, he made her "pull down her pants so she couldn't follow him out of the vehicle." The man exited from the car and fled the area.

Later, the police were contacted, and an investigation ensued. Surveillance footage from the ATM confirmed M.B.’s version of events and her general description of the man who had robbed her. Police also obtained camera footage that depicted a similar-looking man earlier that evening entering and leaving a residence where he had offered to sell a video game. Upon reviewing this footage, a police officer recognized the man on video as Deaonsy Smith, Jr., from a prior encounter.

On December 22, Smith was taken into custody on a different matter. Although M.B. was not able to identify Smith in a photographic lineup, his overall appearance, his mumbling speech pattern, and his teeth were consistent with M.B.’s description. A book lamp was in Smith's possession at the time he was arrested and booked, similar to the one M.B. described to police as having been in her purse.

On August 7, 2018, a Dubuque police officer filed a criminal complaint alleging Smith had committed robbery in the second degree in violation of Iowa Code section 711.3 (2018). On that same day, the district court issued an arrest warrant. The August 2018 arrest warrant was not served at that time.

Instead, on February 8, 2019, Smith—who had learned of the warrant—filed a written arraignment and plea of not guilty from the Fort Dodge Correctional Facility, where he was incarcerated on other charges. On the arraignment form, Smith checked a box indicating his demand for a speedy trial.

On February 13, the Dubuque County District Court rebuffed Smith's filing, stating it would take no action because "the State has not filed a Trial Information" and "arraignment is premature." The court said it would "address Defendant when he has appeared on the warrant."

On February 21, Smith filed an application for appointment of counsel. He explained that he was still incarcerated and that his "knowledge of the law is very limited, the issues presented are very complex and the resources in the prison law library [are] limited." Again, on March 5, the district court entered an order indicating it would not act on the filing. The court said it would "address the application and appoint Defendant counsel when he appears on the warrant."

Later that month, Smith wrote a letter to the court again asserting his rights to a speedy trial under the Iowa Rules of Criminal Procedure and the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The letter concluded, "The Defendant is requesting that an attorney be appointed and that he'll be transported to the Dubuq[u]e County Court as soon as possible so this matter may be cleared up."

Upon receiving the letter, the district court issued a March 27 order again taking no action. The order noted that Smith was in custody at the Fort Dodge Correctional Facility and that "the State is aware of his whereabouts and is free to seek an order for transport."

On April 5, Smith filed a motion to dismiss "for lack of due process." The motion reiterated, "The Defendant wishes to be transported and to be heard in this case immediately and to have a speedy trial in this case." This motion too was denied. The court explained, "As the Court has previously noted, once Defendant is brought before the Court to appear on the warrant, proper action will be taken."

On August 12, Smith filed a motion to dismiss the detainer that had been apparently placed upon him months ago. Smith's filing attached a copy of a January 25 Iowa Department of Corrections(DOC) letter confirming the detainer's existence and the DOC's plans to notify the Dubuque police department approximately thirty days before Smith's release.1 Smith asserted that the failure to file an information within six months rendered the detainer invalid under Iowa Code section 906.14(3).

This time, the district court appointed counsel, who promptly filed an additional motion to dismiss for speedy trial and speedy indictment violations. The motion asserted that (1) Smith's "whereabouts ... have been known for over 6 months," (2) that Smith's written waiver of formal arraignment was effectively an appearance, (3) that the State had failed to indict Smith within the required forty-five days, and (4) that Smith's "detainer has had an effect on his potential parole date."

The State responded to Smith's motion to dismiss the detainer on September 12. The State acknowledged that Iowa Code section 906.14 requires a detainer filed against a prisoner to be supported by an indictment or information within six months, and requires the detainer to be held invalid and disregarded for parole purposes if not supported within six months by an indictment or information. See Iowa Code § 906.14(2), (3). The State conceded that the six-month deadline had passed and that the parole board "may thus disregard the detainer." Yet, the State also asserted that this should have no effect on the State's ability to pursue criminal charges against Smith for his alleged robbery of M.B.

That same day, September 12, Smith was transported from the Fort Dodge Correctional Facility to the Dubuque County courthouse for a late afternoon hearing on his motion to dismiss. At that time, Smith was served with the arrest warrant. Following the hearing, the State filed a resistance to Smith's motion to dismiss.

On September 17, the State filed a trial information charging Smith with second-degree robbery as a habitual offender.

On October 31, the district court entered a written order dismissing the case. The district court quoted Iowa Rule of Criminal Procedure 2.33(2)(a ), which requires the indictment or information to be filed within forty-five days of arrest, but primarily based its conclusion on due process grounds. As the court put it,

The Defendant argues that his due process rights have been violated and his Fifth Amendment Rights are implicated. The Defendant asserts the delay was unconscionable. The Defendant was writing to the Court to notify the State where he was and that he wanted to address the allegations. His efforts put the State on notice to arrest him where he could be found, to wit: the State's Correctional Facility. There is spoliation of evidence now. Witnesses’ memories have faded now. His ability to assert an alibi has been extinguished. His ability to defend the allegations has been compromised or even destroyed due to the delay.
The State had the Defendant in custody within a week of the events occurring. The State had buccal swabs. The State had the Defendant's clothing. The state had traffic cam video. The State had evidence from a bank ATM record to corroborate the allegation that the Defendant made the named victim take her to

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