State v. Smith, No. 13–1202.

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Iowa
Writing for the CourtCADY, Chief Justice.
Citation876 N.W.2d 180
Parties STATE of Iowa, Appellee, v. Trent D. SMITH, Appellant.
Docket NumberNo. 13–1202.
Decision Date04 March 2016

876 N.W.2d 180

STATE of Iowa, Appellee,
v.
Trent D. SMITH, Appellant.

No. 13–1202.

Supreme Court of Iowa.

March 4, 2016.


876 N.W.2d 182

Mark C. Smith, State Appellate Defender, and Melinda J. Nye, Assistant Appellate Defender, for appellant.

Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, Tyler Buller and Jean C. Pettinger, Assistant Attorney General, Thomas J. Ferguson, County Attorney, and Jeremy Westendorf, Assistant County Attorney, for appellee.

CADY, Chief Justice.

In this appeal from a conviction for domestic abuse assault, we consider whether hearsay statements made to an emergency room nurse and doctor by a victim that identified the perpetrator of the attack were admissible under Iowa Rule of Evidence 5.803(4) as statements made for purposes of medical diagnosis or treatment. The court of appeals found the hearsay statements were properly admitted at the trial. On our review, we conclude there was insufficient foundation to admit the statements under rule 5.803(4). We affirm the decision of the court of appeals in part and vacate in part, reverse the decision of the district court, and remand for further proceedings.

I. Background Facts and Proceedings.

On June 9, 2012, at 1:03 a.m., the Black Hawk County emergency call center received a 911 call from M.D. She gave her address and said, "Just get here, thank you, please!" A short time later, M.D.'s mother called the center on a nonemergency line. She told the phone operator that M.D. asked her to call the police to report that Trent Smith had threatened M.D. and that M.D. was afraid of him.

Two officers were dispatched to M.D.'s residence. They found M.D. sitting in a car outside the residence with her five-year-old daughter and a dog. The officers checked the residence for intruders and began their investigation by interviewing M.D.

M.D. told the officers she had been upstairs and after hearing a sound was "hit"

876 N.W.2d 183

by something when going downstairs in the dark to investigate. She also said she lost consciousness after she was kicked in the head. She told the officers she believed the assailant had entered her residence through a locked door. M.D. eventually identified her assailant as "Trent Daniel," whom dispatch officers later identified as Trent Smith. M.D. said Smith did not live at her residence but had been abusing her for ten years. She mentioned one prior assault when Smith beat her after he was released from jail following an arrest for domestic abuse.

The officers took M.D. to the emergency room of a local hospital around 2:40 a.m. She was treated by a doctor and a nurse for her injuries. The doctor found M.D. to be "in a moderate amount of distress" and "extremely shaken up." The nurse asked M.D. to explain what had happened to her. M.D. responded that she was "assaulted by her baby's daddy around midnight." She told the nurse that she had been kicked in the head and right arm, and she felt that her front teeth were loose. The nurse also pursued several standard screening questions at some point during the evening. Three questions pertained to domestic abuse. In response to these questions, M.D. indicated she did "feel afraid of/threatened by someone close to me." She also responded she had "been hurt by someone." She further agreed that "someone is taking advantage of [her]."

In response to an inquiry by the doctor about how she sustained her injuries, M.D. said she had been assaulted by her child's father. However, the doctor did not make any domestic abuse diagnosis or render any treatment for emotional or psychological injuries based on the identity of the perpetrator. The identity of the assailant or the effects of domestic abuse were not mentioned as a part of any treatment or diagnosis. The treatment consisted of radiology testing and other medical care to those areas of the body that had sustained physical injury. The diagnosis by the doctor pertained solely to the physical injuries sustained by M.D. It was limited to a closed head injury, cervical strain, facial contusion, and arm contusions.

M.D. was released from the hospital around 5 a.m. She was prescribed pain and antianxiety medications. The officers took her to the law enforcement center to obtain a written statement. An officer wrote a statement based on M.D.'s statements earlier in the night, but M.D. refused to acknowledge it with her signature.

Smith was subsequently charged with domestic abuse assault with intent to cause serious injury and domestic abuse assault causing bodily injury, both in violation of Iowa Code section 708.2A(2) (2011). At a pretrial hearing, the State informed the district court that M.D. intended to recant her statements identifying Smith as her assailant. The State further informed the court it intended to prove Smith was the assailant through the statements made by M.D. to the officers and medical personnel. In particular, the State indicated they would offer M.D.'s statements of identification made to the emergency room nurse and doctor under the medical treatment and diagnosis exception to the rule against hearsay. In response, Smith claimed the statements were not part of any medical diagnosis or treatment. The district court ultimately determined the identification statements were admissible at trial under the medical treatment and diagnosis exception to the rule against hearsay. It also determined M.D.'s statements to police were admissible at trial under the excited-utterance exception to the rule against hearsay. The State never argued the statements to the nurse and doctor were also admissible as excited utterances,

876 N.W.2d 184

and the district court did not rely on the excited-utterance exception in admitting them.

The case proceeded to trial. Law enforcement officers and medical personnel at the hospital testified at trial for the State, as well as a domestic abuse expert. The officers and medical providers recalled the statements M.D. made to them the night of the incident that identified Smith as her assailant. There was no testimony that M.D. was told how the questions related to her treatment or diagnosis, and there was no testimony how they were used or needed by medical providers in her treatment or diagnosis. The domestic abuse expert explained the dynamics of domestic abuse, including the control exercised by the perpetrator. M.D. testified for Smith at trial. She said she was injured when she fell from a trampoline after drinking in excess.

The jury found Smith guilty of domestic abuse assault and domestic abuse assault causing bodily injury. Following sentencing, Smith appealed. He claimed the district court erred in admitting the hearsay statements made to police and medical personnel. He also claimed the district court erred in failing to merge the two convictions for purposes of sentencing.

We transferred the case to the court of appeals. It found the district court erred by admitting M.D.'s statements to police as excited utterances. However, it found the district court did not err in admitting M.D.'s statements made to the nurse and doctor as statements for purposes of medical diagnosis or treatment. As a result, the court of appeals found Smith was not prejudiced by the admission of the hearsay statements to police. It merged the convictions and affirmed the judgment and sentence for domestic abuse assault causing bodily injury.

Smith sought, and we granted, further review. The primary claim asserted by Smith is the statements of identity made to the doctor and nurse were inadmissible under the medical treatment and diagnosis exception. The State did not seek further review from the decision by the court of appeals that the statements made to police were not admissible as excited utterances. Accordingly, that decision stands as the final determination on that issue. See State v. Guerrero Cordero, 861 N.W.2d 253, 258 (Iowa 2015) (addressing on further review only one of four issues raised on appeal).

II. Scope of Review.

Although we normally review evidence-admission decisions by the district court for an abuse of discretion, we review hearsay claims for correction of errors at law. State v. Paredes, 775 N.W.2d 554, 560 (Iowa 2009). "[T]he question whether a particular statement constitutes hearsay presents a legal issue," leaving the trial court no discretion on whether to admit or deny admission of the statement. State v. Dullard, 668 N.W.2d 585, 589 (Iowa 2003).

With respect to the issue now raised on further review involving the district court's decision to admit at trial the statements of identity made to the medical providers, we recognize we may affirm a ruling on the admission of evidence by using a different rationale than relied on by the district court. See DeVoss v. State, 648 N.W.2d 56, 62 (Iowa 2002). However, the rule described in DeVoss is discretionary, and we must be careful not to exercise our discretion to decide an issue concerning the admissibility of evidence on an alternative ground when the parties have not had an opportunity to properly develop or challenge the foundation for the evidence.

876 N.W.2d 185

III. Admission of Statements Identifying...

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21 practice notes
  • Schmidt v. State, No. 15-1408
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • March 23, 2018
    ...and from [a] relative[ ] of the defendant").9 Recantations are especially common with victims of domestic violence. See State v. Smith , 876 N.W.2d 180, 187–88 (Iowa 2016) (citing authorities concluding many victims of domestic violence recant); id. at 194 (Waterman, J., dissenting) ("The r......
  • State v. SR, No. 16-0061
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • June 30, 2017
    ...opportunity to cross-examine thePage 7declarant in order to test the declarant's perception, memory, or narration. See State v. Smith, 876 N.W.2d 180, 185 (Iowa 2016). Evidence is not hearsay if it is not offered to show the truth of the matter asserted. State v. Mitchell, 450 N.W.2d 828, 8......
  • State v. SR, No. 16-0061
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • June 30, 2017
    ...the opportunity to cross-examine the declarant in order to test the declarant's perception, memory, or narration. See State v. Smith , 876 N.W.2d 180, 185 (Iowa 2016).898 N.W.2d 812Evidence is not hearsay if it is not offered to show the truth of the matter asserted. State v. Mitchell , 450......
  • Irving v. Emp't Appeal Bd., No. 15–0104.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • June 3, 2016
    ...her inability to post bail to require benefits. We recently reiterated that victims often recant in domestic abuse cases. State v. Smith, 876 N.W.2d 180, 187–88 (Iowa 2016) (citing authorities concluding that many victims recant); id. at 194 (Waterman, J. dissenting) (citing additional auth......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
21 cases
  • Schmidt v. State, No. 15-1408
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • March 23, 2018
    ...and from [a] relative[ ] of the defendant").9 Recantations are especially common with victims of domestic violence. See State v. Smith , 876 N.W.2d 180, 187–88 (Iowa 2016) (citing authorities concluding many victims of domestic violence recant); id. at 194 (Waterman, J., dissenting) ("The r......
  • State v. SR, No. 16-0061
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • June 30, 2017
    ...opportunity to cross-examine thePage 7declarant in order to test the declarant's perception, memory, or narration. See State v. Smith, 876 N.W.2d 180, 185 (Iowa 2016). Evidence is not hearsay if it is not offered to show the truth of the matter asserted. State v. Mitchell, 450 N.W.2d 828, 8......
  • State v. SR, No. 16-0061
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • June 30, 2017
    ...the opportunity to cross-examine the declarant in order to test the declarant's perception, memory, or narration. See State v. Smith , 876 N.W.2d 180, 185 (Iowa 2016).898 N.W.2d 812Evidence is not hearsay if it is not offered to show the truth of the matter asserted. State v. Mitchell , 450......
  • Irving v. Emp't Appeal Bd., No. 15–0104.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • June 3, 2016
    ...her inability to post bail to require benefits. We recently reiterated that victims often recant in domestic abuse cases. State v. Smith, 876 N.W.2d 180, 187–88 (Iowa 2016) (citing authorities concluding that many victims recant); id. at 194 (Waterman, J. dissenting) (citing additional auth......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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