State v. Watson

Decision Date18 February 2022
Docket Number20-1423
Citation970 N.W.2d 302
Parties STATE of Iowa, Appellee, v. Brianna Sue WATSON, Appellant.
CourtIowa Supreme Court

Robert W. Winterton and Judith M. O'Donohoe of Elwood, O'Donohoe, Braun & White, LLP, New Hampton, for appellant.

Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, Thomas J. Ogden, Assistant Attorney General, for appellee.

Waterman, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which all justices joined.

WATERMAN, Justice.

In this interlocutory appeal, we must decide whether the issuance of citations in lieu of arrest, or rather the defendant's subsequent initial appearance, starts the forty-five-day1 speedy indictment time clock in Iowa Rule of Criminal Procedure 2.33(2)(a ) (2020). On July 5, 2020, the defendant was issued citations in lieu of arrest for several misdemeanors. Her initial appearance before a magistrate did not happen until September 21. The State filed its trial information on October 6. The defendant filed a motion to dismiss, alleging the State violated the speedy indictment rule because over ninety days transpired between her citations and indictment without good cause for the delay. The defendant relied on Iowa Code section 805.1(4) (2020), which equates citations with arrests for purposes of rule 2.33(2)(a ). The State resisted, arguing the clock started with the initial appearance. The State did not argue good cause existed for the delay.

The district court denied her motion, incorrectly applying State v. Williams , 895 N.W.2d 856, 867 (Iowa 2017), to conclude that the forty-five-day period was measured from the date of the initial appearance rather than the date the citations issued. The district court also found the COVID-19 pandemic constituted good cause for the delay. We granted the defendant's application for discretionary review and retained the case.

On our review, we reverse the district court's ruling. Applying section 805.1(4), we hold that the speedy indictment deadline ran from the date that the citations in lieu of arrest were issued. We also determine that on this specific evidentiary record, the district court erred by ruling that COVID-19 restrictions constituted a good cause for the delay. The trial information was filed electronically. The State did not argue good cause in resisting dismissal, and no record was made to establish why the defendant's initial appearance could not have happened earlier by video or telephone, as our applicable supervisory order allowed.2

I. Background Facts and Proceedings.

On July 5, 2020, Chickasaw County Deputy Sheriff Adam Hanson pulled over a vehicle for speeding. Hanson detected "the odor of raw marijuana coming from [the] vehicle." The driver, Brianna Watson, "had very bloodshot and glassy eyes" and "displayed a distinct lack of convergence in her left eye." She admitted to using marijuana in the morning, about seven hours earlier, and the deputy found marijuana in the vehicle. Watson was transported to Chickasaw County Sheriff's Office where she consented to a DataMaster breathalyzer test that detected no alcohol in her blood but then refused to provide a urine sample that could be tested for marijuana metabolites.

In lieu of arrest, Watson was cited and released to her family, presumably because of the limited capacity of the Chickasaw County jail and the sheriff's policy to issue citations for misdemeanors to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission. She was cited for operating while under the influence, first offense; possession of marijuana, second offense; and speeding. Criminal complaints for the operating while under the influence and possession charges were electronically filed the same day. Because the COVID-19 pandemic had limited the availability of in-court proceedings, Watson's initial appearance was scheduled for September 21, seventy-eight days later. She appeared in person before a magistrate that day. On October 6, fifteen days after her initial appearance, the State electronically filed the trial information.

Watson had already filed a motion to dismiss on September 17, alleging the State violated the speedy indictment rule, Iowa Rule of Criminal Procedure 2.33(2)(a ), which requires an indictment within forty-five days of arrest. After the State filed the trial information, Watson filed an amended motion to dismiss, and the State resisted. On October 27, the court held a hearing in person on the motion to dismiss. The parties presented legal arguments but no evidence.

Watson argued the charges against her should be dismissed because, under Iowa Code section 805.1(4), a citation in lieu of arrest triggers the speedy indictment rule and the State failed to timely file the trial information within forty-five days of her citations issued July 5, or even within the sixty-day extended deadline under our court's supervisory order. Watson also argued the COVID-19 pandemic alone cannot qualify as good cause for the State's violation of the speedy indictment rule. The State argued it complied with the speedy indictment rule because under Williams the speedy indictment rule is triggered when the arrest, or citation in lieu of arrest, is completed by an initial appearance, and the State filed the trial information within forty-five days of Watson's initial appearance. The State did not argue good cause existed for any delay and made no record to establish good cause. During oral argument on the motion to dismiss, the district court brought up the pandemic:

[THE COURT:] This is -- this court has faced several of these motions since COVID-19. It had become the pattern of law enforcement to cite and release even on serious and aggravated misdemeanor cases in lieu of incarcerating defendants and holding them in the jail so that they could possibly expose other inmates. Because of that, similar to this case, the defendant was cited and released the night of the -- her exposure to law enforcement and a[n] initial appearance date was set outside even of the 45-day speedy indictment rule. ...
....
THE COURT: As in my other rulings, can you address the good cause exception? Because clearly this is happening in counties around the state where law enforcement were basically taking the position it is not safe for us to take people into custody on serious and aggravated misdemeanors and expose people to COVID-19, therefore, setting the initial appearance date beyond. And our magistrates had been shut down and were not seeing people in person for the specific reason of COVID. And --
[DEFENSE COUNSEL]: Yes.
THE COURT: -- I understand that the Iowa Supreme Court has certain mandates out there, but is it still not good cause to allow law enforcement to say we're going to set these dates out further so that we're not having people coming into the courthouse so we're not exposing people to COVID-19?
[DEFENSE COUNSEL]: Yes. Well, the Iowa Supreme Court in its orders in March and April and May, it already accounted for the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on court services by extending the speedy indictment deadline fifteen days. And so -- and despite the COVID-19 pandemic, they deliberately maintained that the speedy indictment deadline would be sixty days and, therefore, some other good cause besides the COVID-19 pandemic would have to be shown for violating the 60-day deadline. I have other criminal cases in other counties and they've all complied with -- in my -- just anecdotally, they've all been continuing, actually, to comply with the 45-day deadline even during this time. And so I think that there would have to be some other good cause besides the COVID-19 pandemic that would need to be shown in the case to violate the 60-day deadline.
....
THE COURT: I'm just making this for the record. I'm aware, like, Fayette County and Howard County have newer jails, much more capacity to hold inmates, where Chickasaw County is far more limited due to the age and size of its jail. Can you address that for me, that perhaps I should -- Do I have to treat every county the same under this COVID-19 epidemic when Chickasaw doesn't have the capacity to house more than three inmates at one at a time in a cell?
[DEFENSE COUNSEL]: Well, in this case it's not a matter of the time it would take for the magistrate to see the defendant. I mean, it's just a matter of just when the Trial Information is filed.
THE COURT: But do you agree with me that magistrates were not seeing defendants for a period of time during the summer of 2020 here in the Chickasaw County Courthouse?
[DEFENSE COUNSEL]: Yes.
THE COURT: And that is why the initial appearance was set outside of the 45-day speedy indictment rule?
[DEFENSE COUNSEL]: Yes. ...
....
THE COURT: But do you agree with me that that was done because of COVID-19, because we were not seeing individual defendants in the Chickasaw County Courthouse?
[DEFENSE COUNSEL]: I assume that's the case in this county. I know it hasn't been done in other counties.

Neither the district court nor the parties mentioned that our May 22, 2020 supervisory order allowed magistrates to conduct initial appearances by video or phone. The district court denied Watson's motion to dismiss, relying on Williams and, alternatively, the COVID-19 pandemic as good cause for the delay.

Watson pleaded not guilty and demanded her right to speedy trial through a written arraignment. On November 3, Watson timely filed an application for permission to appeal the district court's denial of her motion to dismiss. We granted her application, stayed the district court proceedings, and retained the case.

On appeal, Watson relies on Iowa Code section 805.1(4) to argue the speedy indictment rule was triggered when she was issued the citations on July 5. In its appellate brief, the State relies on Williams to argue the speedy indictment rule was not triggered until Watson appeared before the magistrate on September 21 and argues good cause based on the COVID-19 restrictions. Watson replies that the State failed to show good cause.

II. Standard of Review.

...

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