State v. Wright, 54373

Decision Date11 November 1971
Docket NumberNo. 54373,54373
Citation191 N.W.2d 638
PartiesSTATE of Iowa, Appellee, v. Dennis Lee WRIGHT, Appellant.
CourtIowa Supreme Court

Maurer & Jones, Ames, for appellant.

Richard Turner, Atty. Gen., and Richard Winders, Asst. Atty. Gen., Des Moines, for appellee.

LeGRAND, Justice.

Defendant was charged with the crime of larceny in violation of section 709.5, The Code. Upon trial to a jury he was convicted and thereafter sentenced to a term of not more than five years in the Men's Reformatory. He appeals from that judgment, and we reverse.

Defendant's seven assignments of error raise only two issues. The first relates to the admission throughout the trial of evidence tending to prove defendant had committed other crimes. The second is claimed error resulting from allowing non-expert opinion evidence concerning the similarity between soybeans found in defendant's driveway and those taken from the Birchmier bins.

Defendant was accused of stealing approximately 200 bushels of soybeans from the farm of James Birchmier. After the theft was discovered, the victim and his brother followed a trail of beans leading from the grain bins directly to defendant's residence some distance away. There was opinion evidence, both lay and expert, that the beans spilled in defendant's driveway were similar to those stolen from the Birchmier bin.

There was also testimony by an official of Pulley Grain Company to show defendant had sold soybeans in the approximate amount of those stolen from the Birchmier farm within several days of the theft. This was supported by introduction of the check by which defendant was paid. It bore defendant's endorsement.

There had been other soybean thefts in the neighborhood during several weeks preceding this one. They involved area farmers, at least three of whom were identified in the testimony--John Geer, Tom Williams, and Doyle Tett. Much of the testimony of the deputy sheriffs who conducted an investigation centered around what was found at these other farms and was designed to tie defendant up with those offenses by circumstantial evidence, showing he had sold soybeans to different elevators at about the time, and in the approximate amount, of each of those thefts. There was evidence, too, concerning tire prints found at one of these farms, and their similarity to prints made by defendant's tires.

I. Defendant's principal complaint is that it was reversible error to permit evidence of these other offenses. He urges they were separate and independent crimes, having no probative value in proving defendant committed the specific crime with which he is charged here. He argues, too, that the evidence was so highly prejudicial that its admission denied him a fair trial.

We hold defendant is entitled to a new trial on this ground. The general principle is that evidence to show the commission of crimes other than the one with which a defendant stands charged is inadmissible. McCormick, Evidence, section 157, page 326; 1 Jones on Evidence, Fifth Ed., section 162, page 290; 29 Am.Jur.2d, Evidence, section 320, page 366; 22A. C.J.S. Criminal Law § 682, page 729; State v. McCarty, 179 N.W.2d 548 (Iowa 1970); State v. Wilson, 173 N.W.2d 563, 566 (Iowa 1970); State v. Bolds, 244 Iowa 278, 282, 55 N.W.2d 534, 536 (1953) State v. Porter, 229 Iowa 882, 885--888, 294 N.W. 898, 900 (1940).

There are a number of recognized exceptions to this exclusionary rule which permit the use of otherwise prohibited evidence if it tends to prove an element of the crime for which the defendant is then on trial, even though it also--incidentally--establishes the commission of another offense. We cite only several of the numerous cases which support this rule. State v. Armstrong, 183 N.W.2d 205, 207 (Iowa 1971); State v. Wilson, 173 N.W.2d 563, 566 (Iowa 1970); State v. Gill, 259 Iowa 142, 145, 143 N.W.2d 331, 333 (1966).

The exceptions recognized by these cases permit the reception of evidence of other crimes to prove (1) motive, (2) intent, (3) absence of mistake or accident, (4) a common scheme or system of criminal activity embracing the commission of two or more crimes so related that proof of one tends to prove the other, or (5) identity of the person charged with the commission of the crime.

Since it must be conceded much of the evidence here went to defendant's criminal involvement in soybean raids on neighboring farms, which would be inadmissible under the general rule, our task is to ascertain if, as the State claims, it falls within one of the accepted departures from the rule. We conclude it does not.

There must be some factual issue raised to permit evidence of other crimes under the noted exceptions. If no such issue exists, then the evidence is unnecessary and the exception may not be relied upon. We recognized this in State v. Porter, supra, 229 Iowa at 886, 294 N.W. at 900 (1940), where we said:

'Under other exceptions proof of other crimes may in certain cases be admissible to show intent or absence of mistake or accident. But these exceptions are not applicable to cases of this character because intent may, in such cases, be inferred from the manner of the act charged and scienter and purpose are not of the essence of the issue. * * *'

See also State v. Potter, 195 Iowa 163, 168, 191 N.W. 855, 858 (1923), where Justice DeGraff, although reversing the case on other grounds, said:

'It (the admission of evidence of other crimes) had no tendency to establish the fact in controversy. The evidence was not admitted on a theory to prove scienter, motive, general scheme, or system, for these matters were not involved. * * *'

Here the defendant presented no evidence, and the State's theory posed an uncomplicated factual situation for jury determination. The State claimed defendant invaded the Birchmier farm, took a load--or several loads--of beans from the bins, and later sold them to the Pulley Grain Co. at Mingo.

There is no real issue of motive, intent, or mistake to justify the admission of testimony of other crimes, nor can it be seriously argued that the evidence was admissible to prove identity.

In other words, the evidence of other offenses lacked relevance to these elements in proving defendant guilty of the specific crime with which he was charged. And relevance is the basic principle upon which the admissibility of such evidence turns. 22A C.J.S. Criminal Law § 691(9) b, page 819; State v. Agee, 257 Iowa 1345, 1348, 136 N.W.2d 419, 421 (1965); State v. Linzmeyer, 248 Iowa 31, 37, 79 N.W.2d 206, 209 (1956); State v. Rand, 238 Iowa 250, 264, 25 N.W.2d 800, 808 (1947).

We should discuss separately the only exception which could possibly permit the introduction of the disputed evidence--the existence of a common scheme, plan, or system. It is not enough that the defendant committed other crimes of the same nature unless in some way each has a bearing on the other. 1 Underhill's Criminal Evidence, Fifth Ed., section 207, page 473; 22A C.J.S. Criminal Law § 688, page 782; 29 Am.Jur.2d, Evidence, section 326, page 376.

Assuming the evidence shows what the State claims for it, the most that can be said is that defendant first stole soybeans from one of the other farms and, being successful, was emboldened to engage in other thefts until he ultimately came under suspicion. Nowhere is there any suggestion that one crime was dependent upon or connected with any of the others. Each was, under this record, a separate and independent crime.

It appears beyond dispute that the State sought to introduce evidence of other crimes to persuade the jury that a person who had stolen soybeans on several prior occasions was very likely to have stolen them on this occasion also--the very rationale the rule is...

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54 cases
  • State v. May
    • United States
    • North Carolina Supreme Court
    • June 13, 1977
    ...defendant . . . was one of the two men who participated in the crime." The Iowa Supreme Court has aptly observed in State v. Wright, 191 N.W.2d 638, 640 (Iowa 1971): "There must be some factual issue raised to permit evidence of other crimes under the noted exceptions. If no such issue exis......
  • State v. Martin
    • United States
    • Iowa Supreme Court
    • April 24, 1974
    ...the commission of crimes other than the one with which an accused stands charged is not ordinarily admissible. See State v. Wright, 191 N.W.2d 638, 639--640 (Iowa 1971). Furthermore, evidence made competent by the above quoted statute is for the sole purpose of impugning the credibility of ......
  • State v. Mullen
    • United States
    • Iowa Supreme Court
    • March 27, 1974
    ...that evidence to show the commission of crimes other than the one with which a defendant stands charged is inadmissible. State v. Wright, 191 N.W.2d 638, 639 (Iowa 1971). Wright and other decisions recognize exceptions which permit reception of evidence of other crimes to prove (1) motive, ......
  • State v. Dunn
    • United States
    • Iowa Supreme Court
    • June 29, 1972 granted a new trial. Reversed and remanded with instructions. All Justices concur. 1 See Code §§ 719.1, 707.4; State v. Wright, 191 N.W.2d 638, 639--642 (Iowa). Compare State v. Hopkins, 192 N.W.2d 747, 748--752 (Iowa).2 See State v. Davis, 196 N.W.2d 885, 894 (Iowa); State v. Evans, 193......
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