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State of Iowa v. Juan Denero Harris

December 12, 2012


Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Black Hawk County, Thomas N. Bower and Todd A. Geer, Judges.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Tabor, J.

Juan Harris appeals from his drug delivery convictions. AFFIRMED.

Considered by Potterfield, P.J., and Danilson and Tabor, JJ. Bower, J., takes no part.

Juan Harris appeals from his drug delivery convictions. Before trial, he moved in limine to exclude evidence discovered during a warranted search of his apartment-the same location where an informant completed a controlled buy. During trial, the district court allowed officers to testify that when executing the warrant they found Harris holding a recently lit blunt,*fn1 and in close proximity to packaged marijuana and a large amount of cash. On appeal, Harris claims the court's admission of that evidence violated Iowa Rules of Evidence 5.403 and 5.404(b). Harris alternatively claims he did not receive effective assistance of counsel because his attorney did not object to the search warrant evidence during the trial.

We find no abuse of discretion in the district court's limine ruling allowing testimony that officers found marijuana packaged in baggies similar to those sold to the informant from the same apartment just eight days earlier. Because Harris also challenges evidence on appeal that was not addressed in the pretrial ruling and was not the subject of an objection at trial, we analyze that portion of his claim as ineffective assistance of counsel. Finding counsel's performance did not fall below constitutional standards, we affirm.

I. Background Facts and Proceedings

Drug enforcement officers working in Black Hawk County arranged for an informant to make a controlled buy of marijuana and methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA or ecstasy) on March 15, 2011. The informant knew his dealer by the name "Big Bird." The officers searched the informant, provided him with one $100 bill and one $20 bill,*fn2 and wired him with an electronic monitoring device. The officers then conducted surveillance while the informant entered an apartment building at 625 West Fifth Street in Waterloo.

According to the informant, Big Bird, later identified by the informant as Juan Harris, took him into a second-floor apartment. There, Harris sold the informant two pills purported to be ecstasy and six baggies of marijuana for $100. After the buy, the officers collected the pills, the marijuana, the recording device, and the unused $20 bill. One of the baggies used to hold the marijuana had a green tint; the others were clear plastic.

On March 23, 2011, law enforcement executed a search warrant at the location of the controlled drug buy.*fn3 Officers found Harris sitting on a bed in the apartment; he was holding a blunt. Officers discovered a small amount of cash on a nearby table, including the same $100 bill that the informant used in the controlled buy. The search also uncovered a large amount of cash in a suitcase at the foot of the bed. In addition, officers found a number of small baggies of marijuana inside of a potato chip bag. The size and packaging of the marijuana was consistent with the informant's purchase one week earlier. In fact, the collection of baggies seized during the search included several with the same green tint as a baggie sold to the informant. A cellular telephone located on the bed was assigned the number called by the informant to reach Big Bird, and its phonebook listed a name and contact number for the informant.

An officer who interviewed Harris believed that his voice matched the voice on the audio recording of the controlled buy.

The State filed its trial information on September 9, 2011, charging Harris with one count of delivery of marijuana and one count of delivery of MDMA (ecstasy) occurring on or about March 15, 2011. Both counts were enhanced as second or subsequent offenses and alleged Harris to be an habitual offender. The prosecution amended the trial information on November 21, 2011, alleging the MDMA was a simulated controlled substance.

On November 20, 2011, Harris filed a motion in limine, asking the district court to exclude evidence related to the execution of the search warrant, among other information. The State agreed that it would not offer evidence of crack cocaine found in the apartment's kitchen during the execution of the search warrant. After hearing argument from counsel before trial, the district court ruled on the limine motion as follows:

I will allow the search warrant, the discussion about the search warrant, the fact that the $100 bill, which was part of the controlled buy, was found in Mr. Harris' property, that the cell phones matched up, and that the drugs consistent with what was sold or allegedly sold on the 15th are similar. So yes, familiarity, identity of the address, layout of the house; no that he had been there for drugs prior, and search warrant is okay for the purpose of the currency, the cell phones, and the fact of the drugs consistent with these charges were found.

The defense did not object to testimony regarding the search warrant during the trial and did not allege the State violated the court's limine ruling. The jury returned guilty verdicts on both delivery counts. The State did not pursue the sentencing enhancements on those convictions. Harris received an indeterminate ten-year term to run consecutive ...

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