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State of Iowa v. Steven Jaye Neufeldt

April 10, 2013

STATE OF IOWA, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
v.
STEVEN JAYE NEUFELDT, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Polk County, Brad McCall, Judge.

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

Steven Neufeldt appeals convictions for forgery, contending the district court erred by applying the wrong legal standard in ruling on his motion for a new trial.

CONVICTIONS CONDITIONALLY AFFIRMED; RULING ON MOTION VACATED; REMANDED WITH DIRECTIONS.

Considered by Vaitheswaran, P.J., Mullins, J., and Miller, S.J.*fn1

I. BACKGROUND FACTS.

A jury found the defendant, Steven Jaye Neufeldt, guilty of nine counts of forgery. Neufeldt filed a motion for new trial, supported by a memorandum of law. The motion asserted that the "verdict . . . is contrary to the law and evidence," citing Iowa Rule of Criminal Procedure 2.24(2)(b)(6). The State filed a resistance to the motion. The district court heard arguments on the motion and resistance, overruled the motion, entered judgments of conviction, and sentenced Neufeldt to serve terms of imprisonment and to pay fines. Neufeldt appeals. He asserts the court erred by applying an incorrect standard in denying his motion for new trial. We conditionally affirm the convictions, vacate the ruling on the motion, and remand with directions.

II. SCOPE AND STANDARDS OF REVIEW.

Our scope of review is for correction of errors at law. Iowa R. App. P. 6.907. Our standard of review is for an abuse of discretion. See State v. Nitcher, 720 N.W.2d 547, 559 (Iowa 2006) ("'The district court has broad discretion in ruling on a motion for a new trial,' and thus our review in such cases is for abuse of discretion.") (citing and quoting State v. Reeves, 670 N.W.2d 199, 202 (Iowa 2003)).

A motion for new trial asserting a verdict is contrary to evidence under Iowa Rule of Criminal Procedure 2.24(2)(b)(6) should be granted only if, after weighing the evidence and considering the credibility of witnesses, the court concludes the verdict is "contrary to the weight of the evidence" and a miscarriage of justice may have occurred. State v. Ellis, 578 N.W.2d 655, 658-59 (Iowa 1998). The "weight of the evidence" refers to a determination that "a greater amount of credible evidence supports one side of an issue or cause than the other." Id. at 658.

III. THE MOTION FOR NEW TRIAL.

Neufeldt contends the district court erroneously applied the "substantial evidence standard" to his motion for new trial. The State acknowledges that in its oral ruling on the motion for new trial the district court applied the "substantial evidence" standard. It argues, however, that in his written motion and again during the hearing Neufeldt "did not raise a claim amenable to a weight-of-the-evidence analysis." It urges that Neufeldt's claim was really a claim "that there was not sufficient evidence [on the element of knowledge] to support a conviction," "there was no weight-of-the-evidence issue to address," and the district court thus did not apply an incorrect standard.

Several facts shown by the record convince us that Neufeldt has the stronger side of the argument concerning the nature of his motion for new trial.

First, Neufeldt had moved for judgment of acquittal at the close of the evidence offered by the State, and had renewed the motion at the close of all the evidence, with the motion being overruled each time. Such a motion challenges the "sufficiency of the evidence" to sustain a conviction; the court does not pass upon the credibility of witnesses or weigh the evidence, and although the court considers all the evidence it views it in the light most favorable to the State. State v. Hutchison, 721 N.W.2d 776, 780 (Iowa 2006). A motion for judgment of acquittal is a clearly and markedly different motion than a motion for new trial asserting a verdict is contrary to the weight of the evidence. See Ellis, 578 N.W.2d at 658 (noting that in considering a motion for a new trial on the ground a verdict is contrary to the evidence the court weighs the evidence and considers credibility of witnesses).

Second, Neufeldt's post-trial motion expressly stated it was a "Motion for New Trial," made "pursuant to Iowa R. Crim. P. 2.24(2)(b)(6)"; asserted the verdicts were "contrary . . . to evidence" and contrary to the "weight of the evidence"; and repeatedly cited and discussed State v. Ellis and its holdings concerning such a motion. In addition, Neufeldt's motion sought a new trial, not a judgment of acquittal. Further, the State's resistance to Neufeldt's motion for new trial recognized the terms and nature of the motion, noting that ...


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