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Smith v. State

Court of Appeal of Iowa

May 30, 2013

TAMMY SMITH Applicant-Appellant,
v.
STATE OF IOWA, Respondent-Appellee.

         Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Humboldt County, Gary L. McMinimee, Judge.

         Plaintiff appeals a district court decision dismissing her wrongful imprisonment suit.

          Derek Johnson, Fort Dodge, and Dani L. Eisentrager, Eagle Grove, for appellant.

          Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, and William Hill, Assistant Attorney General, for appellee State.

          Heard by Vogel, P.J., and Vaitheswaran and Bower, JJ.

          VOGEL, P.J.

         Tammy Smith appeals the district court's order dismissing her petition for wrongful imprisonment under Iowa Code chapter 663A (2011). She argues the district court erred in finding she failed to establish by clear and convincing evidence the child endangerment offense for which she was convicted was not committed by her or any individual. We agree with the district court that although the newly discovered evidence casts some doubt as to Smith's involvement with the child's injury, given her multiple versions of the incident, she did not establish by clear and convincing evidence that she did not commit the offense. We therefore affirm the district court.

         I. Background Facts and Proceedings

         Smith's four-year-old, nonverbal, developmentally-delayed son (G.S.) received multiple breaks in his right arm while in Smith's care.[1] On June 1, 2006, after a jury trial, Smith was found guilty of child endangerment resulting in serious injury, in violation of Iowa Code section 726.6(1)(a) and 726.6(5) (2005). She was sentenced to a term not to exceed ten years. Finding sufficient evidence to uphold the jury verdict, we affirmed the conviction on appeal. State v. Smith, No. 07-1406, 2008 WL 3916768 (Iowa Ct. App. Aug. 27, 2008). We found Smith's inconsistent statements—the five different versions of how G.S. was injured— were probative circumstantial evidence from which the jury may infer guilt. Id. at *3.

          The postconviction court denied her application, but on appeal we reversed the conviction, and the matter was remanded for a new trial. Smith v. State, No. 10-1020, 2011 WL 1565972 (Iowa Ct. App. Apr. 27, 2011).[2] We determined the testimony of G.S., who had progressed from being a non-verbal four-year-old at the time of the 2006 trial to a more verbal nine-year-old at the 2010 postconviction hearing, was "newly discovered evidence." Id. at *7. He was able to articulate that he caused his own injury by sticking his arm into a front-loading washing machine while it was on the spin cycle, and that action caused the injury. Id. at *6. We found "with the child's testimony there is a reasonable likelihood that the result of the trial would be different." Id. at *7. On remand the district court vacated Smith's conviction and "restore[d] her status in [the criminal] matter as being presumed innocent until proven guilty." The district court then granted the county attorney's motion to dismiss the case against Smith "in the interest of justice."

         Smith filed a petition for wrongful imprisonment under Iowa Code chapter 663A on November 21, 2011.[3] At trial, both Smith and G.S. testified, and the district court took judicial notice of the underlying case files. The court concluded that given Smith's lack of credibility, she had not established by clear and convincing evidence that the child endangerment offense was not committed by her or by anyone else. Smith appeals.

         II. Standard of Review

         Our review from the district court's ruling on an application to file a claim as a "wrongfully imprisoned person" is for correction of errors at law. Dohlman, 725 N.W.2d at 430. We uphold the findings of the district court if supported by substantial evidence. McCoy, 742 N.W.2d at 596. "Evidence is not insubstantial merely because we may draw different conclusions from [the evidence]; the ultimate question is whether it supports the finding ...


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