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State v. Quang

Court of Appeal of Iowa

August 21, 2013

STATE OF IOWA, Plaintiff-Appellee,
THINH VAN QUANG, Defendant-Appellant.

Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Polk County, Mary Pat Gunderson, Judge.

Appellant appeals his convictions for conspiracy to manufacture methamphetamine, manufacturing methamphetamine, possession of lithium, and possession of methamphetamine with intent to deliver.

Andrew Tullar of Tullar Law Firm, P.L.C., Des Moines, for appellant.

Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, Elisabeth Reynoldson and Katie Fiala, Assistant Attorneys General, John P. Sarcone, County Attorney, and Joseph Crisp, Assistant County Attorney, for appellee.

Considered by Mullins, P.J., Bower, J., and Huitink, S.J. [*]


I. Background Facts & Proceedings.

The evidence presented in this case could support the following factual findings. On May 15, 2011, at about 3:00 a.m., police officers and firefighters responded to a report of a fire at a home in Des Moines. When they arrived they saw Thinh Quang attempting to put out the fire with a garden hose. During an investigation officials determined the fire started as the result of manufacturing methamphetamine. Items used in the manufacture of methamphetamine were found in the home, such as empty pseudoephedrine packages, lithium batteries, muriatic acid, propane, and coffee filters. The residents of the home were Quang, La Lovan, Donna Waldron, and Luong Kei.

Officers found a digital scale, an empty battery package, and empty pseudoephedrine packages in Quang's bedroom. A magazine with pages ripped out was found in Quang's room. Methamphetamine packaged in strips of paper, similar to that of the magazine, was found in a vehicle at the residence. Additionally, Quang had black stains on his hands. There was evidence that stripping lithium from battery packs could lead to this staining.

Waldron, a codefendant, testified she used methamphetamine. She stated Quang asked her to buy pseudoephedrine for him and in exchange she would receive methamphetamine. She stated she purchased pseudoephedrine for Quang between December 2010 and May 2011. Waldron testified she had personally observed Quang manufacturing methamphetamine. Waldron also stated she observed Quang offer to sell methamphetamine to people who came to the house. Waldron testified that in exchange for testifying in Quang's case the State had agreed to recommend probation in her own criminal case.

A jury found Quang guilty of conspiracy to manufacture methamphetamine, in violation of Iowa Code section 124.401(1)(b)(7) (2011); manufacturing methamphetamine, in violation of section 124.401(1)(b)(7); possession of lithium with intent to manufacture a controlled substance, in violation of section 124.401(4); and possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver, in violation of section 124.401(1)(c)(6). The district court sentenced Quang to a total term of imprisonment of forty years. Quang now appeals his convictions and sentences.

II. Cross-Examination.

During Waldron's cross-examination, defense counsel asked if she would have been facing a mandatory prison sentence if convicted of the offenses she had been charged with. The prosecutor objected. The court ruled the jury was not to be given any information about specific sentences faced by either Waldron or Quang. The court stated it was concerned that if the jury was informed Waldron was facing a mandatory prison sentence then it would speculate that Quang was facing the same. The court determined defense counsel could ask Waldron whether she had been facing prison time but could not ask her about a mandatory prison sentence. When Waldron's cross-examination continued, she testified she had been facing the possibility of prison time, but because she agreed to testify in Quang's trial, the State agreed to recommend probation.

Quang contends he was not able to fully cross-examine Waldron about her plea agreement with the State. He asserts the court's ruling limiting his cross-examination violated his rights under the Confrontation Clauses of the United States and Iowa Constitutions. See U.S. Const. amend. VI; Iowa Const. art. I, § 10.

Our review of claims based on the Confrontation Clause is de novo. State v. Newell, 710 N.W.2d 6, 23 (Iowa 2006). On the other hand, when "a defendant has been allowed to elicit testimony from the accomplice that he has received a plea agreement in exchange for testifying, but is prohibited from inquiring into the specific penalties the accomplice may have faced without the plea-agreement, it has been held review should be for abuse of discretion." State v. Runyan, 599 N.W.2d 474, 479 (Iowa Ct. App. 1999). This case does not involve a situation where a defendant was entirely denied his right to confrontation and where a constitutional error is involved. See id. at 478-79. We conclude our review is for an abuse of discretion. There is an abuse of discretion when a court exercises its discretion on grounds or for reasons clearly untenable or to an extent clearly unreasonable. State v. Sackett, 499 N.W.2d 312, 313 (Iowa Ct. App. 1993).

In general, "[a] defendant should be permitted wide latitude in seeking to show bias of an alleged accomplice who testified for the prosecution." State v. Armento, 256 N.W.2d 228, 229 (Iowa 1977). A witness's awareness of the possible penalties that witness might be facing is relevant on the issue of bias. State v. Horn, 282 N.W.2d 717, 728 (Iowa 1979). Our supreme court has stated:

The rule is unquestioned that a defendant may inquire about the concessions the accomplice hopes to receive or has been promised for his testimony, and where the State has gone so far as to enter into a bargain with the accomplice the defendant must be allowed to inquire about the terms of the bargain so that the jury may better understand the possible motivations of the accomplice as he sits on the stand.

State v. Donelson, 302 N.W.2d 125, 131 (Iowa 1981).

The Iowa Supreme Court has also stated, however, if a jury did not know precisely what a witness believed the penalty would be for the charges against that witness, this "could not materially have affected the jury's impression of his motivation in testifying for the State." Armento, 256 N.W.2d at 230. In other cases as well, appellate courts have determined a defendant was not prejudiced even though the scope of cross-examination was limited on the issue of the penalties a witness would have faced prior to an agreement with the State. See Horn, 282 N.W.2d at 728; Runyan, 59 ...

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