Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Sioux County, John D. Ackerman, Judge.
Cory Jurrens appeals his convictions for going armed with intent and second-degree burglary.
Debra S. DeJong of Klay, Veldhuizen, Binder, De Jong, De Jong, Halverson & Winterfeld, Orange City, for appellant.
Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, Kevin Cmelik, Assistant Attorney General, and Coleman McAllister, County Attorney, for appellee.
Considered by Eisenhauer, C.J., and Potterfield and Tabor, JJ.
Cory Jurrens appeals his convictions for going armed with intent and second-degree burglary. He does not appeal his contemporaneous conviction for assault causing bodily injury. Cory challenges evidentiary rulings and asserts the evidence is insufficient to support the convictions.
We conclude the district court abused its discretion in admitting evidence of prior bad acts. Accordingly, we reverse the conviction for going armed with intent and remand for a new trial. The district court did not abuse its discretion in admitting evidence of a defense witness's prior convictions involving dishonesty. Because sufficient evidence supports the conviction for second-degree burglary, we affirm the burglary conviction.
I. Background Facts and Proceedings.
An early-morning incident occurred in December 2011 involving Amber Mace, her ex-boyfriend Cory Jurrens, and Barry (Baernt) Wood. Subsequently, Cory was charged with going armed with intent (knife), assault causing bodily injury (Amber), and first-degree burglary (entry with the intent to commit an assault while in possession of a dangerous weapon—knife). The going armed with intent and burglary charges included habitual offender enhancements.
A. Pretrial Proceedings—Motion to Admit Prior Convictions of Defense Witness.
The State filed a motion to admit the January 3, 2002 convictions of defense witness Cheri Topete for theft and for burglary with the intent to commit theft. Cory filed a motion in limine to exclude the convictions.
The State argued Cheri's crimes of dishonesty are significant to the issue of the credibility of Cheri's expected testimony Cory was not armed with a knife.
This testimony "goes to the heart of the State's case . . . it is not merely cumulative evidence. Her testimony is critical to the trier of fact. Because the testimony is so critical, the evaluation of [her credibility] by the trier of fact is likewise critical." Further, the convictions are ten years and three months old. If the convictions "were a mere three months younger, the trial court would lack the discretion to exclude them."
Cory contended Cheri's convictions, over ten years old, should be excluded. The court granted the State's motion to admit.
B. Pretrial Proceedings—Motion to Exclude Prior Bad Acts Evidence.
Cory's motion in limine sought to exclude, as improper propensity evidence, an alleged threat by Cory one month before the events charged. Cory allegedly stated someone else would damage Amber's home or slash the tires on her vehicle. Cory argued the only purpose of the evidence "is to portray [Cory] in a bad light, " and he contended the State sought to use evidence Cory threatened actions with a knife in order to show he had a knife on the evening in question.
The State responded it has the burden of proving Cory specifically intended to assault Amber and to burglarize her residence. Citing the court to State v. Taylor, 689 N.W.2d 116 (Iowa 2004), the State asserted a prosecution involving intimate partners makes Cory's prior threats to harm Amber's property relevant to motive and to intent "to burglarize the home, also the intent to assault [Amber] . . . . In [the prior threat] he had threatened to do damage to the home.
That's why she told him not to come [to her house] and attempted to lock the door." The prosecutor argued:
You have to look at the circumstances surrounding the crime as well as the past interactions between the parties so that you can have evidence of the intent, and there's no better evidence of intent available to the State . . . except the past interactions of [Cory and Amber].
THE COURT: But the past interaction you want [to admit into evidence] is a threat . . . [of] damage [to] her property, not break into her house to assault her.
PROSECUTOR: That's correct.
THE COURT: So . . . the only people that are going to testify as to the events that took place in this home are the alleged victim and the defendant?
PROSECUTOR: That's correct.
THE COURT: Whether there is clear proof of the defendant committing the prior act, what you have is the victim's statement . . . ?
PROSECUTOR: Yes. We have no other evidence your honor.
THE COURT: How would you describe the strength or weakness of this evidence on the relevant issue, i.e., the intent to burglarize or to commit an assault on her?
PROSECUTOR: Well, it's the only evidence available to the State as to the defendant's intent independent of his behavior that evening.
THE COURT: And what do you think the risk is the jury will be prompted to decide this case on an improper basis if they hear that evidence?
PROSECUTOR: I believe the risk is low . . . . The defendant wasn't charged with that prior crime. It does not involve physical violence, it involves a threat . . . .
DEFENSE COUNSEL: Your honor, [the prosecutor] just admitted that the State's evidence is weak. Therefore, they need to look for improper ...