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Stouffer v. State

Court of Appeal of Iowa

October 2, 2013

BOBBY JOE STOUFFER, Applicant-Appellant,
v.
STATE OF IOWA, Respondent-Appellee.

Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Polk County, Eliza J. Ovrom, Judge.

Bobby Joe Stouffer appeals from the district court's denial of his application for postconviction relief.

Christine E. Branstad of Branstad Law, PLLC, Des Moines, for appellant.

Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, Kevin Cmelik, Assistant Attorney General, John P. Sarcone, County Attorney, and Jaki Livingston, Assistant County Attorney, for appellee State.

Heard by Vaitheswaran, P.J., and Doyle, J., and Goodhue, S.J. [*]

DOYLE, J.

Bobby Stouffer appeals from the district court's denial of his application for postconviction relief (PCR). He claims his trial counsel and appellate counsel were ineffective. We affirm.

I. Background Facts and Proceedings.

Following a 2007 jury trial held at the Neal and Bea Smith Law Center Legal Clinic Courtroom at Drake University Law School ("LCC"), Stouffer was convicted of second-degree murder, in violation of Iowa Code sections 707.1 and 707.3 (2005). He was sentenced to a term of imprisonment of no more than fifty years. The relevant facts relating to his claims asserted in his PCR application are as follows.

On January 2, 2007, the Polk County Board of Supervisors adopted a resolution pursuant to the terms and conditions set forth in a Memorandum of Understanding between Polk County, Drake University Law School, and the Fifth Judicial District of Iowa, designating the LCC as an official place of holding court pursuant to Iowa Code section 602.1303(1)(a) (2007). The Chief Judge of the Fifth Judicial District subsequently entered an administrative order designating the LCC as an official place for holding court pursuant to section 602.6105.

After Stouffer was charged with second-degree murder in 2006, the district court, in its order dated January 18, 2007, ordered Stouffer's trial be held on February 12, "at the designated court room at the [LCC]." At unreported hearings held on February 2 and 5, Stouffer objected to his trial being held at the LCC, but the court denied his objection. On February 7, Stouffer filed a motion requesting the court reconsider its ruling, setting forth eleven reasons for his request, including that "the environment at [the Legal Clinic] is potentially hostile and would make a spectacle of [Stouffer] and the evidence against him, " his "right to a fair trial would be prejudiced by conducting the trial at [the LCC], " the "case is not about the education of law students or the experience of a real trial: it is about [Stouffer's] right to receive a fair trial with impartial jurors, " and "filling up the amphitheater with students required to attend denies [Stouffer] his constitutional right to a fair and public trial."

A hearing on Stouffer's motion was held. There, Stouffer's trial counsel explained that the sum and substance of her motion was that having Stouffer's trial at the LCC as part of a trial practicum for the law students "denies [Stouffer] his rights to a fair and public trial with an impartial jury." She stated:

I think the atmosphere creates a—will put pressure on the jury to perhaps convict, when they ordinarily wouldn't, or to find my client guilty of a more heinous crime than the evidence proves.
I think with a pair of 150 or 200 students' eyes looking at you, the entire ambience is pressure. And for the other reasons stated, that it is—it's for the students, not for the public. It's really not for my defendant.

The State resisted, and it presented the testimony of Russell Lovell, the associate dean of Drake University Law School. Dean Lovell explained that the school's LCC was very nice, possessed high-tech capabilities, and provided room for over 110 persons to observe the trial. He testified the school offered use of its LCC to the Fifth Judicial District to hold trials there, and after the district accepted, the school in 1998 began its First-Year Trial Practicum. Dean Lovell testified that since that time, there had been nine trials held at the LCC, five involving criminal matters, including a murder trial. Of those criminal trials, he testified that one had resulted in an acquittal. Dean Lovell testified there was room in the LCC for anybody who wanted to come and watch the case, including general family members and the public, explaining "[i]t is a public proceeding, and the public is allowed freely to participate." Among other procedures taken in preparing for a trial at the LCC, Dean Lovell testified:

We educate the students in terms of courtroom etiquette. They certainly realize it is a privilege to have the opportunity to observe the trial. With that goes the responsibility to have the respect for the court, the jurors, and the parties. And that in a criminal case in particular, a person's liberty is at stake, and that absolutely requires a fair, impartial, professional, and secure trial.

Dean Lovell acknowledged that none of the prior trials held at the LCC had been held over the objection of one of the parties; rather, in all of the other cases, "everyone, the prosecutors, the client, and the defendant, agreed" to their trials being held at the LCC. The court denied Stouffer's motion to reconsider, finding there was no prejudice to Stouffer by having his trial at the LCC as opposed to a courtroom in the county courthouse.

At the same hearing, the court took up Stouffer's pending motion to continue. Stouffer requested the trial be continued until one of the State's witnesses, Terance Edgington, was sentenced on federal felony charges to which he had recently pled guilty. Stouffer's trial counsel explained that Iowa's "impeachment rules provide that I can impeach someone with felony convictions, only convictions, and he has not yet been convicted of those charges. And I wanted to be able to ask him if he has been convicted of federal child pornography and three felony counts of sexual assault." The State resisted, noting the witness had pled but had not yet been sentenced. The State argued that because the witness had not yet been

convicted of a felony . . . it would be improper for [the court] to continue the case in order for him to be sentenced so [Stouffer] can ...

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