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State v. Dugan

Court of Appeal of Iowa

November 6, 2013

STATE OF IOWA, Plaintiff-Appellee,
THOMAS ANTHONY DUGAN, Defendant-Appellant.

Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Guthrie County, Gregory A. Hulse (pre-trial motion) and Randy V. Hefner (trial), Judges.

Thomas Dugan appeals from his conviction of homicide by vehicle.

Mark C. Smith, State Appellate Defender, and Stephan J. Japuntich, Assistant Appellate Defender, for appellant.

Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, Tyler J. Buller, Assistant Attorney General, Mary Benton, County Attorney, and Douglas Hammerand, Assistant County Attorney, for appellee.

Considered by Vaitheswaran, P.J., and Doyle and Bower, JJ.


Thomas Dugan appeals from his conviction of homicide by vehicle. He challenges the sufficiency of the evidence to support his conviction, and he contends the district court erred in admitting evidence concerning his blood test results and other irrelevant and prejudicial evidence, including hearsay and prior-bad-acts evidence. He also asserts his trial counsel rendered ineffective assistance. Upon our review, we affirm his conviction and preserve his ineffective-assistance-of-counsel claims for future postconviction relief proceedings.

I. Background Facts and Proceedings.

Viewing the trial evidence in the light most favorable to the jury's guilty verdict, see State v. Romer, 832 N.W.2d 169, 172 (Iowa 2013), the jury could have found the following facts: around six a.m. on August 23, 2009, Thomas Dugan called 911 on his cell phone, requesting help. Dugan reported to the dispatcher he had "no clue" where he was, and he stated his arm was broken. The dispatcher was able to determine Dugan's location using Dugan's cell phone's GPS coordinates, and a police officer, as well as fire and emergency medical services personnel, were dispatched to Dugan's location.

There, personnel observed a vehicle on its top in a bean field, and they discovered a body, later identified as Adam Anderson, nearby in the field. Dugan was also found nearby, yelling for Anderson. Dugan was covered with blood, and he had multiple injuries, including a two-inch laceration under his chin and several injuries to his facial area and right ear. Two officers that spoke to Dugan—one at the scene and another at the hospital after Dugan was transported there—smelled an odor of an alcoholic beverage coming from Dugan and observed Dugan's eyes were bloodshot. The emergency medical technician who first talked to and treated Dugan at the scene also smelled the odor of an alcoholic beverage on Dugan. Additionally, two beer cans were found at the scene.

An investigation of the accident followed. The vehicle, a Ford Mustang owned by Anderson, had extensive damage to its front, rear, and roof areas, and it was missing both passenger-side wheels. Blood was found inside the vehicle, mostly contained on the driver's-side headliner. Evidence was taken from the vehicle for DNA testing, including the airbags from both sides of the vehicle, as well as blood, hair, and saliva from the steering wheel and from the inside of the windshield on the driver's side, where it was pushed out and had a spidering effect from impact.

Due to Anderson's positioning in the field, it was believed he had been ejected from the vehicle. Anderson's external injuries were not extensive; he had multiple cuts on the right side of his forehead and a small scrape on his nose, along with a few other scrapes on his hand, arm, and leg. His internal injuries also were not extensive, but he suffered a brain injury, possibly from being ejected from the vehicle. He did not suffer any injuries to his chest consistent with impact from a steering wheel.

DNA profiles were developed from cuttings of the driver's-side airbag and the driver's-side headliner by Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation (DCI) criminologists, and both profiles matched Dugan's DNA profile. Blood found on the steering wheel and the driver's-side seat belt also matched Dugan's DNA profile. None of the evidence tested matched Anderson's DNA profile.

At the scene of the accident, the responding police officer asked Dugan questions about the accident, including who was the driver of the vehicle. Although Dugan was conscious, Dugan did not reply to any of the officer's question. However, Dugan told his treating emergency medical technician at the scene he was the passenger in the vehicle. The EMT observed "a red mark across [Dugan's] hips that could have been caused by a lap [seat] belt." The EMT believed Dugan's injuries were consistent with being a passenger in the vehicle, based upon her own experience of being involved in a crash, but she admitted she did not have any specialized training to make such determination. Dugan told a trooper at the hospital the morning of the accident that he did not remember what had occurred, except he could remember that he was the passenger in the car and Anderson was driving. At the hospital, Dugan also told the responding fire department chief that drove the ambulance to the scene, Anderson was driving the vehicle.

Despite Dugan's statements to the contrary, law personnel concluded Dugan was the driver of the vehicle, and Dugan was ultimately charged with homicide by vehicle, in violation of Iowa Code sections 707.6A(1) and 321J.2 (2009), for unintentionally causing Anderson's death while operating Anderson's vehicle intoxicated. A jury trial followed.

At trial, several acquaintances of Dugan and Anderson testified they observed both men drinking at bars the night of the accident, following a class reunion. Although two witnesses at the bar at closing time testified Dugan was very intoxicated, other witnesses there testified they did not observe any signs that Dugan was under the influence of alcohol. The bar owner who served both Dugan and Anderson alcoholic beverages at the bar testified he did not see any signs either man was intoxicated.

Lea Creese and other friends at the bar testified the men planned to go to Creese's house after the bar closed. One friend testified Dugan had asked her to come with him and Anderson to the after party, and Dugan bragged to her about driving Anderson's Mustang, as if it were Dugan's vehicle. Another friend testified that when everyone was getting ready to leave, Anderson "held up his keys and said, 'Who's driving, because I can't?'" She further testified she reached for Anderson's keys, but Dugan got them first, telling her he and Anderson were "going to go party." She testified the last time she saw Dugan, he had Anderson's car keys. The bar owner testified he saw Dugan twirling a set of keys on his finger, but he did not know to whom the keys belonged. He testified he did not see any keys in Anderson's hands.

Lea Creese testified the plan that evening was for Dugan and Anderson to come to her house after the bar closed, because she lived a few blocks away from Dugan. She testified Dugan initially agreed to ride home with her, but "as time went on, it was very apparent [Anderson] had been drinking, and so [Dugan decided] that it probably wasn't safe for [Anderson] to be by himself." She testified several people tried to get Anderson to give his keys to someone, stay at someone's house, and then get his car in the morning, but Anderson "was furious, " and "[h]e would not give his keys up." She testified she saw Dugan trying to get Anderson's keys, but she was not sure if he was successful. She testified it was her understanding that when Dugan and Anderson left the bar, Anderson would be driving, and they would follow her, or she would follow them to her house. However, they left before her.

None of the witnesses saw the men getting into Anderson's vehicle or driving away from the bar in Anderson's vehicle that night. Creese looked for the men on her way home, but she did not find them. The men never arrived at Creese's home.

The officer who responded to the accident testified that, based upon his prior investigations, Dugan's chin laceration was consistent with impact with the steering wheel of the vehicle, and he opined Dugan was driving the vehicle on the night of the accident. He testified Anderson did not have any injury on his chin like Dugan had, and extensive amounts of blood were found on the driver's side of the vehicle, including blood on the steering wheel, windshield, headliners, and driver's-side air bag. A trooper who obtained a blood specimen from Dugan at the hospital testified that chin injuries, like Dugan's, typically correspond with an air-bag- or steering-wheel-type collision.

Another trooper involved in the investigation observed Dugan's injuries after Dugan was admitted to the hospital. He testified Dugan's chin injury was "curved in a manner which would line up with the steering wheel, " and Dugan had injuries to his feet. He ...

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