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State v. Sponsler

Court of Appeals of Iowa

March 12, 2014

STATE OF IOWA, Plaintiff-Appellee,
DAVID JAY SPONSLER, Defendant-Appellant

Editorial Note:

This decision is published in table format in the North Western Reporter.

Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Lucas County, David L. Christensen, Judge. A defendant appeals from his convictions for assault on a peace office and second-degree harassment.

Mark C. Smith, State Appellate Defender, and Shellie Knipfer, Assistant Appellate Defender, for appellant.

Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, Mary Triick, Assistant Attorney General, and Paul M. Goldsmith, County Attorney, for appellee.

Considered by Danilson, C.J., and Vaitheswaran and Mullins, JJ.



David Sponsler appeals from the district court, arguing there was insufficient evidence to support his convictions for assault on a peace officer (Iowa Code sections 708.1(2) and 708.3A(4) (2011)) and harassment in the second degree (Iowa Code sections 708.7(1)(b) and 708.7(3)). The State charged Sponsler with two counts of assaulting two Lucas County Sheriff Deputies--count one referenced Deputy Brett Tharp and count two referenced Deputy Clint Neis. The jury acquitted Sponsler of assaulting Tharp and convicted him of assaulting Neis.

We review challenges to the sufficiency of the evidence for correction of errors at law. If a verdict is supported by substantial evidence, we will uphold a finding of guilt. Substantial evidence is that upon which a rational trier of fact could find the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. The State must prove every fact necessary to constitute the crime with which the defendant is charged. The evidence must raise a fair inference of guilt and do more than create speculation, suspicion, or conjecture. In conducting our review, we consider all the evidence in the record, that which is favorable as well as unfavorable to the verdict, and view the evidence in the light most favorable to the State.

State v. Neitzel, 801 N.W.2d 612, 624 (Iowa Ct. App. 2011) (internal citations and quotation marks omitted).

I. Assault Against A Peace Officer.[1]

Sponsler argues there was insufficient evidence to show he intended to place Neis in fear of immediate physical contact or that he had the apparent ability to do the act. Tharp was approaching Sponsler at his residence to discuss threatening statements Sponsler had made earlier that day to Lucas County Attorney Paul Goldsmith. As Tharp drove up to the house, Sponsler was seated on a couch in the front yard. Upon seeing an approaching police vehicle, Sponsler got up and ran into the house. Tharp stopped in front of the house and called Neis, who arrived less than a minute later to assist. Tharp believed he already had sufficient cause to arrest Sponsler for harassment of Goldsmith.[2] Both deputies were in the front yard approaching the house when Sponsler exited the front door and stood before them on the porch. Tharp stood closest to Sponsler, slightly in front of and to the left of Neis. Sponsler was about fifteen feet away from the deputies.

Tharp testified Sponsler appeared very agitated, was flexing the muscles in his arms, pacing back and forth, staring at them, and talking on his phone. Neis further testified Sponsler was raising his arms and clenching his fists as though taking a fighting stance, grinding his teeth, and staring at them threateningly. They asked Sponsler to hang up and talk to them, attempting to calm him down. Sponsler continued talking incoherently and obscenely. The deputies were concerned for their safety and believed Sponsler was under the influence of a substance or suffering from poor mental health. Tharp testified Sponsler then raised his fists in a fighting posture and made several motions at the deputies like lunges. Tharp stated, " I believed he was planning on charging us[.]" Neis also stated Sponsler balled his fists in a fighting stance and began lunging at them. Neis further testified the predominant forward motion of Sponsler's lunge was in his upper body but his feet remained in the same position. Nonetheless Neis testified he took a step backward in response to put distance between himself and Sponsler and attempted to take a defensive stance. In contrast, Tharp testified his response was to step forward and reach for his Taser. On seeing this, Sponsler turned around and ran back into the house. Tharp chased him and deployed the Taser, and Sponsler fell to the floor.

" [I]ntent is seldom subject to direct proof[.]" State v. Mayberry, 411 N.W.2d 677, 682 (Iowa 1987) (overruled on other grounds by State v. Heemstra, 721 N.W.2d 549 (Iowa 2006)). " [D]efendants will ordinarily be viewed as intending the natural and probable consequences which ordinarily follow from their voluntary acts." Id. Sponsler argues he did not intend to place the officers in fear of imminent physical contact because he had been talking on the phone and did not move his feet during the lunges. The deputies' testimony shows that Sponsler's agitated demeanor and threatening conduct were intended to place the deputies in fear of imminent physical contact, whether or not such contact was made. Sponsler ...

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