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Smith v. State

Supreme Court of Iowa

April 4, 2014

TAMMY SMITH, Appellant,
v.
STATE OF IOWA, Appellee

Page 52

On review from the Iowa Court of Appeals. Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Humboldt County, Gary L. McMinimee, Judge. An applicant seeks further review of a court of appeals decision affirming the district court judgment that she did not qualify for compensation as a wrongfully imprisoned person.

Derek J. Johnson of Johnson & Bonzer, PLC, Fort Dodge, and Dani L. Eisentrager of Eisentrager Law Office, Eagle Grove, for appellant.

Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, and William A. Hill, Assistant Attorney General, for appellee.

OPINION

Page 53

WIGGINS, Justice.

An applicant seeks further review of a court of appeals decision affirming the district court judgment that she did not qualify for compensation as a wrongfully imprisoned person. We agree with the court of appeals that substantial evidence supports the district court's finding the applicant did not establish by clear and convincing evidence neither she nor anyone else committed the crime of child endangerment. Therefore, we affirm the decision of the court of appeals and the judgment of the district court.

I. Background Facts and Proceedings.

On June 1, 2007, a jury convicted the applicant, Tammy Smith, of child endangerment resulting in serious injury against her four-year-old, nonverbal son, G.S., under Iowa Code sections 726.6(1)( a ) and 726.6(5) (2005). Child endangerment resulting in serious injury is a class " C" felony. Id. § 726.6(5). The district court sentenced Smith to an indeterminate term of imprisonment not to exceed ten years, with credit for time served.

The court of appeals affirmed Smith's conviction for the crime of child endangerment resulting in serious injury by finding substantial evidence supported the conviction. The substantial evidence consisted of Smith's inconsistent stories as to how the injury occurred, the medical testimony G.S.'s injury most likely did not happen in the way Smith described, and the medical testimony the injury could have occurred by a person applying tremendous force to G.S.'s arm. G.S. was nonverbal and unable to testify at Smith's trial as to how the injury happened. The court of appeals held the evidence was sufficient for the jury to find G.S.'s injury occurred as a result of Smith knowingly acting in a manner to create a risk to G.S.'s physical health or safety.

In 2009, Smith applied for postconviction relief based on evidence G.S. communicated his injury occurred when he placed his arm in the washing machine. The district court denied her application. The court of appeals, in its review of the postconviction relief proceedings, held this was newly discovered evidence and ordered a new trial. On remand, the district court vacated Smith's conviction and granted the county attorney's motion to dismiss the case against Smith.

On November 21, 2011, Smith filed a petition for wrongful imprisonment under Iowa Code section 663A.1 (2011). The district court determined Smith did not establish by clear and convincing evidence neither she nor anyone else committed the crime of child endangerment resulting in serious injury. Smith appealed and we

Page 54

transferred the case to the court of appeals. The court of appeals affirmed. We granted further review. We will detail other facts necessary to our decision in our analysis.

II. Issue.

The issue before us is whether Smith is a wrongfully imprisoned person under Iowa Code section 663A.1.

III. Standard of Review.

We review wrongful imprisonment claims for correction of errors at law. State v. Dohlman, 725 N.W.2d 428, 430 (Iowa 2006) . If substantial evidence supports the district court's factual findings, we uphold the findings. State v. McCoy, 742 N.W.2d 593, 596 (Iowa 2007). " We consider evidence as substantial if a reasonable person would accept the evidence as adequate to reach the district court's conclusion." Dohlman, 725 N.W.2d at 430. When the district court denies compensation, our review is " whether substantial evidence supports the district court's determination that [the claimant] did not prove the requirements of section 663A.1(2) by clear and convincing evidence." Id.

IV. Statutory Framework.

The legislature created a statutory cause of action for wrongful imprisonment. See Iowa Code § 663A.1. The statute provides in relevant part:

1. As used in this section, a " wrongfully imprisoned person " means an individual who meets all of the following criteria:
a. The individual was charged, by indictment or information, with the commission of a public offense classified as an ...

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