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State v. Thomas

Supreme Court of Iowa

May 30, 2014

STATE OF IOWA, Appellee,

On review from the Iowa Court of Appeals. Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Scott County, Thomas G. Reidel, Judge. The State seeks further review of a court of appeals decision holding that the State presented insufficient evidence to support the defendant's convictions for possession of cocaine and marijuana with intent to deliver.


Lauren M. Phelps of Lauren M. Phelps, P.L.L.C., Davenport, for appellant.

Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, Elisabeth S. Reynoldson (until withdrawal) and Benjamin M. Parrott, Assistant Attorneys General, Des Moines, and Michael J. Walton, County Attorney, and Kelly G. Cunningham, Assistant County Attorney, Davenport, for appellee.

MANSFIELD, Justice. All justices concur except Hecht, Wiggins, and Appel, JJ., who dissent.


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We are asked to decide today whether substantial evidence supports the defendant's convictions for possession of marijuana and crack cocaine with intent to deliver. After police entered an apartment occupied by several individuals, the defendant and one other person ran into the bedroom. The defendant tried to hold the bedroom door shut to prevent the police from entering. Eventually, an officer was able to force open the door. As the defendant attempted to engage in misdirection, police noticed the presence of sale packages of marijuana and crack cocaine in the area where the defendant had been standing and holding back the door. The defendant then gave a false name to the officers and falsely claimed he had fled from them because he had an outstanding warrant. Meanwhile, the other person who had run into the bedroom and the renter of the apartment both denied having anything to do with the drugs. Based on these facts, the jury found the defendant guilty of possession with intent to deliver, but the court of appeals reversed for insufficient evidence. On further review, we find the evidence sufficient to sustain a jury verdict of guilt and therefore reinstate the defendant's convictions.

We also reject, separately, the defendant's claim of Batson error in jury selection. See Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79, 106 S.Ct. 1712, 90 L.Ed.2d 69 (1986). We

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uphold the district court's finding that the State provided a race-neutral explanation for striking a potential alternate juror.

I. Background Facts and Proceedings.

The following facts were presented to the jury. The defendant Tremayne Thomas and Marissa Ledbetter stood outside the Davenport apartment of Raymond Norvell late in the evening of March 1, 2012. Norvell's apartment was a ground-level, one-bedroom apartment.

Officers from the Davenport Police Department, in a foot pursuit of a suspect in the area, noticed Thomas and Ledbetter shouting and heard loud noise coming from a window of Norvell's apartment. The officers inquired about the activity, but Thomas and Ledbetter assured them there was no problem. Thomas and Ledbetter then moved inside the apartment. One of the officers went to the door and was met by Norvell, who identified himself as the resident of the apartment. Norvell reassured the officer everything was fine, and the officers continued in pursuit of their suspect.

A few minutes later, the officers returned to the area outside Norvell's apartment and again heard yelling from the window. One of the officers approached the window. As the officer watched, a man later identified as Isaiah Henderson came into view, standing next to the kitchen microwave in the background of the scene. The officer testified he observed Henderson pull a marijuana blunt from his sweatshirt and begin smoking it.

Moments later, a man later identified as Brett Dennis approached Norvell's apartment. The officers followed Dennis toward the door and noted the smell of marijuana smoke wafting from the apartment when the door opened. The officers decided to attempt to seize the marijuana, so they quickly knocked and announced themselves and entered the apartment.

The apartment had two rooms--the kitchen (with a small attached bathroom) to the east and a back bedroom to the west. A single door connected the kitchen and the bedroom. The door was located in the northeast corner of the bedroom and swung into the bedroom toward the north wall.

As the police announced their presence and entered the front room of the apartment in uniform, six persons were in that room. No one was in the bedroom. Three of those persons--Norvell, Ledbetter, and Derek Townsend--remained in the front room, sitting at the kitchen table. Dennis, who had just walked in, eventually got up from the kitchen table and left the residence. None of those four appeared to be interested in fleeing or hiding.

In contrast to those four, Henderson and the defendant Thomas quickly retreated from the front room to the bedroom in back. Henderson left his blunt behind and went immediately to the southwest corner of the bedroom--i.e., the opposite end of the bedroom from where the door was located. Henderson then stayed in that corner of the bedroom, away from the door and near a dresser. Thomas followed Henderson into the bedroom, closed the door, and tried to hold it shut.

One of the police officers, Officer Sievert, pushed against the door to the bedroom. Despite Thomas's efforts to hold the door shut, after several seconds, the officer was able to shoulder the door open. The officer ordered Henderson (still in the southwest corner) and Thomas (still in the northeast corner) to the ground. Henderson immediately complied. Thomas, however, remained standing and tried to engage the officer in discussion. The officer believed this was an effort at " misdirection."

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In any event, the officer had to force Thomas to the ground. The two men were then moved to the bed in the bedroom as the officers searched the room.

Behind the door that Thomas had been holding back and along the north wall near the northeast corner were two rows of neatly placed women's purses belonging to Norvell. On top of the purses, police found a clear plastic baggie that contained four individually wrapped bags of marijuana and four individually wrapped bags of crack cocaine. The marijuana bags were $5 units, and the crack cocaine bags were $50 rocks, all prepackaged for sale.

The officers also found a phone and prescription medication belonging to Henderson on a dresser near the corner of the room where Henderson had initially been standing. Henderson explained that he had previously entered the back bedroom to charge his cell phone and had left his charging cell phone and a bottle of prescription pills on the dresser in the southwest corner. When the police came in, he admitted he had disposed of the blunt and headed back to that southwest area of the bedroom where the dresser with his cell phone and pills was located.

Thomas had no weapon or other contraband on his person. He did have $120 cash. The other persons who had been in the apartment had no money or contraband on their persons. In addition, Norvell denied any knowledge of the crack cocaine found in his bedroom. Henderson also denied any knowledge of the drugs found in the bedroom.

The packaging of the marijuana and crack cocaine was crinkled, so the police did not expect to find any fingerprints on the baggie or the bags. Although they checked all items for fingerprints, no fingerprints were subsequently detected.

The officers located a marijuana blunt in front of the microwave where Henderson had initially been standing when the officers observed him light the blunt from outside the window. A spoon with cocaine residue on it and several small, clear plastic bags were also located at the table where Norvell, Ledbetter, and Townsend were sitting.

After the police completed a search of the apartment, Thomas and Henderson were asked for identification. Henderson identified himself correctly to the officers, but Thomas gave a false name and claimed he could not remember his Social Security number. Thomas only gave his actual name when he was moved to the squad car and told he was under arrest for the evidence found in the bedroom and would be held as a " John Doe" until he could be identified through fingerprints.

Thomas claimed he had not been forthcoming about his name because he had an outstanding warrant for his arrest. However, the police checked, and there was no warrant. One of the officers later testified that it is " pretty typical" for a suspect to claim that he or she ran because of a warrant " so you won't have to acknowledge the presence of drugs."

Thomas was charged with possession with intent to deliver marijuana, possession with intent to deliver crack cocaine, a drug tax stamp violation, and interference with official acts. See Iowa Code § 124.401(1)( c )(3) (2011) (possession of crack cocaine); id. § 124.401(1)( d ) (possession of marijuana); id. § 453B.3 (drug tax stamp violation); id. § 719.1(1) (interference with official acts). The drug tax stamp charge was eventually dropped. Thomas entered a plea of not guilty to the remaining charges in March 2012, and the case went to trial in July.

At the close of the two-day trial, Thomas moved for a directed verdict on the possession

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with intent to deliver charges, arguing there was insufficient evidence he had possessed the drugs in question. The district court denied the motion. The jury found Thomas guilty of all three charges. Thomas was sentenced to a period of imprisonment not to exceed ten years for the crack cocaine charge, a period not to exceed five years for the marijuana charge, and thirty days for the interference with official acts charge. The court ordered the sentences to run concurrently. Additionally, Thomas was fined $1750 and ordered to pay court costs and attorney fees.

Thomas appealed and urged again that there was insufficient evidence to support the possession with intent to deliver charges. The court of appeals agreed with Thomas and set aside those convictions. We granted the State's application for further review.

II. Standard of Review.

We have recently summarized our standard of review when reviewing the sufficiency of evidence in criminal cases as follows:

Sufficiency of evidence claims are reviewed for . . . correction of errors at law. In reviewing challenges to the sufficiency of evidence supporting a guilty verdict, courts consider all of the record evidence viewed in the light most favorable to the State, including all reasonable inferences that may be fairly drawn from the evidence. [W]e will uphold a verdict if substantial record evidence supports it. We will consider all the evidence presented, not just the inculpatory evidence. Evidence is considered substantial if, when viewed in the light most favorable to the State, it can convince a rational jury that the defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Inherent in our standard of review of jury verdicts in criminal cases is the recognition that the jury [is] free to reject certain evidence, and credit other evidence.

State v. Sanford, 814 N.W.2d 611, 615 (Iowa 2012) (citations omitted) (internal quotation marks omitted).

III. Analysis.

Iowa Code section 124.401 makes it unlawful for any person " to manufacture, deliver, or possess with the intent to manufacture or deliver, a controlled substance." Iowa Code § 124.401(1). In order for the State to establish possession of a controlled substance under this statute, it had to prove Thomas " exercised dominion and control over the contraband, had knowledge of the contraband's presence, and had knowledge the material was a narcotic." Stat ...

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