January 11, 2017
STATE OF IOWA, Plaintiff-Appellee,
DWIGHT DERON COOKE, Defendant-Appellant.
from the Iowa District Court for Scott County, Paul L. Macek,
defendant appeals his conviction. AFFIRMED.
C. Smith, State Appellate Defender, and Nan Jennisch,
Assistant Appellate Defender, for appellant.
J. Miller, Attorney General, and Louis S. Sloven, Assistant
Attorney General, for appellee.
Considered by Vogel, P.J., and Tabor and Mullins, JJ.
Cooke appeals his convictions for willful injury causing
serious injury, in violation of Iowa Code section 708.4(1)
(2013), and domestic abuse assault with intent or while
displaying a dangerous weapon, in violation of Iowa Code
section 708.2A(2)(c). Cooke asserts the district court erred
in denying his counsel's motion to withdraw and in
admitting evidence regarding the victim's car. Because we
conclude the district court did not abuse its discretion on
either claim, we affirm.
Background Facts and Proceedings
January 23, 2015, Cooke met up with his former fiancé,
Haley Ploog, in order to give her belongings intended for
their son. After picking up the items from Cooke's
apartment, the two drove around for a short time, then parked
on a residential street and talked. Initially, the
conversation was calm, but the two eventually began arguing
about various personal matters. Ploog testified that Cooke
got "madder and madder" as the conversation went
on. She further stated that he pulled out a small
"X-Acto" knife and threatened to kill her. While
attempting to get out of the car, Cooke grabbed her by the
waist and tried to stop her. Ploog, falling to the ground,
felt Cooke's hand on her face; then, as blood began
running down her face, she knew she had been cut. Cooke
jumped out of the car and stood over Ploog.
then, Jacob Sanders and Katherine Polz drove by, noticed the
struggle, and stopped. Sanders asked if Ploog was okay; Cooke
told them to "leave her alone, we're fine, "
but hearing Ploog's pleas, the two stayed to give
assistance. Cooke fled the immediate scene, but Ploog saw him
standing nearby. She retrieved her purse from her car but
left the engine running. Sanders and Polz helped Ploog dial
911 and drove her to the hospital; she was eventually
transported to the University of Iowa Hospital in Iowa City,
where she underwent plastic surgery due to the depth of the
laceration on her face.
car went missing that night. Three weeks later, it was
recovered by police outside Cooke's apartment. When the
car was returned to her, Ploog identified several items she
knew belonged to Cooke inside the car. A piece of mail
addressed to Cooke was also located inside the vehicle.
March 19, the State charged Cooke with willful injury causing
serious injury and domestic abuse assault. Trial was set for
June 1 with the speedy trial date set to run on June 17. On
May 22, Cooke's counsel filed a motion to withdraw
claiming Cooke had refused to see him on multiple occasions
and had refused to cooperate in preparation for trial. A
pretrial conference was held on May 27, where the issue was
initially discussed but not fully submitted. At the start of
trial on June 1, the district court heard additional argument
detailing Cooke's troubled relationship with his counsel
and the difficulties of assigning new counsel because of
speedy trial requirements. Cooke also filed a motion in
limine that sought to preclude the State from introducing
evidence regarding Cooke's possession of Ploog's car.
The district court allowed the State to present evidence
regarding the vehicle so long as the evidence did not imply
the vehicle was stolen. Following trial, a jury convicted
Cooke of both counts. Cooke filed a motion for a new trial,
which the district court denied. Cooke appeals.
Standard of Review
review a district court's decision regarding
counsel's motion to withdraw for an abuse of discretion.
State v. Brooks, 540 N.W.2d 270, 272 (Iowa 1995). We
also review evidentiary rulings for abuse of discretion.
State v. Huston, 825 N.W.2d 531, 536 (Iowa 2013).
Counsel's Motion to Withdraw
argues the district court erred in denying his counsel's
motion to withdraw prior to trial because a complete
breakdown of the attorney-client relationship had occurred,
which justified substitution of counsel. The State responds
Cooke did not show such a breakdown in communication and
Cooke's issues with his counsel had the indicia of a
courts have substantial discretion when ruling on motions to
withdraw counsel, "particularly when the motion is made
on the eve of trial." Brooks, 540 N.W.2d at
272. A defendant must demonstrate sufficient cause for the
withdrawal, such as "a conflict of interest, an
irreconcilable conflict with the client, or a complete
breakdown in communications between the attorney and the
client." Id. If sufficient cause is shown, a
defendant must ordinarily also show prejudice. Id.
Cooke claimed a complete breakdown of communications between
him and his counsel. In its ruling on the motion for a new
trial, the district court noted that it was Cooke who had
caused the communications issues:
The defendant overlooks the fact that it was the defendant
himself who refused to meet with his attorney. This refusal
occurred twice, on May 13, 2015, and again on May 21, 2015.
The defendant's election not to meet with his attorney
was an election that he made. This attorney represents his
clients well, as was evidenced by the attorney's
participation in the trial and by these motions.
court also included its observation that Cooke and his
counsel communicated well throughout trial and concluded that
Cooke had not shown a complete breakdown of communications.
Further, the court emphasized that the request came on the
eve of trial, that Cooke had not waived speedy trial, and
that appointing substitute counsel would have been difficult.
Our review of the record indicates the district court's
observations about Cooke's relationship with counsel were
sound and its concerns about appointing substitute counsel on
the eve of trial were valid. Further, from our review of the
record, we agree that Cooke received adequate representation
from trial counsel. Therefore, we conclude the district court
did not abuse its discretion in denying Cooke's
counsel's motion to withdraw.
Evidence Related to Ploog's Car
asserts the district court erred by allowing the State to
introduce evidence related to his possession of Ploog's
car and the items that were found in the car. The State
claims this evidence was relevant to identifying Cooke as the
assailant and therefore properly admitted.
evidence is admissible as long as it is relevant. Iowa R.
Evid. 5.402. Evidence is "relevant" when it has
"any tendency to make the existence of any fact that is
of consequence to the determination of the action more
probable or less probable than it would be without the
evidence." Iowa R. Evid. 5.402. The court limited the
State's use of the evidence to the issue of identity and
warned against the implication Cooke had stolen the vehicle.
Identity of Ploog's assailant was the main issue at
trial, as Cooke claimed he was not the person that attacked
Ploog. Ploog identified Cooke as the attacker, and she also
testified that she last saw her car at the scene on the night
she was attacked, with Cooke standing nearby. Accordingly,
locating Ploog's car near Cooke's apartment with his
belongings and mail inside linked him to the attack. Because
the evidence related to Ploog's car was relevant to
corroborate Ploog's testimony as to the identity of her
assailant, the evidence was admissible, and the district
court did not abuse its discretion in admitting such
we conclude the district court did not abuse its discretion
in denying Cooke's counsel's motion to withdraw or in
admitting evidence of the location and contents of
Ploog's vehicle, we affirm Cooke's convictions.
 Although the State asserts Cooke
failed to preserve error on his evidentiary claim, we find it
adequately, albeit marginally, preserved by the district
court's ruling in limine.