IN RE DETENTION OF KEITH ADAMS, Respondent-Appellant.
from the Iowa District Court for Scott County, Thomas G.
appeals his civil commitment as a sexually violent predator.
A. Dunn, Assistant Public Defender, for appellant.
J. Miller, Attorney General, and Kelli A. Huser, Assistant
Attorney General, for appellee State.
by Mullins, P.J., and Bower and McDonald, JJ.
Keith Adams has been convicted of indecent exposure eleven
times. Six of his eleven victims were between the ages of
nine and thirteen. In 2014, the State initiated civil
commitment proceedings pursuant to Iowa Code Chapter 229A
(2014). A jury found Adams to be a sexually violent predator
(SVP) within the meaning of the code, and the district court
issued an order of commitment. Adams raises three challenges
to his commitment in this appeal.
contends the district court should have granted his motion
for mistrial made after the State's expert witness, Dr.
Anna Salter, purportedly testified regarding the
civil-commitment-screening process in violation of In re
Detention of Stenzel, 827 N.W.2d 690, 708 (Iowa 2013).
"A mistrial is appropriate when an impartial verdict
cannot be reached or the verdict would have to be reversed on
appeal due to an obvious procedural error in the trial."
State v. Newell, 710 N.W.2d 6, 32 (Iowa 2006)
(quotations marks and citation omitted). The refusal to grant
a mistrial is reviewed for an abuse of discretion. See
State v. Gathercole, 877 N.W.2d 421, 427 (Iowa 2016).
"An abuse of discretion appears only when it was
'exercised on grounds or for reasons clearly untenable or
to an extent clearly unreasonable.'" State v.
Anderson, 448 N.W.2d 32, 33 (Iowa 1989) (quoting
State v. Ruble, 372 N.W.2d 216, 218 (Iowa 1985)).
This court grants the district court "broad discretion
in determining whether to grant a mistrial" in
"recognition of the trial court's better position to
appraise the situation in the context of the full
trial." Eldridge v. Casey's Gen. Stores,
Inc., 533 N.W.2d 569, 571 (Iowa Ct. App. 1995).
Stenzel, the State's expert witness testified in
great detail regarding the rigorous commitment screening
process. See Stenzel, 827 N.W.2d at 694-95, 704. The
expert testified a review committee, a multidisciplinary
team, the attorney general's office, and then a
psychological expert each reviews the file before a
determination is made to seek commitment pursuant to chapter
229A. See id. at 704. The clear import of the
expert's testimony was any case that actually went to
trial involved an offender determined to be an SVP on
multiple occasions by multiple people and the jury should
reach the same conclusion. See id. The prosecutor
emphasized this point during closing argument. See
id. at 705 ("The State's counsel argued to the
jury that there is 'a screening process that goes into
this and it's pretty sensitive and not many people meet
the criteria as a sexually violent predator.' After
recapping that screening process, counsel concluded, 'In
this case, at every step of the way, Mr. Stenzel has been
considered to meet criteria for SVP, but what's
really-what's important is what do you
think?'"). The Stenzel court concluded the
expert's testimony should not have been allowed. See
id. at 705-06. The court stated, "[i]ntroducing
evidence that a lengthy selection process, including
representatives inside and outside the department of
corrections, picked out Stenzel to be one of the few
candidates for SVP status presents a 'real danger the
jury will be unfairly influenced' by a purportedly
unbiased 'imprimatur.'" Id. at 707
(citation omitted). The risk of undue prejudice was great
because the jury had a natural tendency to look to authority
figures to guide them toward a decision and because the State
highlighted the expert's testimony. See id. The
court held, "the introduction of such unfairly
prejudicial information to the jury requires a new
trial." Id. at 708. In Stenzel, a
limiting instruction was not enough because "the State
clearly sought to drive home the point that Stenzel was one
of a few sex offenders that the State had selected, " by
soliciting the testimony then emphasizing it in its closing
Adams successfully moved in limine to preclude Dr. Salter
from testifying regarding the commitment screening process.
Adams contends the State nonetheless elicited testimony
regarding the same. On direct examination, the prosecutor
asked Dr. Salter whether there "[a]re . . . cases that
[Salter has] evaluated and found that a person does not meet
Iowa's criteria for civil commitment." Adams
objected, contending this question was "close to the
edge, " but the court overruled the objection. Salter
then answered, "Yes. I actually say no more than I say,
" but was then cut off by Adam's renewed objection,
which the court sustained. The district court ordered the
jury to disregard the statement. The following exchange then
Q: In the cases that you say no, you don't then testify
A: Right, so I don't then testify. There's ...