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State v. Downey

Supreme Court of Iowa

April 14, 2017

STATE OF IOWA, Appellee,
v.
JAMES ROBERT DOWNEY, Appellant.

         On review from the Iowa Court of Appeals.

         Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Johnson County, Douglas S. Russell, Judge.

         A defendant seeks further review of a court of appeals decision affirming his conviction for making a false statement on an application to acquire a weapon permit in violation of Iowa Code section 724.17 (2015). DECISION OF COURT OF APPEALS VACATED; DISTRICT COURT JUDGMENT REVERSED AND CASE REMANDED.

          Robert G. Rehkemper of Gourley, Rehkemper & Lindholm, P.L.C., West Des Moines, for appellant.

          Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, Genevieve Reinkoester, Assistant Attorney General, Janet Lyness, County Attorney, and Jude Pannell, Assistant County Attorney, for appellee.

          WIGGINS, Justice.

         A defendant appealed his conviction and sentence following a bench trial on one count of making a false statement on an application to acquire a weapon permit in violation of Iowa Code section 724.17 (2015), a class "D" felony. We transferred the appeal to the court of appeals. The court of appeals found the district court correctly interpreted the statute and substantial evidence supported the conviction. Thus, it affirmed the defendant's conviction and sentence for making a false statement on the application to acquire a weapon permit. The defendant petitioned for further review, which we granted. On further review, we find that the district court misinterpreted the statute. In applying the correct interpretation, we find that section 724.17 does not criminalize the defendant's act of falsely answering an unauthorized question on the application to acquire a weapon permit.

         I. Background Facts and Proceedings.

         On January 14, 2015, James Downey submitted an application to acquire a weapon permit to the Johnson County sheriff's department. The purpose of the application was to obtain the state's permission to purchase a handgun as required under Iowa law. See Iowa Code § 724.15. On the application, Downey provided his name, birthdate, sex, phone number, residence address, driver's license number, place of birth, and country of citizenship. In addition to providing the identification information, Downey authorized and gave his consent for a sheriff's department or the department of public safety (DPS) to obtain all of the necessary records and background checks to verify that he meets the requirements of the State of Iowa and the United States for the acquisition and possession of a firearm.

         Downey then signed and dated the application. The paragraph above his signature states,

I certify that all information, including supporting documentation, provided in this application is true and correct, and I understand that I may be convicted of a class "D" felony pursuant to Iowa Code section 724.17 if I make what I know to be a false statement of material fact on this application or if I submit what I know to be any materially falsified or forged documentation in connection with this application.

         At the end of the first page of the application, below Downey's signature, the application stated, "Answer all questions on reverse side." On the reverse side of the application, a heading provides, "All of the following questions must be answered." Ten questions followed with check boxes to answer either yes or no to each question. There was no space provided for a narrative or explanatory statement in regards to the yes or no answer given in the check box.

         The second question on the reverse side of the application asked,

Have you ever been convicted in any court of a felony, or any other crime involving a firearm or explosives for which the court could have sentenced you to imprisonment for more than one year, even if you ...

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