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State v. Williams

Supreme Court of Iowa

May 25, 2017

STATE OF IOWA, Appellee,

         On review from the Iowa Court of Appeals.

         Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Black Hawk County, Bradley J. Harris, Judge.

         The State of Iowa seeks further review of a court of appeals decision on discretionary review reversing the district court's denial of Deantay Williams's motion to dismiss.

          Cory Goldensoph, Cedar Rapids, and James M. Metcalf, Waterloo, for appellant.

          Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, Tyler J. Buller, Kevin Cmelik, and Alexandra Link (until withdrawal), Assistant Attorneys General, and Brian J. Williams and Tom Ferguson (until withdrawal), County Attorneys, and Linda M. Fangman (until withdrawal), Assistant County Attorney, for appellee.

          Alan R. Ostergren, Muscatine, for amicus curiae, Iowa County Attorneys Association.


         In this case, we consider whether the speedy indictment rule requires the dismissal of a trial information against a defendant filed more than forty-five days after the defendant was taken into custody, interrogated, and released without the filing of a criminal complaint. The district court held the rule did not require the charges to be dismissed. The court of appeals, relying on case precedent, reversed the district court. On further review, we vacate the court of appeals and affirm the district court. We conclude the speedy indictment rule is properly interpreted to commence upon arrest only when the arrest is completed by making an initial appearance.

         I. Factual Background and Proceedings.

         This case comes before us on further review. The court of appeals, on discretionary review of the district court's denial of the defendant's motion to dismiss, reversed the district court and dismissed the charges against Deantay Williams, Taevon Washington, and Cordarrel Smith. On this further review, we focus solely on whether the defendants' rights were violated by the failure to bring formal charges against these defendants within forty-five days of their arrest. This case is submitted and decided together with State v. Washington, ___ N.W.2d ___ (Iowa 2017), and State v. Smith, ___ N.W.2d ___ (Iowa 2017), which arise out of the same facts.

         At approximately 5:30 a.m. on June 10, 2012, the Waterloo Police Department responded to a call reporting a sexual assault. Officers met with L.M., a minor. L.M. told the officers she had been repeatedly sexually assaulted at a nearby house. L.M. told the officers her friend, J.K., also a minor, was assaulted and was likely still inside the house. Officers went to the house and set up surveillance. They considered the house a "gang hang out, " possibly with weapons inside. An officer took L.M. to a hospital for examination.

         At approximately 7:15 a.m., Deantay Williams, age seventeen, exited the house. An officer stopped Williams, placed handcuffs on him, and conducted a pat-down search. The officer found a marijuana pipe in a pocket. The officer told Williams he was being detained, placed him in the back of a squad car, and drove him back to the house.

         A short time later, numerous officers entered the front door of the house with weapons drawn. They found seven occupants in the living room and bedrooms, including Taevon Washington and Cordarrel Smith, as well as two other males and three females. Officers also entered the basement and found J.K sitting on a mattress, crying. An officer promptly took her to a hospital. The police took the other occupants of the house into custody and transported them to the Waterloo police station.

         Williams, Washington, and Smith were separated, read their Miranda rights, and questioned by officers. Williams and Washington admitted they had sexual intercourse with L.M. and J.K, but stated it was consensual. Smith denied any sexual contact with L.M. or J.K. A fourth male admitted to sexual contact with J.K., confirmed Washington and Williams had sexual contact with J.K., and confirmed Williams had sexual contact with L.M. Police asked each male to consent to buccal and penile swabs. Williams and Smith consented. Washington refused, and police obtained a search warrant to perform the swabs. The police then released each person from custody. L.M. and J.K. were discharged from the hospital later that day after being examined and completing sexual assault testing. No criminal complaints were filed.

         On October 21, 2013, police obtained arrest warrants for Williams, Washington, Smith, and the fourth male and charged them with sexual abuse in the second degree. Police arrested Smith and the fourth male on October 24, Williams on October 28, and Washington on October 29. After each person was taken into custody, they were taken before a magistrate to make an initial appearance.

         On November 1, 2013, now 510 days after the initial events, a Black Hawk County attorney filed a trial information accusing Williams, Washington, Smith, and the fourth male with sexual abuse in the second degree under Iowa Code section 709.3(3) (2011).[1] The fourth male pled guilty. Williams, Washington, and Smith filed a motion to dismiss for violation of their speedy indictment rights. The district court held a hearing and denied the motions. The district court drew a distinction between an arrest under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments and an arrest under our speedy indictment rule. Williams, Washington, and Smith filed for discretionary review. In the meantime, the State filed amended charges against Williams, Washington, and Smith. We granted the requests for discretionary review, stayed the proceedings before the district court, and transferred the cases to the court of appeals. Williams moved to dismiss the amended charges. This motion was denied, and he applied for discretionary review. We granted the application and consolidated his appeals. The court of appeals reversed the district court decisions, found Williams's rights were violated under the speedy indictment rule, and remanded the case for dismissal of the November 1, 2013 trial information and the amended charges. The court of appeals relied on case precedent interpreting the speedy indictment rule to find the time to file an indictment commenced on June 10, 2012, when Williams reasonably believed he had been arrested. We granted further review.

         II. Stare Decisis.

         We begin by considering our devotion to stare decisis. We do so because our existing caselaw can be applied to quickly resolve this case. See State v. Wing, 791 N.W.2d 243, 249 (Iowa 2010). Yet, this caselaw is being challenged as incorrect. Accordingly, we must consider the claim. See State v. Johnson, 257 Iowa 1052, 1056, 135 N.W.2d 518, 521 (Iowa 1965) ("[H]igh courts have not only the right but the duty to change a past decision if it is erroneous . . . ."). We adhere to our past cases as precedence, but we overturn the precedent if found to be clearly erroneous. See McElroy v. State, 703 N.W.2d 385, 394-95 (Iowa 2005). We identified the reasons for this hesitance sixty years ago, stating, "Legal authority must be respected; not because it is venerable with age, but because it is important that courts, and lawyers and their clients, may know what the law is and order their affairs accordingly." Stuart v. Pilgrim, 247 Iowa 709, 714, 74 N.W.2d 212, 216 (1956). However, "[s]tare decisis 'should not be invoked to maintain a clearly erroneous result.' " State v. Liddell, 672 N.W.2d 805, 813 (Iowa 2003) (quoting Miller v. Westfield Ins., 606 N.W.2d 301, 306 (Iowa 2000)). The State asserts dismissal of the charges here is such a result, arguing that our line of cases interpreting the speedy indictment rule is inconsistent with legislative intent.[2] Thus, we proceed to consider if compelling reasons exist to overturn our prior interpretation.

         III. Standard of Review.

         We review interpretations of the speedy indictment rule for errors at law. See State v. Penn-Kennedy, 862 N.W.2d 384, 386 (Iowa 2015). "We are bound by the findings of fact of the district court if they are supported by substantial evidence." Id. (quoting Wing, 791 N.W.2d at 246).

         IV. Analysis.

         This case follows a growing line of cases beginning in 1980 that has addressed the dismissal of criminal charges after an arrest for failing to comply with Iowa's speedy indictment rule. See, e.g., id. at 389-91; Wing, 791 N.W.2d at 248-51; State v. Dennison, 571 N.W.2d 492, 494-95 (Iowa 1997); State v. Schmitt, 290 N.W.2d 24, 26-7 (Iowa 1980). This rule has its roots in the more comprehensive right to speedy trial guaranteed under the United States and Iowa Constitutions. U.S. Const. amend. VI; Iowa Const. art. I, § 10; see State v. Gebhart, 257 Iowa 843, 847, 134 N.W.2d 906, 908 (1965), overruled on other grounds by State v. Johnson, 217 N.W.2d 609, 612 (Iowa 1974), and State v. Gorham, 206 N.W.2d 908, 913 (Iowa 1973). It has been part of the criminal procedure of this state since 1851. See Iowa Code § 3248 (1851). As a part of the broader right to a speedy trial in all criminal cases, the rule specifically addresses the time frame in which formal charges must be brought against an accused and requires the case be dismissed for noncompliance. See Iowa R. Crim. P. 2.33(2)(a).

         From 1851 to 1978, the statutory window of time to file an indictment under Iowa law commenced from the time the defendant was "held to answer." See Iowa Code § 3248 (1851); id. § 795.1 (1975). The rule provided, "When a person is held to answer for a public offense, if an indictment be not found against him within thirty days, the court must order the prosecution to be dismissed, unless good cause to the contrary be shown." Id. § 795.1 (1975).

         The caselaw that inevitably develops around any rule or statute declared "held to answer" was a separate event from an "arrest." See State v. Mays, 204 N.W.2d 862, 866-67 (Iowa 1973). We consistently determined the legislature intended the phrase "held to answer" to refer to that stage in the court process following an arrest when a magistrate makes a determination that there is probable cause the offense was committed and the accused committed the offense, or the time the defendant elected to waive this preliminary hearing. See id. In other words, the speedy indictment time period was tied to the fundamental probable-cause determination required under our law for the state to prosecute a person arrested and accused of a crime. See State v. Morningstar, 207 N.W.2d 772, 774 (Iowa 1973) ("After preliminary examination showing sufficient reason to commit the accused, or on waiver by the accused, the magistrate orders that the accused be 'held to answer.' " (quoting Iowa Code § 761.18 (1973))). Without probable cause, no criminal prosecution in Iowa can take place. See Iowa R. Crim. P. 2.2(4)(e). Instead, the court must dismiss the complaint. Id. Without probable cause, the defendant is discharged and is no longer "held to answer."

         Accordingly, the speedy trial rule in Iowa operated in two stages. If an indictment was not found against the defendant within thirty days after the defendant was "held to answer, " the prosecution was required to be dismissed, absent good cause to the contrary or waiver. Iowa Code § 795.1 (1975). The speedy trial rule next required that trial be held sixty days after indictment, absent good cause. Id. § 795.2. Together, the rules implemented the constitutional speedy trial protection by defining the inherent "indefiniteness in the meaning of the term." Pines v. Dist. Ct., 233 Iowa 1284, 1290-91, 10 N.W.2d 574, 578 (1943), overruled on other grounds by Gorham, 206 N.W.2d at 913; see also State v. Satterfield, 257 Iowa 1193, 1195-96, 136 N.W.2d 257, 258 (1965) (noting the rules "represent protection for one who is charged by a preliminary information, that he must be indicted promptly; and for one who is indicted, that he be given a speedy trial"). Over time, the rules were modified to extend the time frames, and an additional rule was enacted to require the case be dismissed if not tried within one year after the original arraignment, absent good cause. See Iowa R. Crim. P. 2.33(2)(a)-(c).

         Two additional events occurred that substantially shaped the speedy trial landscape. First, the preliminary examination process to determine the existence of probable cause in a criminal proceeding began to fall into relative obscurity. See Charles A. Pulaski, Preliminary Examinations in Iowa: The Constitutional Considerations, 60 Iowa L. Rev. 462, 469-70 (1975) ("[T]he short term benefits to be derived from bypassing the preliminary examination have prompted a majority of Iowa county attorneys to employ the true information procedure in most cases. . . . [M]ost contemporary trial courts appear to welcome the efficiency . . . ."). If a defendant did not waive the preliminary hearing, the prosecutors would routinely file a trial information to avoid the necessity of the hearing. See id.; see also State v. Clark, 258 Iowa 254, 257, 138 N.W.2d 120, 122 (1965) ("As to the complaint that no preliminary hearing was provided, none was necessary. A county attorney's information had been filed. . . . The procedure does not contemplate a preliminary hearing."). The endorsement by a judge on the trial information established a finding of probable cause, obviating the need for a hearing. See State v. Shank, 296 N.W.2d 791, 792 (Iowa 1980). Thus, while the preliminary examination process still existed as part of the criminal process, it was rarely used.

         By the early 1970s, a second event emerged in Iowa to impact the development of the speedy indictment rule. By this time, pretrial delay in criminal cases had been identified as a growing problem across the nation, and states were beginning to respond with various reform measures. See Anthony Partridge, Legislative History of Title I of the Speedy Trial Act of 1974 11 (1980) (identifying twin goals of the Speedy Trial Act: "clarifying the rights of defendants" and "protecting society's interest in bringing criminals to justice promptly"); Standards Relating to Speedy Trial 1 (Am. Bar Ass'n Tentative Draft 1967) ("Congestion in the trial courts of this country . . . is currently one of the major problems of judicial administration."). This concern reached Iowa and was in part responsible for a comprehensive review and major overhaul of the Iowa Criminal Code in 1976. Part of the overhaul included the speedy indictment rule. Effective in 1978, the legislature changed the triggering language of the rule from "held to answer" to "arrest." See 1976 Iowa Acts ch. 1245, ch. 2, § 1301 (rule 27(2)(a)) (now codified as amended at Iowa R. Crim. P. 2.33(2)(a)). The amended provision provided,

When a person is arrested for the commission of a public offense and an indictment is not found against him or her within forty-five days, the court must order the prosecution to be dismissed, unless good cause to the contrary is ...

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