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State v. Sheckles

Court of Appeals of Iowa

June 7, 2017

STATE OF IOWA, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
MICHAEL SCOTT SHECKLES, Defendant-Appellant.

         Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Dubuque County, Robert J. Richter, District Associate Judge.

         Michael Sheckles appeals from his convictions for domestic abuse assault (second offense), driving while barred, and eluding.

          Taryn R. Purcell of Clemens, Walters, Conlon, Runde & Hiatt, L.L.P., Dubuque, for appellant.

          Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, and Aaron Rogers, Assistant Attorney General, for appellee.

          Considered by Danilson, C.J., and Vogel and Vaitheswaran, JJ.

          VAITHESWARAN, Judge.

         A woman's live-in boyfriend assaulted her in her truck and led police on a high-speed chase before crashing the vehicle. A jury found Michael Sheckles guilty of domestic abuse assault (second offense), driving while barred, and eluding. Sheckles contends (I) the district court should have granted his new trial motion, alleging the State failed "to meet its burden of proving that he was the assailant, " and (II) his trial attorneys were ineffective in "failing to address the issue of the trial judge's conflict of interest."

         I. New Trial Motion

         Several witnesses saw a man beating a woman inside a vehicle and saw the woman exit the vehicle with a bloodied face. One witness identified the assailant as Sheckles and also identified him as the person who drove off in the vehicle, but her trial testimony was impeached with her inconsistent prior statement that she could not recall the assailant's identity.

         After the jury found Sheckles guilty, Sheckles moved for a new trial. He asserted the witness's "testimony was, at best, inconsistent with her prior sworn statement, " "[n]one of the [other] witnesses was able to identify [him] as the assailant, " and "[t]here was no credible evidence that [he] was the assailant and/or driver." The district court denied the motion.

         On appeal, Sheckles contends the district court abused its discretion in denying the motion. See State v. Ellis, 578 N.W.2d 655, 659 (Iowa 1998) (noting district courts have wide discretion in ruling on new trial motions challenging the weight of the evidence). He characterizes the record as containing "just one identifying witness with varying version[s] of events." Based on this characterization, he argues "there was not more credible evidence in favor of a guilty verdict than there was for a not-guilty verdict."

         A verdict is indeed contrary to the weight of the evidence where "a greater amount of credible evidence supports one side of an issue or cause than the other." See id. at 658 (quoting Tibbs v. Florida, 457 U.S. 31, 38 (1982)). On appeal of a district court ruling addressing a weight-of-the-evidence challenge, we are not called upon to review the underlying question of whether the verdict is against the weight of the evidence. See State v. Reeves, 670 N.W.2d 199, 203 (Iowa 2003). We simply review the exercise of discretion by the district court. Id. With that principle in mind, we begin with the district court's findings, which are at odds with Sheckles' characterization of the record.

         The court determined the demeanor and testimony of the arguably inconsistent witness "was actually more consistent with other evidence submitted" and her deposition testimony "was more likely the testimony that [was] questionable given the previous contacts and contextual pressures of testifying against a neighbor." The court found this witness's trial testimony "credible."

         The record supports the court's determination that the inconsistent witness was not the only person to identify Sheckles. Although she was the only person who named him, several other witnesses testified to facts that left little doubt the assailant was ...


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