from the Iowa District Court for Linn County, Lars G.
appeals the district court's denial of his application
for postconviction relief.
L. Williams of Williams Law Office, P.L.L.C., Cedar Rapids,
J. Miller, Attorney General, and Kelli Huser, Assistant
Attorney General, for appellee State.
Considered by Danilson, C.J., Doyle, J., and Blane, S.J.
Christopher Robin Schmidt appeals the district court's
denial of his seven ineffective-assistance-of-counsel claims
asserted in his amended application for postconviction relief
(PCR) from his 2007 first-degree murder conviction. Based
upon our review, we find the district court properly denied
the amended application and affirm.
Factual and procedural background.
and the victim, Robert Nelson, were acquaintances. On
Thursday, December 28, 2006, Nelson's neighbors heard
noises around 10:00 p.m. On December 31, an apartment manager
opened Nelson's apartment and found his dead body. Police
learned that Schmidt was an acquaintance of Nelson,
questioned Schmidt and his girlfriend, and learned that
Schmidt had been renting a car from Nelson. Schmidt reported
that he last saw Nelson the prior Tuesday or Wednesday.
later called Schmidt in for a recorded interview when they
learned his fingerprints were on a barstool used to kill
Nelson. Schmidt confirmed he was renting Nelson's car for
$100 and that it was in the shop. Schmidt also said that he
went to Nelson's apartment to take him groceries and
watch TV. Schmidt's story had changed somewhat. He said
he saw Nelson on Thursday, not Tuesday or Wednesday. Schmidt
said they were alone in the apartment and that he left around
9:30 p.m. Police confronted Schmidt with the fact that he
told a different story to his girlfriend. Schmidt then
offered another explanation. He said he had gone to
Nelson's apartment to get a refund of the money he paid
for the car, but he only got $100. He said a man he did not
know came to Nelson's apartment and punched Nelson in the
nose, causing a bloody Nelson to fall on Schmidt's lap.
Schmidt added that the man accused Nelson of cheating on him
and the man also struck Nelson on the back of the
head with a barstool. Schmidt then left the apartment and
disposed of his clothes-pants in a storm drain and his shirt
in a cemetery. He admitted the shirt had blood on it. Schmidt
denied hitting Nelson and said Nelson was still alive when he
fourth version of events was that he and Nelson had argued
over money for the car-money which Schmidt needed to pay
rent. According to Schmidt, Nelson shoved him into a wall and
Schmidt punched Nelson in the nose. Nelson shoved Schmidt
again and Schmidt hit Nelson with a barstool while Nelson was
standing. Nelson went to the ground but kept trying to get
back up, so Schmidt kept hitting him with barstools. Schmidt
left Nelson on the floor, went home and showered with his
shirt on, and later disposed of his shirt and pants.
sustained fractures to his skull, numerous lacerations to the
face, and had four teeth knocked out. He sustained at least
three blows, probably four, to the face. Based on the
forensic findings, including blood-spatter analysis: three
barstools were used and each broke into pieces; the stools
were held upright by their legs and the seat struck Nelson;
Nelson sustained the first blow on the couch, and then he
moved to the floor under a window where he died. There was no
evidence of mutual combat.
was charged on January 11, 2007, with first-degree murder for
killing Nelson. Schmidt was represented in the criminal
proceedings by attorneys Tyler Johnston and Ahmet
Gonlubal. A jury found Schmidt guilty of
first-degree murder on December 14, 2007.
filed an appeal and we affirmed his conviction in State
v. Schmidt, No. 07-2152, 2009 WL 776577 (Iowa Ct. App.
Mar. 26, 2009). Schmidt filed his pro se application for PCR
on May 21, 2010. An amended and substituted application for
PCR was filed on January 16, 2015. The amended application
asserted numerous instances of ineffective assistance of
trial and appellate counsel. The district court conducted a
civil bench trial on Schmidt's amended application on
September 16, 2015. On November 16, 2015, the PCR court
issued a ruling denying Schmidt's amended application.
Schmidt timely filed his notice of appeal on December 9,
Standard of review.
claims are grounded in the Sixth Amendment and are reviewed
de novo. See State v. Clay, 824 N.W.2d 488, 494
(Iowa 2012). To prove ineffective assistance of counsel,
Schmidt must show both that counsel breached an essential
duty and that as a result of this breach, prejudice occurred.
State v. Brothern, 832 N.W.2d 187, 192 (Iowa 2013);
see also Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 687
Failing to challenge the State's expert fingerprint
of Schmidt's fingerprints and palm print on the barstools
used to kill Nelson in Nelson's apartment was admitted
during the trial. Schmidt argues in postconviction relief
that his trial counsel was ineffective for failing to object
to such evidence being offered. Schmidt contends
"[p]rominent experts in the forensic science community
have suggested that latent fingerprint identification may not
be nearly as reliable as people have long
assumed." Schmidt does not cite any state or federal
appellate court cases holding fingerprint evidence is not
reliable and inadmissible. Schmidt also did not present any
evidence at the PCR trial that specifically challenged the
validity of the fingerprint evidence submitted at his
evidence is admissible in Iowa courts and was admissible at
the time of Schmidt's trial in 2007. See State v.
Sellers, 215 N.W.2d 231, 232 (Iowa 1974); State v.
Moore, No. 14-0557, 2015 WL 1817028, at *4 (Iowa Ct.
App. Apr. 22, 2015) (finding counsel was not ineffective for
declining to object to fingerprint evidence). Expert
testimony about fingerprint evidence falls under Iowa Rule of
Evidence 5.702, which states:
If scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge will
assist the trier of fact to understand the evidence or to
determine a fact in issue, a witness qualified as an expert
by knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education may
testify thereto in the form of an opinion or otherwise.
courts follow a liberal view to admit expert testimony.
Leaf v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., 590
N.W.2d 525, 531 (Iowa 1999). Iowa courts have not adopted the
Daubert standard for expert testimony. Id.
at 532. The only requirements for admission are as follows:
(1) the evidence must be relevant, (2) the testimony must be
in the form of "scientific, technical, or other
specialized knowledge [that] will assist the trier of fact to
understand the evidence or to determine a fact in issue,
" and (3) the expert must be "qualified as an
expert by knowledge, skill, experience, training, or
education." Id. at 533. Even in jurisdictions
that utilize the stricter Daubert standard,
fingerprint evidence is often admitted. United States v.
John, 597 F.3d 263, 274 (5th Cir. 2010) ("We agree
that in most cases, absent novel challenges, fingerprint
evidence is sufficiently reliable to satisfy Rule 702 and
Daubert."); see also United States v.
Pena, 586 F.3d 105, 110-11 (1st Cir. 2009); United
States v. Baines, 573 F.3d 979, 992 (10th Cir. 2009);
United States v. Abreu, 406 F.3d 1304, 1307 (11th
Cir. 2005); United States v. Mitchell, 365 F.3d 215,
246 (3d Cir. 2004); United States v. George, 363
F.3d 666, 672-73 (7th Cir. 2004); United States v.
Collins, 340 F.3d 672, 682-83 (8th Cir. 2003);
United States v. Sherwood, 98 F.3d 402, 408 (9th
state appellate courts in recent years have also held that
fingerprint evidence is adequately reliable to be admitted in
their trial courts. State v. Favela, 323 P.3d 716,
718 (Ariz.Ct.App. 2014); People v. Rivas, 190
Cal.Rptr.3d 43, 53 (Cal.Ct.App. 2015); People v.
Wilson, 318 P.3d 538, 546 (Colo.App. 2013); People
v. Mitchell,955 N.E.2d 1180, 1185-87 (Ill.App.Ct.
2011); State v. Hightower, 511 S.W.3d 454, 460
(Mo.Ct.App. 2017); State v. Ferrara, 42 N.E.3d 224,
230 (Ohio Ct. App. 2015); State v. Woodard, 330 P.3d
1283, 1287-88 (Utah Ct. App. 2014); State v.
Washington, No. 73162-9-1, 2016 WL 3190528, at *2
(Wash.Ct.App. June 6, 2016) ("'[T]he reliability of
fingerprint identification has been tested in our adversarial
system for over a ...