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State v. Perry

Court of Appeals of Iowa

July 6, 2017

STATE OF IOWA, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
LARRY PERRY, Defendant-Appellant.

         Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Polk County, Scott D. Rosenberg, Judge.

         The defendant appeals his convictions for possession of methamphetamine, third offense, and driving while barred as a habitual offender. AFFIRMED.

          Andrea M. Flanagan of Sporer & Flanagan, P.L.L.C., Des Moines, for appellant.

          Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, and Louis S. Sloven, Assistant Attorney General, for appellee.

          Considered by Vogel, P.J., and Doyle and McDonald, JJ.

          MCDONALD, Judge.

         Following trial by jury, Larry Perry was convicted of possession of methamphetamine, third offense, and driving while barred as a habitual offender. In this direct appeal, Perry challenges the sufficiency of the evidence supporting the conviction for possession of methamphetamine. Perry also challenges the performance of his trial counsel, contending his counsel provided constitutionally deficient representation in failing to move to sever the counts of the trial information.

         We first address the challenge to the sufficiency of the evidence. Our review is for the correction of legal error. See State v. Webb, 648 N.W.2d 72, 75 (Iowa 2002). We will uphold a verdict where the verdict is supported by substantial evidence. Id. Evidence is substantial when the quantum and quality of evidence is sufficient to "convince a rational fact finder that the defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt." Id. at 76 (citing State v. Heard, 636 N.W.2d 227, 229 (Iowa 2001)). In conducting our review, "we view the evidence in the light most favorable to the State, including legitimate inferences and presumptions which may fairly and reasonably be deduced from the evidence in the record." State v. Leckington, 713 N.W.2d 208, 213 (Iowa 2006) (citing State v. Casady, 597, N.W.2d 801, 804 (Iowa 1999)).

         In the late of night, Des Moines Police Officer Tori Aletheia observed a moving vehicle with an expired license plate. Officer Aletheia initiated a traffic stop. After the vehicle pulled over, Officer Aletheia exited her vehicle and walked toward the suspect vehicle. As Officer Aletheia approached the suspect vehicle, Perry opened the driver's door and exited the vehicle. Dashcam video showed Perry was holding something in his right hand. At the same time, two occupants of the vehicle exited the vehicle from the front and rear passenger seats. Officer Aletheia instructed all of the occupants to return to the vehicle and close the doors. Perry began walking away from the officer. As Perry took his first few steps, he made a throwing motion with his right hand towards a bush near the sidewalk. He then started running.

         Officer Aletheia radioed dispatch and pursued Perry on foot. While Officer Aletheia pursued Perry, the passengers left the scene. After a short chase, Officer Aletheia apprehended Perry. As Officer Aletheia led Perry back to her squad car, backup arrived. Officer Adam Herman searched the area. Officer Herman found a plastic bag containing a crystalline substance under a bush near the sidewalk along Perry's footpath. The bag was in relatively new condition and appeared to be freshly placed underneath the bush. Another officer located Perry's car keys somewhere along Perry's footpath. Subsequent testing of the white substance in the bag determined it was methamphetamine.

         "Unlawful possession of a controlled substance requires proof that the defendant: (1) exercised dominion and control over the contraband, (2) had knowledge of its presence, and (3) had knowledge that the material was a controlled substance." State v. Bash, 670 N.W.2d 135, 137 (Iowa 2003) (citing State v. Reeves, 209 N.W.2d 18, 21 (Iowa 1973)). "In the realm of controlled substance prosecutions, possession can be either actual or constructive." State v. Cashen, 666 N.W.2d 566, 569 (Iowa 2003) (citing State v. Maghee, 573 N.W.2d 1, 10 (Iowa 1997)). "[T]here is no hard and fast distinction between actual possession and constructive possession; where the former ends and the latter begins depends on the facts and circumstances of each case and does not necessarily turn on the question of whether the contraband was found on the defendant's person." State v. Eubanks, No. 13-0602, 2014 WL 2346793, at *3 (Iowa Ct. App. May 29, 2014). An individual can have "actual possession when . . . substantial evidence supports a finding it was on his or her person 'at one time.'" State v. Thomas, 847 N.W.2d 438, 442 (Iowa 2014) (quoting State v. Vance, 790 N.W.2d 775, 784 (Iowa 2010)).

         When the evidence is viewed in the light most favorable to the jury's verdict, the verdict is supported by substantial evidence. The dashcam footage showed Thomas exited the vehicle with a shiny object in his right hand. Perry argues the shiny object was his car keys. Both Officers Aletheia and Herman testified they reviewed the dashcam video and concluded it showed Perry holding a plastic bag consistent with the plastic bag found under the bush. The resolution of this disputed fact issue was for the jury. Perry made a throwing motion with his right hand as he began to run. Perry's throwing motion also could be most easily explained as "an effort to get the drugs off his person." See id. at 444. As in Thomas, the drugs were discovered near Perry's location before be he began to run. See id. (noting the "drugs were found in close proximity to the defendant"). Throwing the bag and fleeing the scene evidence Perry's "knowledge he was engaged in unlawful conduct-the possession of controlled substances." See Eubanks, 2014 WL 2346793, at *4. The dashcam footage showed no other person entered the area where the drugs were discovered, including the two passengers in Perry's vehicle, who left in the opposite direction. The plastic bag was in near-pristine condition, from which the jury could have inferred it was only recently left on the ground. Officer Hochstetler testified there was no history of complaints regarding methamphetamine being left out in the community, suggesting the drugs were not placed there by a third party before the events unfolded. "These are all facts from which it can be inferred the contraband was in the actual physical possession of [Perry] immediately prior to his arrest rather than coming from some other source." Id. The jury's verdict was supported by substantial evidence.

         We next resolve Perry's challenge to his counsel's performance. Perry argues his counsel was ineffective in failing to move to sever the possession of methamphetamine charge and the driving while barred charge. As a general rule, "[i]neffective-assistance-of-counsel claims are typically addressed in postconviction-relief proceedings where the record is more fully developed." Id. at *5. However, we may resolve an ineffective-assistance-of-counsel claim on direct appeal where the record is sufficient to do so. State v. Maxwell, 743 N.W.2d 185, 195 (Iowa 2008). Our review is de novo. Id.

         To establish his claim of ineffective assistance of counsel, Perry "must prove: (1) counsel failed to perform an essential duty; and (2) prejudice resulted." Id. (citing Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 687 (1984)). To prove the first element, Perry must show counsel's performance fell below the standard of a reasonably competent attorney. See Ledezma v. State, 626 N.W.2d 134, 142 (Iowa 2001). To prove the second element, Perry must show "that there is a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different." Id. at 143 (quoting Strickland, 466 U.S. 693). "[B]oth elements do not always need to be addressed. If the claim lacks prejudice, it can be decided on that ground alone without deciding whether the attorney performed deficiently." Id. at ...


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