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State v. Johnson

Court of Appeals of Iowa

August 2, 2017

STATE OF IOWA, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
BRUCE ERIC JOHNSON, Defendant-Appellant.

         Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Marion County, Martha L. Mertz, Judge.

         Bruce Eric Johnson appeals his conviction for assault causing bodily injury, alleging his trial counsel provided ineffective assistance by failing to ensure the appropriate instructions were given to the jury.

          Mark C. Smith, State Appellate Defender, and Stephan J. Japuntich, Assistant Appellate Defender, for appellant.

          Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, and Kelli A. Huser, Assistant Attorney General, for appellee.

          Considered by Doyle, P.J., McDonald, J., and Scott, S.J. [*]

          SCOTT, Senior Judge.

         Bruce Eric Johnson appeals his conviction for assault causing bodily injury, alleging his trial counsel provided ineffective assistance by failing to ensure the appropriate instructions were given to the jury. We affirm.

         I. Background Facts and Proceedings

         This matter arose from an incident that occurred in 2015. Johnson's mother and stepfather had been assisting Johnson financially. When they determined they could no longer do so, they cancelled Johnson's cell phone service. A confrontation between Johnson and his mother and stepfather ensued. Johnson approached his stepfather, as his stepfather was seated at the kitchen table, and struck him in the face. Johnson's mother testified she tried to restrain Johnson's arm, but Johnson flung her against the kitchen counter. Johnson admits walking into the kitchen-where he claims his stepfather had been yelling at him-but contends he struck his stepfather as a reflex. At trial, Johnson argued hitting his stepfather was justified because his stepfather had begun to stand and raise his hands when Johnson approached him, causing Johnson to reflexively hit him. Johnson denied making contact with his mother. Johnson was convicted following a jury trial of one count of assault causing bodily injury, in violation of Iowa Code sections 708.1(2) and 708.2(2) (2015), with respect to striking his stepfather.[1] Johnson appeals.[2]

         II. Standard and Scope of Review

         We may consider an ineffective-assistance-of-counsel claim on direct appeal, and our review is de novo. See State v. Thorndike, 860 N.W.2d 316, 319 (Iowa 2015). "To succeed on a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel, a claimant must establish by a preponderance of the evidence: '(1) his trial counsel failed to perform an essential duty, and (2) this failure resulted in prejudice.'" Id. at 320 (citation omitted).

         III. Analysis

         Through the rubric of ineffective assistance of counsel, Johnson raises five challenges to the jury instructions given at trial: (1) the jury should have been instructed on the lesser-included offense of simple assault; (2) a limiting instruction should have been given on the use of impeachment evidence; (3) the instructions did not contain all the necessary elements required to disprove Johnson's claim of justification; (4) the instructions failed to convey the State's burden of proof regarding specific intent; and (5) a cautionary instruction should have been given. Johnson claims these individual errors, and the errors cumulatively, constitute reversible error.

         The jury instructions contained a marshalling instruction that provided the following:

The State must prove all of the following elements of the crime of assault causing bodily injury as to [the stepfather]:
1. On or about the 25th day of January 2015, the defendant either did an act which was meant to cause pain or injury, result in physical contact which was insulting or offensive, or place [the stepfather] in fear of immediate physical contact which would ...

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