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State v. Prince

Court of Appeals of Iowa

August 16, 2017

STATE OF IOWA, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
LAMONT PRINCE SR., Defendant-Appellant.

         Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Black Hawk County, George L. Stigler, Judge.

         Lamont Prince Sr. appeals his convictions for sexual abuse and incest. AFFIRMED.

          Mark C. Smith, State Appellate Defender, and Maria L. Ruhtenberg, Assistant Appellate Defender, for appellant.

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

          Considered by Vogel, P.J., Mullins, J., and Goodhue, S.J. [*]

          MULLINS, Judge.

         Lamont Prince Sr. was charged with four counts of sexual abuse in the third degree and four counts of incest stemming from sexual contact with his daughter, A.P. Prince waived his right to a jury trial. After a bench trial, the district court returned written guilty verdicts on all eight counts. Prince appeals.

         A.P. moved in with Prince and his wife when she was eleven years old. Roughly a year later, Prince began engaging A.P. in sexual contact. A.P. gave specific details about several instances of sexual contact with Prince and testified Prince engaged her in intercourse between forty to fifty times. Eventually A.P. confided in her peers and her tutor. Several of A.P.'s peers and her tutor testified A.P. told them she had inappropriate contact with Prince. A State criminalist testified she found a mixture of bodily fluids on a sheet that included DNA profiles consistent with Prince and A.P. Prince testified A.P. made it all up and was trying to break up Prince and his wife. At closing, the prosecution stated A.P. would not make up such specific details if it did not occur and posed a rhetorical question asking why A.P. would make up such allegations if they were not true.

         The district court filed a written verdict, supported by findings of fact and conclusions of law. At sentencing, the court noted the charges against Prince and that the verdict was guilty on each charge. When questioned if this was a sufficient reading of the verdict, the court declined to provide any more detail. The court then sentenced Prince to serve not more than twenty years of incarceration.[1]

         On appeal, Prince makes several arguments through counsel. First, Prince argues he received ineffective assistance of counsel when his trial counsel failed to object to the prosecution's statement during closing argument that A.P. would not make up specific details if they did not happen. Second, the district court failed to read the verdict in open court. And third, the district court failed to provide a justification for imposing consecutive sentences. Prince also raises claims in his pro se brief. He questions the sufficiency of the evidence and argues he received ineffective assistance of trial counsel for counsel's failure to present certain evidence at trial.

         We first address his claim of ineffective assistance of counsel when counsel failed to object to the prosecution's statement A.P. would not make up specific details if they did not happen. We may resolve an ineffective-assistance-of-counsel claim on direct appeal when the record is sufficient to do so. State v. Maxwell, 743 N.W.2d 185, 195 (Iowa 2008). We review ineffective-assistance-of-counsel claims de novo. State v. Thorndike, 860 N.W.2d 316, 319 (Iowa 2015). To establish his claim of ineffective assistance of counsel, Prince "must prove: (1) counsel failed to perform an essential duty; and (2) prejudice resulted." Maxwell, 743 N.W.2d at 195 (citing Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 687 (1984)).

         Prince asserts the prosecution was vouching for A.P.'s credibility. Although the prosecutor may not express his personal belief regarding the credibility of a specific witness, he "may argue the reasonable inferences and conclusions to be drawn from the evidence." See State v. Graves, 668 N.W.2d 860, 874 (Iowa 2003) (citing State v. Phillips, 226 N.W.2d 16, 19 (Iowa 1975)). Here, the prosecution restated A.P.'s testimony about her little brother waking up in view of A.P. and Prince as they had intercourse. The prosecution noted the level of detail A.P. was able to recount, and then stated "[A.P.] wouldn't be making up such details to the court if it didn't happen. Who would make up such a story, talking about when she was [twelve], if this really didn't happen, she didn't really experience this?"

         Even if the prosecution's statement was improper vouching-which we need not decide-it did not mislead the court, serving as the fact finder, to convict Prince "for reasons other than the evidence introduced at trial and the law." Id. at 877. Because this case proceeded as a bench trial, Prince benefitted from having a trained legal expert serve as his fact finder. "[L]egal training assists the fact finder in a bench trial 'to remain unaffected by matters that should not influence the determination.'" State v. Bonilla, No. 05-0596, 2006 WL 3313783, at *4 (Iowa Ct. App. Nov. 16, 2006) (quoting State v. Matheson, 684 N.W.2d 243, 244 (Iowa 2004)). We have carefully reviewed the written findings and conclusions of the district court and find nothing that indicates any reliance by the court on the prosecution's statement. Prince cannot show he was prejudiced by the prosecution's closing argument.

         Prince next claims the verdict was deficient because the court did not reconvene to read the verdict in open court, as required by Iowa Rule of Criminal Procedure 2.17(2). "We review interpretations of the Iowa Rules of Criminal Procedure for corrections of errors at law." State v. Jones, 817 N.W.2d 11, 17 (Iowa 2012) (citing State v. Finn, 469 N.W.2d 692, 693 (Iowa 1991)). Rule 2.17(2) states, "In a case tried without a jury the court shall find the facts ...


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