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State v. Royer

Court of Appeals of Iowa

October 11, 2017

STATE OF IOWA, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
BENJAMIN ROYER, Defendant-Appellant.

         Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Dallas County, Terry R. Rickers, Judge.

         On direct appeal, the defendant challenges his convictions and sentences.

          Alexander Smith of Parrish Kruidenier Dunn Boles Gribble Gentry Brown & Bergmann L.L.P., Des Moines, for appellant.

          Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, and Thomas J. Ogden, Assistant Attorney General, for appellee.

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

          MCDONALD, Judge.

         Benjamin Royer appeals his convictions for operating while intoxicated, third offense, in violation of Iowa Code section 321J.2 (2015); leaving the scene of an accident resulting in injury, in violation of Iowa Code sections 321.261 and 321.263; driving while barred as a habitual offender, in violation of Iowa Code sections 321.560 and 321.561; and driving while revoked, in violation of Iowa Code section 321J.21. He raises several challenges to his convictions and sentences, and we address them in turn.

         I.

         We begin first with the facts and circumstances of the offenses. This case arises out of a 2015 car accident. Royer was operating a motor vehicle and failed to stop at a stop sign. A van struck Royer's vehicle, causing several injuries to Royer, Royer's passenger, Scott Hall, and the occupants of the van. Royer exited the vehicle, fled the scene, and went to a nearby apartment complex. Police Sergeant James Archer found Royer. Archer observed Royer had bloodshot eyes and slurred speech. Archer detected the odor of an alcoholic beverage on Royer's breath. Before Royer was taken to the hospital for medical treatment, Archer asked Royer to take a preliminary breath test (PBT). Royer refused once he learned no one died in the accident. He refused again when Archer suggested taking the breath test could establish his sobriety. After Royer received medical treatment at a local hospital, Iowa State Patrol Trooper Durk Pearston transported Royer to the local police station. Pearston asked Royer if he would to take a PBT, and Royer declined. At the time of the accident, Royer's driver's license was barred as a habitual offender and revoked pursuant to chapter 321J.

         Royer was charged with operating while intoxicated, third offense, leaving the scene of an accident causing injury, driving while barred as a habitual offender, driving while revoked, and operating a motor vehicle without the owner's consent. The matter proceeded to trial by jury. The jury found Royer guilty of all counts except operating a motor vehicle without the owner's consent. The district court ordered the sentences for leaving the scene of the accident causing injury to be served consecutively to the sentence for operating while intoxicated. The district court ordered the remainder of the sentences to be served concurrently with the sentence for operating while intoxicated. Royer timely filed this appeal.

         II.

         A.

         Royer first challenges several related evidentiary rulings. Specifically, Royer contends it was error for the district court to allow Archer and Pearston to testify Royer refused to submit to PBTs. Evidentiary rulings are reviewed for an abuse of discretion. State v. Rodriquez, 636 N.W.2d 234, 239 (Iowa 2001). "An abuse of discretion occurs when the trial court exercises its discretion 'on grounds or for reasons clearly untenable or to an extent clearly unreasonable.'" Id. (quoting State v. Maghee, 573 N.W.2d 1, 5 (Iowa 1997)).

         We find no abuse of discretion here. A recent decision of this court upheld the admissibility of evidence showing the defendant refused to submit to a PBT. See State v. Smidl, No. 12-2182, 2014 WL 69751, at *2 (Iowa Ct. App. Jan. 9, 2014) ("Evidence of a decision to take a PBT or a refusal to submit to a PBT, however, is not deemed inadmissible under section 321J.5(2)."). It is well established "[a]dmissions may be implied by the conduct of a defendant subsequent to a crime when such conduct indicates a consciousness of guilt." Id. (citing State v. Nance, 533 N.W.2d 557, 562 (Iowa 1995)). The jury was free to infer from Royer's refusal to take the PBTs that he knew he was intoxicated. See id. (stating "evidence of Smidl's refusal to submit to a PBT was admissible to show her consciousness of guilt"). We decline Royer's request to depart from our prior decision.

         Even if the testimony were improper, the error was not prejudicial. State v. Redmond,803 N.W.2d 112, 127 (Iowa 2011) ("An erroneous evidentiary ruling is harmless if it does not cause prejudice."). There was overwhelming evidence of Royer's intoxication, including testimony from Archer, Pearston, and treating paramedics, all of whom observed Royer shortly after the accident. In addition, the jury was also shown video footage of Royer taken in the hours immediately after the accident. The evidence showed Royer was unsteady on his feet, displayed slurred and slowed speech, and was agitated. Officers also found a vodka bottle on the driver's side ...


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