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State v. Allen

Court of Appeals of Iowa

February 7, 2018

STATE OF IOWA, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
LAURA ANN ALLEN, Defendant-Appellant.

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

         A defendant challenges her conviction for assault causing bodily injury, contending she acted in self-defense.

          Jeremy L. Merrill of Lubinus Law Firm, PLLC, Des Moines, for appellant.

          Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, and Sharon K. Hall, Assistant Attorney General, for appellee.

          Considered by Vogel, P.J., and Tabor and Bower, JJ.

          TABOR, JUDGE.

         A jury found Laura Ann Allen guilty of assault causing bodily injury after hearing evidence she repeatedly punched Alicia Wright in the face, splitting open Wright's upper lip and bruising her forehead. Allen argues the State failed to offer sufficient evidence to rebut her claim of self-defense. Because the jurors were entitled to sort through the varying versions of events, we decline to upend their verdict.

         I. Facts and Prior Proceedings

         Two couples, who had been close friends, started bickering over Facebook and sending disparaging text messages to each other into the early morning hours of November 5, 2016. One of the couples, Jeremy Moon and Alicia Wright, went to the Pleasantville home of the other couple, Richard Heck and Allen, to "talk things out." Wright knocked at the door, and Heck came storming out, chest-bumping Moon.

         According to the prosecution, Wright tried to get between the two men, and Allen attacked her. When Allen pushed Wright against the car, Wright lost her balance and fell to the ground. Heck eventually pulled Allen off Wright. When she stood up, Wright realized her face was bleeding and she started shouting at Allen. Meanwhile, Moon called 911 to report an assault in progress; loud yelling can be heard in the background during his conversation with the dispatcher. While Moon was on the phone, Allen started hitting Wright again. Moon recalled Allen launching three separate forays on Wright. Wright testified Allen hit her "more times than [she] could count."

         Within two minutes of Moon's 911 call, Pleasantville Police Chief Joe Mrstik arrived at the "chaotic" scene. He saw Wright's face "covered in blood" and offered medical assistance. By contrast, the chief saw no injuries to Allen, but she did have blood on her hands and arm. The chief asked Allen several times if she had been assaulted, but she said she had not been. When explaining her fight with Wright, Allen told Chief Mrstik: "I'm sick of her shit and I'm gonna beat her ass." Allen admitted punching Wright when they were pushed against the car and again when they were down on the ground.

         The State charged Allen with assault causing bodily injury, a serious misdemeanor, in violation of Iowa Code sections 708.1(2)(a) and 708.2(2) (2016). She claimed self-defense. Moon, Wright, and several police officers testified for the State. Allen did not testify but called two neighbors to support her justification defense. The jury found Allen guilty as charged. The district court sentenced her to ninety days in jail with all but three days suspended and placed her on probation for one year. Allen appeals her conviction.

         II. Standard of Review

         We review Allen's challenge to the sufficiency of evidence for correction of legal error. See State v. Shorter, 893 N.W.2d 65, 70 (Iowa 2017). We will affirm the denial of a motion for judgment of acquittal if the trial record contains substantial evidence supporting conviction. See id. We view the evidence in the light most favorable to the State, and we indulge "all reasonable inferences that may be fairly drawn from the evidence." State v Howse, 875 N.W.2d 684, 688 (Iowa 2016) (quoting State v. Showens, 845 N.W.2d 436, 439 (Iowa 2014)). We consider all evidence, both inclupatory and exculpatory. State v. Thomas, 561 N.W.2d 37, 39 (Iowa 1997). "Evidence that raises only 'suspicion, speculation, or conjecture' is not substantial evidence." Id. (citing State v. ...


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