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State v. Jones

Court of Appeals of Iowa

April 18, 2018

STATE OF IOWA, Plaintiff-Appellee,
CHARLES EARL JONES, Defendant-Appellant.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Black Hawk County, David P. Odekirk, Judge.

         Defendant challenges his convictions for robbery in the first degree, going armed with intent, carrying weapons, and making a false report to law enforcement. AFFIRMED.

          Mark C. Smith, State Appellate Defender, and Martha J. Lucey, Assistant Appellate Defender, for appellant.

          Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, and Tyler J. Buller, Assistant Attorney General, for appellee.

          Heard by Doyle, P.J., and Tabor and McDonald, JJ.

          MCDONALD, Judge.

         Charles Jones was convicted of robbery in the first degree, in violation of Iowa Code section 711.2 (2016), going armed with intent, in violation of Iowa Code section 708.8, carrying weapons, in violation of Iowa Code section 724.4, and making a false report to law enforcement, in violation of Iowa Code section 718.6. In this appeal, Jones challenges the sufficiency of the evidence supporting his convictions, alleges trial counsel provided constitutionally deficient representation in several respects, and contends the district court applied the wrong legal standard in denying his motion for new trial.


         This case arises out of the robbery of a convenience store in Waterloo. On the evening of November 18, 2016, at approximately 9:38 p.m., a man robbed a convenience store at gunpoint. The robber wore a hooded sweatshirt, and his face was covered. During the course of the robbery-lasting but a minute-the store manager and the robber exchanged gunfire. The robber subsequently fled the scene.

         Law enforcement arrived quickly at the convenience store in response to a silent alarm. The store manager told the officers he did not get a good look at the robber. The manager described the robber as a light-skinned black man approximately 5'8" to 6' tall. Investigator Nicholas Sadd was familiar with the store and knew the store had surveillance cameras. He requested to view the surveillance footage. Upon reviewing the footage, Investigator Sadd noted the suspect wore a black hooded sweatshirt, blue boxers, a black belt with white discoloration, faded blue jeans, and white or black sneakers. Investigator Sadd and other officers also observed the robber may have been shot during the exchange of gunfire. The officers' belief the suspect may have been shot was based on the suspect's movement, reaction, and immediate withdrawal from the store. However, there was no blood at the scene. Officers recovered several bullet casings and bullets from the scene. Several came from the store manager's .380 caliber handgun, and others were from a 9mm handgun. Based on the surveillance video, police believed the suspect may have left a palm print or fingerprint at the scene. The surveillance video showed there were two glass doors at the front of the store. One of the doors was locked. When the robber exited the store, he first tried to push open the locked door with his hand. Finding the door locked, the robber then exited through the second, unlocked door.

         At 9:54 pm, approximately fifteen minutes after the robbery, officers received a call from dispatch regarding a reported shooting at nearby Eighth and Leavitt Streets. The site of the reported shooting was a five- to ten-minute drive from the convenience store. Several officers left the convenience store to respond to the call. They found a man, Charles Jones, on the ground. Jones told officers a black male with dreadlocks came up behind him, held a gun to him, and stole his headphones, cellphone, and coat. Jones told police he was shot during the struggle over the coat. The injury was in the right armpit area. Jones was wearing a white basketball jersey, faded jeans, a belt with white discoloration, and blue boxers. Jones was taken to the hospital for treatment. Officers remained behind to process the scene. They found no bullets, casings, blood, or signs of a struggle. Several witnesses described hearing three to four gunshots, but no one witnessed the reported robbery. Two witnesses reported seeing a man in a white shirt run or walk away from the scene and get into a car. Neither witness saw the man carrying a gun or headphones.

         The officers fairly quickly tumbled to the conclusion Jones was the robber. They spoke with Jones at the hospital. Jones told officers he had been either at his girlfriend's house or his parent's house and then had visited the home of a family friend he referred to as "Mama Poo." After leaving Mama Poo's house, Jones walked to Irving Middle School to try and access the school's Wi-Fi network to stream music on his phone. Jones told officers he walked around the building but was unable to access the school's Wi-Fi network. He left the school and walked to a friend's apartment, but his friend was not home. According to Jones, he began walking home while listening to his music. He told officers he was accosted near Eighth and Leavitt while on his way home. Officers asked Jones whether they could perform a gunshot residue test of his hands. Jones told the officers he would have powder on his hands from wrestling with his assailant over the coat. The officers told him they still wanted to proceed with the test. In response, Jones told the officers he would have residue on his hands because he had fired guns the previous day in Cedar Falls. Jones claimed he met a man, who he knew only as John, in a bar. According to Jones, the two left the bar to smoke marijuana and shoot guns into the grass near John's home. Jones told the officers he had not bathed or washed his hands since that time, nearly twenty-four hours prior. Based on Jones's admission he would have gun powder residue on his hands, the officers decided against conducting the test.

         The officers continued to investigate the matter. Upon questioning, Mama Poo could not remember Jones being at her house on the night in question, although she admitted she has memory loss stemming from an injury. Officers obtained surveillance video from Irving Middle School. The surveillance video from the middle school did not show Jones at the school on the night in question. The officers spoke to Jones's girlfriend. Jones told the officers his girlfriend had purchased the now-allegedly stolen headphones for him. Jones's girlfriend did not corroborate that she bought Jones the headphones. The police developed a palm print from the spot on the locked glass door where the robber put his hand. The palm print matched Jones.

         Jones was arrested and charged in connection with the robbery. A jury found him guilty as charged. He was sentenced to indeterminate terms of incarceration not to exceed twenty-five years for robbery, five years for going armed with intent, two years for carrying weapons, and thirty days for making a false report, said sentences to be served concurrently.


         Jones's first challenges the sufficiency of the evidence supporting the four convictions. Specifically, Jones contends there is not sufficient evidence of identity to support the convictions for robbery in the first degree, going armed with intent, and carrying weapons. Relatedly, he contends if there was insufficient evidence he was the robber of the convenience store, then there is also insufficient evidence to establish he made a false report of being robbed.

         The standard of review is well-established. This court will affirm the jury's verdict if substantial record evidence supports it. See State v. Webb, 648 N.W.2d 72, 75 (Iowa 2002). "Evidence is substantial if it would convince a rational fact finder that the defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt." Id. at 75-76. When reviewing for the sufficiency of the evidence, this court views the evidence in the light most favorable to the State but considers all evidence in the record. Id. at 76. "The State must prove every fact necessary to constitute the crime with which the defendant is charged. The evidence must raise a fair inference of guilt and do more than create speculation, suspicion, or conjecture." Id. (internal citations omitted).

         The State contends error was not preserved with respect to count four, making a false report to law enforcement, because the defendant did not specifically challenge the relevant elements. "[I]n order to preserve error on a motion to acquit, the defendant must specifically identify the elements for which there was insufficient evidence." State v. Schories, 827 N.W.2d 659, 664 (Iowa 2013). However, "the question of preservation hardly matters because [appellant] may raise the issue through a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel. It would surely be ineffective under the standards announced in Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984), if [] counsel failed to preserve a valid motion for acquittal based on the State's lack of substantial evidence tending to []prove the elements." Id. Here, the defendant raises his claim within an ineffective-assistance framework, and we address the claim on the merits.

         When the evidence is viewed in the light most favorable to the jury's verdict, there is substantial evidence in support of the convictions. High quality surveillance video was obtained from the convenience store. The video showed the robber wore blue boxer shorts, faded jeans, and a belt with white discoloration. Officers testified the video showed the store manager shot the robber in an area near the right armpit. The officers' testimony was based on their observation of the surveillance footage that showed the robber had his right arm extended while firing his weapon and then suddenly recoiled and quickly fled the scene during the gunfight. The video also showed the suspect placed his hand on a glass door while attempting to flee the scene. Investigators obtained a palm print from the same spot, and the print matched Jones's palm print. Jones was found fifteen minutes after the robbery, only a short distance from the convenience store. He was wearing blue boxer shorts, faded jeans, and a belt with white discoloration marks consistent with that shown in the surveillance video. One officer testified regarding his experience with suspects changing clothes after committing a crime, testifying it was easier for a suspect to change his or her shirt rather than his or her underwear and jeans. Jones had a gunshot wound in his right armpit area. Investigator Sadd testified it would be difficult for Jones to have been shot in the armpit area if Jones's story were true. Local hospitals also did not report treating any other victim of a gunshot wound on the night in question. There was no evidence of casings, blood, or a struggle at Eighth and Leavitt. There were no witnesses to Jones being attacked, only to the sound of gunshots. Surveillance video from the school did not corroborate Jones's version of events on the night in question.

         "Inherent in our standard of review of jury verdicts in criminal cases is the recognition that the jury [is] free to reject certain evidence and credit other evidence." State v. Nitcher, 720 N.W.2d 547, 556 (Iowa 2006). The jury was free to disbelieve Jones's version of events and conclude he committed the robbery and filed a police report to cover up the actual cause of his injury. We will not disturb the jury's verdict on this record.


         Between his appellate brief and pro se brief, Jones raises seven claims of ineffective assistance of counsel. We review de novo claims of ineffective assistance of counsel. See Everett v. State,789 N.W.2d 151, 155 (Iowa 2010). To succeed on an ineffective-assistance claim a defendant must show "(1) counsel failed to perform an essential duty; and (2) prejudice resulted." State v. Maxwell,743 N.W.2d 185, 195 (Iowa 2008). With respect to the first element, "we measure counsel's performance against the standard of a reasonably competent practitioner." Id. Poor strategy or mistakes in judgment normally do not rise to the level of ineffective assistance. See Ledezma v. State,626 N.W.2d 134, 143 (Iowa 2001). "The failure of trial counsel to preserve error at trial can support an ineffective assistance of counsel claim." State v. Truesdell,679 N.W.2d 611, 615-16 (Iowa 2004). With respect to prejudice, the defendant must prove "that counsel's errors were so serious as to deprive the defendant of a fair trial, a trial whose result is reliable." Strickland, 466 U.S. at 687. It is not enough that the applicant show the error had only some effect on the outcome, as nearly any act or omission by counsel results in some change to the outcome one way or another, but not necessarily in a way that would undermine its reliability. See id. at 693. Rather, "[t]he defendant must show that there is a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's unprofessional errors, the ...

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