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State v. Ventura

Court of Appeals of Iowa

May 2, 2018

STATE OF IOWA, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
CARLOS HERNANDEZ VENTURA, Defendant-Appellant.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Dallas County, Paul R. Huscher, Judge.

         The defendant appeals from his three convictions for first-degree murder. AFFIRMED.

          Mark C. Smith, State Appellate Defender, and Robert P. Ranschau, Assistant Appellate Defender, for appellant.

          Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, and Benjamin M. Parrott, Assistant Attorney General, for appellee.

          Considered by Vaitheswaran, P.J., Potterfield, J., and Blane, S.J. [*]

          POTTERFIELD, Judge.

         Carlos Hernandez Ventura appeals from his three convictions for first-degree murder. On appeal, Hernandez Ventura maintains the district court abused its discretion in denying his motion to strike a juror for cause. He also maintains the district court erred in refusing to instruct the jury on the defense of necessity and that the instruction informing the jury the defense of compulsion was not available to him should have included language that evidence relevant to that defense may still be relevant to other issues in the case.

         Motion to Strike. During voir dire, Hernandez Ventura challenged for cause a potential juror on the grounds the potential juror could not be fair and impartial toward him. See Iowa R. Crim. P. 2.18(5)(k) (allowing either the State or the defendant to challenge a juror for cause when the potential juror has "formed or expressed such an opinion as to the guilt or innocence of the defendant as would prevent the juror from rendering a true verdict upon the evidence submitted at trial"). The district court denied Hernandez Ventura's motion, ruling:

I think the question is whether or not a juror has a-not whether they have a preconceived opinion, but whether they have a preconceived opinion that they cannot lay aside.
And I think [the potential juror] has indicated that she believes she can listen to the evidence in the case and make a decision based on the evidence and the instructions of the court.

         Defense counsel ultimately used a peremptory strike to remove the juror from the panel. Hernandez Ventura asks us to revisit our supreme court's ruling in State v. Neuendorf, 509 N.W.2d 743, 747 (Iowa 1993), in which the court overruled the longtime historical precedent of presuming prejudice from the fact that the defendant has been forced to waste a peremptory challenge. Following Neuendorf, "[t]he search for legal prejudice must therefore focus on the potential for prejudice that flowed from forcing defendant to use a peremptory challenge on [the challenged juror] that might have been used to remove another juror." 509 N.W.2d at 746. It is up to the defendant to "make some factual showing that this circumstance resulted in a juror being seated who was not impartial." Id.

         While we are not at liberty to revisit precedent, our supreme court recently revisited Neuendorf in State v. Jonas, 904 N.W.2d 566, 583-84 (Iowa 2017). In Jonas, the court ruled that when the district court abuses its discretion by improperly refusing "to disqualify a potential juror under Iowa Rule of Criminal Procedure 2.18(5)(k) and thereby causes a defendant to expend a peremptory challenge under rule 2.18(9), the defendant must specifically ask the court for an additional strike of a particular juror after his peremptory challenges have been exhausted." 904 N.W.2d at 583. When the defendant does so, "prejudice will then be presumed." Id. However, "where a judge improperly denies a challenge for cause but the defendant does not specifically ask for an additional peremptory challenge of a particular juror after exhausting his peremptory challenges, " Neuendorf remains good law. Id.

         Here, even if we assume without deciding that the district court's denial of Hernandez Ventura's for-cause challenge was an abuse of discretion, Hernandez Ventura is not entitled to a new trial. First, Hernandez Ventura did not have the benefit of Jonas's requirement of requesting an additional peremptory strike at the time of his trial and did not ask for an additional peremptory challenge after his had been exhausted.[1] Thus, we apply the Neuendorf standard and do not presume prejudice. In order to obtain relief, Hernandez Ventura has the burden to establish "that the jury that did serve in the case was not impartial . . . based on matters that appear o[n] record." Neuendorf, 509 N.W.2d at 747. Hernandez Ventura concedes he cannot establish prejudice under this standard.

Jury Instructions. Hernandez Ventura makes a two-part challenge to the jury instructions. First, he maintains the district court was in error in denying his request to instruct the jury on the defense of necessity. Second, he claims that the instruction informing the jury the defense of compulsion was not available to him should have included language that ...


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