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State v. Brehme

Court of Appeals of Iowa

May 2, 2018

STATE OF IOWA, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
NATHAN JERRY BREHME, Defendant-Appellant.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Calhoun County, Thomas J. Bice (trial) and Kurt J. Stoebe (sentencing), Judges.

         Nathan Brehme appeals the judgment and sentence entered after a jury found him guilty of possession of a firearm by a felon.

          Mark C. Smith, State Appellate Defender, and Bradley M. Bender, Assistant Appellate Defender, for appellant.

          Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, and Timothy M. Hau, Assistant Attorney General, for appellee.

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

          DOYLE, Judge.

         Nathan Brehme appeals the judgment and sentence entered after a jury found him guilty of possession of a firearm by a felon. Brehme contends the trial court erred both in denying his motion for judgment of acquittal and his motion for new trial, arguing the State failed to sufficiently prove the elements of the crime. Specifically, he argues the State failed to prove he had dominion and control over the firearms found in his residence.

         I. Background Facts and Proceedings.

         Brehme lives in a three-bedroom home in Yetter, which he shares with his three-year-old child, Catherine Smith, and Smith's child. Although the home belongs to Smith's oldest child, it appears Brehme lived in the home first. When Smith separated from her husband, Brehme offered her a place to stay, and the two became roommates. Brehme sleeps in one of the bedrooms, his child in another, and Smith's child in the third. Smith did not have a permanent bedroom but slept in one of the child's bedrooms when unoccupied.

         In May or June 2016, Smith inherited five of her grandfather's firearms from her father. Because the home has only two closets-one in Brehme's bedroom and the other in a child's bedroom-Smith opted to store the firearms in Brehme's bedroom closet. At trial she explained her reasoning:

I didn't want them in the 3-year-old's bedroom. I was married to a gun dealer and I know enough about guns that I can't put them in the basement. Our basement's not finished; so it is very moist down there, not good for a gun. I can't put them in the attic, not temperature controlled. Again, they gain moisture, they rust. And there's really-There was really no other place to put them.

         She further explained, "I did not want my guns left in the three-year-old's bedroom closet because he is allowed to play in there by himself." The child is prevented from entering Brehme's bedroom by a child gate. Smith believed Brehme's bedroom closet to be "the best and safest place to store them."

         The firearms are not the only belongings Smith keeps in Brehme's closet. Brehme has a fireproof safe in the closet in which he allows her to store her important documents. Brehme provided her with a key to the safe, and Smith explained that she has access to Brehme's bedroom closet:

Q. So is it fair to say that you can go into his closets if you need to get an item out of the safe?
A. Yes.
Q. And if you needed to get a gun to sell it or whatever, you could walk into his room and grab your gun?
A. Yes.

         In August 2016, law enforcement officers executed a search warrant on the home and seized the five firearms from Brehme's closet. The State charged Brehme with possession of a firearm by a felon, Brehme pled not guilty, and the case proceeded to a jury trial. At the close of evidence, Brehme moved for judgment of acquittal, arguing the State failed to prove he had dominion and control over the firearms. The court denied the motion, finding a fact question had been generated on the question of whether Brehme possessed the firearms.

         The jury found Brehme guilty as charged. Brehme filed a motion for new trial, renewing the arguments raised in his motion for judgment of acquittal. The court denied the motion. Brehme appeals.

         II. Sufficiency of the Evidence.

         We review sufficiency-of-the-evidence claims for correction of errors at law. See State v. Huser, 894 N.W.2d 472, 490 (Iowa 2017). In doing so, we consider the record evidence in the light most favorable to the State, including all reasonable inferences that may be fairly drawn from the evidence. See id. We will uphold the trial court's denial of a motion for judgment of acquittal if substantial evidence supports conviction. See State v. Harris, 892 N.W.2d 182, 186 (Iowa 2017). Evidence is substantial if it can convince a rational jury that the defendant is ...


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