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Powers v. State

Supreme Court of Iowa

May 11, 2018

DAVID M. POWERS, Appellant,
STATE OF IOWA, Appellee.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Black Hawk County, George L. Stigler, Judge.

         Applicant for postconviction relief filed an interlocutory appeal of the district court ruling quashing his subpoena for discovery of police investigative reports and the district court ruling excluding all evidence and testimony related to the alleged false claims of his complaining witness contained in the investigative reports.

          Kent A. Simmons, Bettendorf, for appellant.

          Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, Kyle Hanson, Assistant Attorney General, Brian Williams, County Attorney, and Kimberly Griffith and Elizabeth O'Donnell, Assistant County Attorneys, for appellee.

          Lance W. Lange and Mitch G. Nass of Faegre Baker Daniels, LLLP, Des Moines, for amici curiae Innocence Network, Innocence Project of Iowa, and Midwest Innocence Project.

          ZAGER, JUSTICE.

         In 2011, a jury convicted David Powers on two counts of sexual abuse based on allegations made by his granddaughter from several years earlier. Throughout the trial, Powers denied all the claims made against him. The jury heard testimony from the child victim and other various family members, including the child's parents and brother, that the child was known to lie. Powers appealed his convictions arguing, among other claims, that there was insufficient evidence to convict him. The court of appeals affirmed his convictions.

         Powers subsequently filed this application for postconviction relief. As part of his application, Powers alleges that between the time of his convictions and his sentencing, the Waterloo Police Department was investigating claims of sexual abuse that his victim was making against local gang members. While the final investigative report had yet to be completed prior to the time of sentencing, Powers alleges that the ongoing investigation was concealed from his trial counsel. Powers maintains that prior to sentencing, the police had determined the claims made against the gang members were false. As part of his discovery in these postconviction-relief proceedings, Powers attempted to subpoena the Waterloo police chief to produce the investigative reports related to those claims. The district court conducted two hearings related to the requested production of the investigative reports. After the second hearing, and after the district court had reviewed all of the documents and reports in camera, the district court granted the motion to quash filed by the City of Waterloo and denied disclosure of the investigative reports to Powers. The district court also ruled that all evidence and testimony related to the alleged false claims of the victim would be excluded from the postconviction-relief trial. Powers sought interlocutory appeal from these rulings, which we granted and retained. For the reasons set forth below, we reverse the rulings of the district court and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

         I. Background Facts and Proceedings.

         In February 2011, David Powers was tried before a jury for one count of sexual abuse in the second degree[1] and one count of sexual abuse in the third degree.[2] The charges were based on allegations made by his granddaughter, K.P. K.P. claimed that one instance of sexual abuse occurred while she was under twelve years of age, and the other instance of sexual abuse occurred when she was thirteen years old. Throughout the proceedings, Powers maintained his innocence and argued to the jury that his granddaughter had made up the allegations against him. K.P. and several witnesses testified at trial. K.P. admitted that she had told lies in the past, such as lying to her parents about her whereabouts or who she was with, so she could "do things that they don't let [her] do." Other witnesses, including a close friend of K.P., her mother, father, and brother, all testified that K.P. was known to lie or be untruthful. Her younger brother testified that K.P. had asked him to lie to the abuse investigator by claiming that Powers had also touched him, but the brother declined to do so. Additionally, testimony was obtained from Powers's physician that it was "highly unlikely" Powers could achieve or sustain an erection because of his health issues despite testimony from K.P. to the contrary. The jury convicted Powers on both counts of sexual abuse on February 5.

         Shortly after the jury issued its verdicts, but before Powers was sentenced, K.P. ran away from home. She was located a few days later and taken to a youth shelter. K.P. subsequently reported to Waterloo police that she had been sexually assaulted by area gang members when she was at their residence while she was on runaway status. Officers Naumann and Chopard of the Waterloo Police Department investigated the case. Their investigation included interviews with K.P., her father, her boyfriend at the time, and other minors who were with K.P. during the night of the alleged sexual assault.

         By the time of the last interview with K.P. in mid-March, it was apparent that police were receiving inconsistent stories from the witnesses about the nature of the alleged sexual assault. The police met a final time with K.P. and her father on March 14 after conducting the numerous interviews. K.P.'s father, Phil Powers, claims the detective told him and K.P. "that the stories weren't matching up." Phil contends the detective also said there was nothing the police could do about K.P.'s rape allegation because "they felt there were too many loopholes." Phil also alleges the detective told him "that they believed it was a false report." Officer Chopard questioned K.P. about some of the inconsistencies in her story. During this meeting, after being confronted about these inconsistencies, K.P. stated she no longer wanted to pursue the charges "since no one believed her." The final report regarding this incident was dated May 2, closing the investigation.

         While this investigation was on-going, after his convictions but prior to sentencing, Powers filed a motion for new trial based on the insufficiency of the evidence to support the convictions. The motion for new trial was denied, and Powers was sentenced on April 12. Powers appealed his convictions, which were affirmed by the court of appeals.

         In December 2013, Powers filed an application for postconviction relief. Powers subsequently amended his application in October 2014 to include claims of newly discovered evidence, concealment of exculpatory evidence, and ineffective assistance of trial counsel. As the basis of his claims, Powers argued the concealment of the investigation and resulting reports from his trial attorney, specifically regarding K.P.'s claims of sexual assault against the gang members, violated his due process rights under the State and Federal Constitutions. Alternatively, Powers maintained his trial counsel was ineffective in failing to investigate information regarding the reports and to litigate them if counsel had knowledge about the other false accusations.

         To support his argument that K.P. had made false accusations against him, Powers subpoenaed K.P. to testify at his postconviction-relief trial scheduled for June 22, 2016. On June 13, a public defender filed a motion to quash the subpoena on behalf of K.P., explaining that K.P. had a family vacation on the date of the scheduled appearance. Powers agreed to reschedule his postconviction-relief trial. The district court continued the trial and ordered a trial setting conference. The district court also scheduled a one-hour hearing for July 25 regarding K.P.'s motion to quash.

         Prior to the July 25 hearing, Powers filed a motion for ruling on admissibility of evidence and a response to the motion to quash. In this motion, Powers explained that K.P.'s motion to quash only requested relief from attending the June 22 hearing due to vacation plans, which Powers did not resist. Further, Powers noted the State had failed to file any motion arguing K.P.'s testimony would be barred by Iowa Rule of Evidence 5.412, thereby rendering her motion to quash moot. Additionally, Powers detailed what he knew about the events surrounding the allegations K.P. made against the gang members. Powers reiterated his argument that the police had determined the allegations were false.

         In response, K.P. filed an amended motion to quash which stated, "[T]he testimony [of the allegations against the gang members] is irrelevant and should be excluded as a subsequent act unrelated to the events of the David Powers criminal trial." Powers countered with a resistance to the amended motion exclaiming, "Again, there is currently NO subpoena pending for the Court to Quash. The witness, K.P., is NOT subpoenaed to provide any testimony at this time because there is no trial scheduled." That same day, Powers filed a subpoena duces tecum, directing the Waterloo police chief to produce the investigative reports on K.P.'s claims against the gang members. The Waterloo City Attorney moved to quash the subpoena duces tecum asserting the investigative reports were "wholly unrelated to the underlying sexual abuse case." The city attorney also joined in K.P.'s motion to quash. In his resistance to these motions to quash, Powers argued that neither K.P.'s public defender nor the city was a party to his postconviction-relief action, and neither had standing to object to the relevance of the investigative reports or his motion for ruling on the admissibility of evidence.

         On July 25, the district court held a hearing on the pending motions. The district court heard testimony from Phil Powers who testified about his interactions with the Waterloo police regarding the allegations K.P. made against the gang members. Powers's attorney asked Phil, "Did they tell you, in fact, that they believed it was a false report?" Phil responded, "He did."

         The district court judge also questioned Phil after the attorneys finished questioning him. The judge questioned Phil about the physical description of the officer who had told Phil that he believed K.P. had made a false report. Phil told the judge that the officer was a 6'1" middle-aged male with dark hair who weighed "probably 200 or less." The attorney for K.P. volunteered the identity of the investigating officer to the judge, informing him that it was Officer Chopard who talked to K.P. and her father about the investigation. At the conclusion of the hearing, the court requested the investigative reports. The judge also requested a photo of Officer Chopard, as well as "specific information about Chopard, because [his] recollection of his appearance, from having testified any number of occasions, is different than Mr. Powers's recollection of the person that he talked to."

         The city attorney provided the district court with the investigative reports, which it was able to review in camera. On August 31, the district court held further proceedings regarding the motion in which it was able to hear the testimony of Officer Chopard. Chopard denied telling K.P. or her father that he believed K.P. filed a false report. Chopard disputed telling K.P. or her father that he did not believe the claims or that they were false. Chopard testified, "I never would tell anybody I didn't believe them. I would tell them why there are factors in the case where I couldn't pursue charges." Chopard explained that he did have doubts about the truthfulness of the claims K.P. made against the gang members due to the inconsistencies in her story compared to those of her friends. However, he also agreed that "there are a multitude of reasons" why K.P. would decline to press charges, and he discussed the concern K.P. and her father had about retribution from the gang members if she pursued the charges.

         Finally, Chopard explained, Phil and K.P. told him that they did not want to pursue charges against the gang members. The district court also read a portion of the investigative report that Chopard wrote, which stated,

K.P. told me that since nobody believed her she did not want to press charges. I explained to KP that if something happened to her that she needed to tell the truth about what happened and not change her story. I explained to her that her story at this point did not match what both of her friends had told me about the night. K.P. told me again she did not want anything done and wanted to leave. While outside of the interview room Phil also explained to me that he did not think his ...

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