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State v. Nyomah

Court of Appeals of Iowa

July 18, 2018

STATE OF IOWA, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
PRINCE NYOMAH, Defendant-Appellant.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Polk County, Karen A. Romano, Judge.

         Prince Nyomah appeals his convictions of second-degree robbery and assault while participating in a felony, arguing the convictions should have merged.

          Mark C. Smith, State Appellate Defender, and Nan Jennisch, 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.

         Prince Nyomah entered Alford pleas[1] to second-degree robbery and assault while participating in a felony, among other things. He now appeals those two convictions, arguing the convictions should have merged under the merger doctrine, codified in Iowa Code section 701.9 (2017). That section provides:

No person shall be convicted of a public offense which is necessarily included in another public offense of which the person is convicted. If the jury returns a verdict of guilty of more than one offense and such verdict conflicts with this section, the court shall enter judgment of guilty of the greater of the offenses only.

         While we generally review a challenge under the merger statute for correction of errors at law, see State v. Ceretti, 871 N.W.2d 88, 92 (Iowa 2015), insofar as an unconstitutional sentence is alleged, our review is de novo, see State v. Zarate, 908 N.W.2d 831, 840 (Iowa 2018).

         "[I]n the merger and double jeopardy context, the threshold question is whether it is legally impossible to commit the greater crime without also committing the lesser." State v. Stewart, 858 N.W.2d 17, 21 (Iowa 2015). "If the robbery and assault charges were predicated on a single assault, the two crimes should merge." See State v. Wilson, 523 N.W.2d 440, 441 (Iowa 1994). However, "[i]t is well established in Iowa law that a single course of conduct can give rise to multiple charges and convictions." State v. Velez, 829 N.W.2d 572, 584 (Iowa 2013) (citing State v. McKettrick, 480 N.W.2d 52, 57 (Iowa 1992)). Ultimately, a merger claim turns on whether the two offenses at issue "involve the same offense." State v. Lewis, 514 N.W.2d 63, 69 (Iowa 1994).

         The amended trial information alleged Nyomah committed robbery in the second degree, in violation of sections 711.1 and .3, and assault while participating in a felony, in violation of Iowa Code section 708.3. Under sections 711.1 and .3, a defendant is guilty of second-degree robbery when that defendant committed a robbery with the intent to commit a theft and, to assist or further the commission of the intended theft or the defendant's escape from the scene thereof, the defendant either committed an assault upon another, threatened another with or purposely put another in fear of immediate serious injury, or threatened to commit immediately any forcible felony. Under section 708.3, a defendant is guilty of assault while participating in a felony if he committed "an assault within the meaning of Iowa Code section 708.1 [(2017)] while participating in a felony other that a sexual abuse." A person commits an assault

         when, without justification, the person does any of the following:

a. Any act which is intended to cause pain or injury to, or which is intended to result in physical contact which will be insulting or offensive to another, coupled with the apparent ability to execute the act.
b. Any act which is intended to place another in fear of immediate physical contact which will be painful, injurious, insulting, or offensive, coupled with the ...

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