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Brooks v. State

Court of Appeals of Iowa

September 12, 2018

LANCE BROOKS, Applicant-Appellant,
v.
STATE OF IOWA, Respondent-Appellee.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Black Hawk County, David F. Staudt, Judge.

         Lance Brooks appeals the denial of his postconviction-relief application.

          Dylan J. Thomas, Attorney at Law, Mason City, for appellant.

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

          Considered by Vaitheswaran, P.J., and Potterfield and Tabor, JJ.

          VAITHESWARAN, Presiding Judge.

         Three men forced their way into a home, assaulted one of the occupants, and demanded money. The State charged Lance Brooks with first-degree robbery and first-degree burglary. See Iowa Code §§ 711.1, 711.2, 713.3 (2009). A jury found Brooks guilty as charged, and this court affirmed the judgment and sentence. See State v. Brooks, No. 11-0639, 2012 WL 3026546, at *1 (Iowa Ct. App. July 25, 2012).

         Brooks filed an application for postconviction relief. Following a hearing, the district court denied the application. Brooks appealed.

         I. Ineffective Assistance of Trial Counsel - Sufficiency of Evidence

         The jury was instructed the State would have to prove several elements of first-degree robbery, including: "The Defendant or the person(s) the Defendant aided and abetted was armed with a dangerous weapon." The jury also was instructed the State would have to prove several elements of first-degree burglary, including: "During the incident the Defendant or the person(s) he aided and abetted: a. Possessed a dangerous weapon . . . ."

         Brooks asserts there was insufficient evidence he was armed with a dangerous weapon and his trial attorney should have objected to the jury instructions to the extent they allowed the jury to find guilt based on his acts as a principal rather than an aider and abettor. He also contends the State could not rely on a theory of joint criminal conduct to support a finding he was armed with a dangerous weapon because the jury was not instructed on that theory.

         To establish ineffective assistance, Brooks must show (1) deficient performance and (2) prejudice. See Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 687 (1984). "A claim of ineffective assistance of trial counsel based on the failure of counsel to raise a claim of insufficient evidence to support a conviction is a matter that normally can be decided on direct appeal." State v. Truesdell, 679 N.W.2d 611, 616 (Iowa 2004). "[I]f the record reveals substantial evidence, counsel's failure to raise the claim of error could not be prejudicial." Id.

         Our de novo review of the trial record reveals the following facts concerning whether Brooks "was armed with" or "possessed" a dangerous weapon. Three men approached a home and knocked on the door. One of the men stood at the door while the other two entered the home and assaulted an occupant.

         A second occupant testified she saw a "flash of silver," which she "knew was a gun." She was unable to describe which one of the two people "actually carried the gun." A third occupant stated, "I went and I opened up the door; and I looked through it, and all I seen was guns, and it was pushed open."

         A police officer testified he was approached by a woman who told him there "were people with guns inside of her house." He "believe[d]" the woman used "guns" rather than a "gun." He used the plural version in his report. A lieutenant similarly testified he was told the men "were armed with guns."

         Some testimony suggests the assailants entered the home with only one gun and a person other than Brooks wielded it. But a reasonable juror could have given less credence to this testimony. See State v. Shorter, 893 N.W.2d 65, 74 (Iowa 2017) (stating questions of witness credibility are for the jury).

         The record contains substantial evidence Brooks acted as a principal. Accordingly, Brooks was not prejudiced by his trial attorney's failure to challenge the sufficiency of the evidence supporting the findings of guilt or the ...


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