review from the Iowa Court of Appeals.
from the Iowa District Court for Woodbury County, Jeffrey L.
defendant seeks further review of a court of appeals decision
that affirmed his convictions for assault causing bodily
injury and child endangerment.
Priscilla E. Forsyth, Sioux City, for appellant.
J. Miller, Attorney General, Kevin Cmelik, Assistant Attorney
General, Patrick Jennings, County Attorney, and Kristine
Timmins and Joshua Widman, Assistant County Attorneys, for
appeal, Owen Benson contends he did not cross the line from
lawful corporal punishment to criminal conduct. Benson
maintains there was insufficient evidence to support his
conviction for both assault causing bodily injury and child
endangerment because the State did not prove his actions
exceeded the scope of legal corporal punishment. Similarly,
he contends the district court abused its discretion in
denying his motion for a new trial because the verdict was
contrary to the weight of the evidence. For the reasons set
forth below, we conclude the evidence was sufficient to
support Benson's convictions, and the district court did
not abuse its discretion in denying the motion for new trial.
also claims that the jury instructions (1) misled the jury
because the district court failed to provide a marshaling
instruction explaining which form of intent applied to which
charge, and (2) did not adequately describe specific intent.
For the reasons set forth below, we conclude the jury
instructions were prejudicially erroneous, and we reverse
Benson's convictions and sentence and remand for new
Background Facts and Proceedings.
March 6, 2016, Owen Benson was watching B.B., G.B., and
Z.B.-three of his fiancé's children-until their
father arrived to take them to his home as part of an
arranged custody agreement. The children were approximately
eleven, ten, and eight years old at the time. Benson joined
the children on the porch carrying the wooden handle from a
toy broomstick, upset about alleged damage the children
caused to some furniture. Benson subsequently hit B.B. and
G.B. twice each on the buttocks with the broom handle. Next,
Benson hit Z.B. twice on the back of his upper legs with the
broom handle. The children's father arrived soon after to
take them to his home.
next morning, the children's father noticed bruises on
the back of Z.B.'s legs. G.B. and B.B. did not have
bruises. The father photographed the bruises and reported
them to a school counselor. The school counselor reported the
bruises to the Iowa Department of Human Services (DHS), and a
child protective investigation commenced.
Stewart, the DHS investigator, conducted a home visit at
Benson's home, where Benson admitted hitting Z.B. but
declined to answer her questions fully. When Stewart met with
Z.B., she observed bruises on the back of his legs that were
"[a]pproximately three inches long, maybe an inch or
more in width, and the one specifically on his right leg had
a dark redness around it" similar to an outline. After
observing Z.B.'s bruises and speaking with Benson and his
fiancé's children, Stewart contacted law
enforcement and referred Z.B. to the Child Advocacy Center at
Mercy Medical Center in Sioux City for a forensic interview.
forensic interview with Dr. Michael Jung from the Child
Advocacy Center revealed that Z.B.'s bruising was a
"high-impact acceleration/deceleration injury"
resulting from an object. Dr. Jung noted that the injury
"wasn't from sitting on something [and] it required
significant velocity or speed to injure the tissue in that
manner." Further, he explained,
The central sparing, where there's no bruising in the
inner part of the injury, is less injured than the
surrounding tissue, and that occurs when tissue is injured in
a high-impact, accelerating type of injury that actually
shears the tissue on the edge of the object, and it requires
a fairly high velocity or impact to do that.
the investigation, the State charged Benson with assault
causing bodily injury in violation of Iowa Code sections
708.1(2)(a) and 708.2(2) (2016), a serious
misdemeanor, and child endangerment in violation of Iowa Code
sections 726.6(1)(a) and 726.6(7), an aggravated
misdemeanor, for hitting Z.B. The State did not charge Benson
for hitting B.B. or G.B. A jury convicted Benson of assault
causing bodily injury and child endangerment. Benson filed a
motion for a new trial, arguing the verdict was contrary to
the weight of the evidence, and the district court denied
this motion at Benson's sentencing hearing.
appealed his convictions, presenting multiple claims on
appeal. First, he claimed there was insufficient evidence to
support his convictions since the evidence showed his actions
were within the bounds of legal corporal punishment. Second,
he alleged the district court abused its discretion in
denying his motion for a new trial because the verdicts were
contrary to the weight of the evidence. Third, Benson argued
the district court erred by instructing the jury on both
general and specific intent without providing a marshaling
instruction explaining which form of intent applied to which
charge. Finally, he asserted the jury instructions did not
adequately describe specific intent.
court of appeals affirmed the judgment of the district court.
It concluded there was sufficient evidence to support
Benson's convictions, especially given Benson's
testimony that he intended for the punishment to
"sting." The court of appeals also determined the
jury instructions were not confusing or misleading since the
marshaling instruction "clearly stated the specified
purpose in mind." Benson sought further review, which we
Standard of Review.
review claims of insufficient evidence for correction of
errors at law, "and we will uphold a verdict if
substantial evidence supports it." State v.
Ramirez, 895 N.W.2d 884, 890 (Iowa 2017). Substantial
evidence supports a verdict "if, 'when viewed in the
light most favorable to the State, it can convince a rational
jury that the defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable
doubt.'" State v. Wickes, 910 N.W.2d 554,
563 (Iowa 2018) (quoting State v. Reed, 875 N.W.2d
693, 705 (Iowa 2016)). Moreover, "[w]e generally review
rulings on motions for new trial asserting a verdict is
contrary to the weight of the evidence for an abuse of
discretion." Id. at 563-64 (quoting State
v. Ary, 877 N.W.2d 686, 706 (Iowa 2016)). An abuse of
discretion occurs when the district court "exercises its
discretion on grounds clearly untenable or to an extent
clearly unreasonable" in such a manner that the district
court's decision "is not supported by substantial
evidence or . . . is based on an erroneous application of the
law." Id. at 564 (quoting State v.
Hill, 878 N.W.2d 269, 272 (Iowa 2016)).
review challenges to jury instructions for correction of
errors at law." Alcala v. Marriott Int'l,
Inc., 880 N.W.2d 699, 707 (Iowa 2016) (quoting
Anderson v. State, 692 N.W.2d 360, 363 (Iowa 2005)).
Erroneous jury instructions warrant "reversal when
prejudice results." State v. Coleman, 907
N.W.2d 124, 138 (Iowa 2018). Prejudice results when jury
instructions mislead the jury or materially misstate the law.
Id. We also "review refusals to give a
requested jury instruction for correction of errors at
law." Alcala, 880 N.W.2d at 707. In doing so,
we consider the jury instructions as a whole rather than in
isolation to determine whether they correctly state the law.
State v. Harrison, 914 N.W.2d 178, 188 (Iowa 2018).