IN RE THE DETENTION OF THOMAS G. RUTHERS, JR., Respondent-Appellant.
from the Iowa District Court for Mahaska County, Daniel P.
Wilson and Joel D. Yates (motion for summary judgment, motion
to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, and
respondent appeals from the district court judgment finding
him to be a sexually violent predator subject to civil
Michael H. Adams of State Public Defender's Office, Des
Moines, for appellant.
J. Miller, Attorney General, and Tyler J. Buller, Assistant
Attorney General, for appellee State.
by Danilson, C.J., and Potterfield and Doyle, JJ.
Ruthers Jr. appeals from a judgment finding him to be a
sexually violent predator (SVP) under Iowa Code chapter 229A
(2011). Ruthers contends the district court should have
granted his motions to dismiss and his motion for summary
judgment because he was not presently confined for a
"sexually violent offense," within the meaning of
Iowa Code section 229A.2(10)(g), at the time the State filed
its petition, and the court similarly erred in finding him to
be a SVP.
Background Facts and Proceedings.
September 2010, Ruthers was charged by trial information in
Mahaska County with sexual abuse in the second degree. The
charge was based on reports Ruthers sexually abused R.S. in
2007 when Ruthers helped R.S.'s mother move to Iowa.
Ruthers was incarcerated in lieu of $35, 000 bail pending
March 2012, shortly before a scheduled trial on the charge,
Ruthers reached a plea agreement with the State providing
that in exchange for his guilty plea to assault causing
bodily injury to R.S., he would be sentenced to serve one
year in the Mahaska County Jail with credit for one year
already served. Under the plea agreement, the charge of
sexual abuse in the second degree would be dismissed and
Ruthers would be released from custody after he was
jail, on Friday March 16, Ruthers signed a written plea of
guilty to the misdemeanor assault charge in an amended trial
information,  waiving his right to presence at
following Monday, at 2:57 p.m., Ruthers' written plea of
guilty was filed. The court accepted the plea of guilty to
the misdemeanor assault, entered judgment as agreed in the
plea agreement in an order filed 3:40 p.m., and dismissed the
charge of sexual abuse in the second degree with prejudice.
The court ordered that mittimus not issue. Ruthers was not
present in court.
the same day, Ruthers was served in the jail with the
State's petition for his commitment as a SVP, which was
filed that afternoon at 1:10 p.m. He was not released as
contemplated in the plea agreement but remained held in
custody on the SVP petition.
March 22, the district court held a hearing pursuant to Iowa
Code section 229A.5(2) and entered a probable cause finding
on the SVP petition. Ruthers was brought to the hearing and
argued for dismissal on the ground he was not "presently
confined" for a sexually violent offense because he had
pled guilty to a nonsexual assault of an adult female, B.S.
The court denied Ruthers' motion for dismissal, and
Ruthers remained incarcerated on the probable cause finding
for more than four years.
State, anticipating a problem based on Ruthers' motion,
moved to set aside the guilty plea he had signed. On March
26, four days after the probable cause hearing and seven days
after sentencing, the district court entered an order called
"supplement" to its judgment, finding the specific
factual basis for Ruthers' plea was "the defendant
picked up the child victim, R.S., and threw him on the bed in
a hard manner. The defendant caused R.S. to hit his head on
the board, causing a bump."
then filed a motion in the criminal case seeking a
determination of whether he had to register as a sex
offender. In a hearing on Ruthers' motion, the court
declined to reach the merits of the issue raised by Ruthers,
[E]ven if I was going to make a determination on the merits,
I wouldn't do anything else beyond what I've already
done because [Iowa Code section] 708.15 indicates that the
fact finder may make a determination that the
offense was sexually motivated. I didn't make that
determination. And I don't believe that 706.15 requires
the court to make the determination that it was not sexually
(Emphasis added.) Prior to trial on the State's SVP
petition, Ruthers filed a motion to dismiss, a motion for
summary judgment, and a motion to dismiss for lack of subject
matter jurisdiction. The motions were denied.
petition was tried to the court on August 19, 2017. In
addition to expert testimony presented by the State and
Ruthers, R.S. also testified. The court made the following
findings of fact:
following have been established beyond a reasonable doubt:
(1) State's Exhibits 3 and 4 establish that Ruthers has
been convicted of a [past] sexually violent offense.
(2) Between October 1, 2007, and November 30, 2007, on at
least eight occasions Ruthers stayed in a hotel room with
R.S. Only those two stayed in the hotel room on these
(3) R.S. was the same gender and age range of Ruthers's
previous pedophilic interest. R.S. has behavioral and
(4) Ruthers and R.S. slept in the same bed together while at
the hotel room. No other adults were present on the
(5) R.S. on at least one occasion swam naked in the hotel
room's hot tub. Ruthers would not allow R.S. to ...