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State v. Wilson

Court of Appeals of Iowa

November 7, 2018

STATE OF IOWA, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
JERRELL M. WILSON, Defendant-Appellant.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Woodbury County, Steven J. Andreasen, Judge.

         Jerell Wilson appeals his convictions of (1) operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated, (2) first-degree eluding, and (3) vehicular homicide by reckless driving or eluding, raising claims of insufficient evidence to support the third count and failure by the district court to merge the first two counts.

          Mark C. Smith, State Appellate Defender, and Vidhya K. Reddy, Assistant Appellate Defender, for appellant.

          Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, and Louis S. Sloven, Assistant Attorney General, for appellee.

          Vaitheswaran, P.J., and Doyle and Mullins, JJ.

          VAITHESWARAN, Presiding Judge.

         A man took a law enforcement officer on a high-speed chase, hit a dip in the road, and crashed. His passenger died.

         The State charged Jerrell Wilson with (1) vehicular homicide by operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated, (2) first-degree eluding, and (3) vehicular homicide by reckless driving or eluding. See Iowa Code §§ 707.6A(1); 321.279(3); 707.6A(2)(a); 707.6A(2)(b) (2016). On the first count, the jury found Wilson guilty of the lesser included offense of operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated. On the second and third counts, the jury found him guilty as charged. Wilson appealed following imposition of sentence. He argues (1) the jury's finding of guilt on the third count was not supported by sufficient evidence and (2) his convictions on the first two counts should have merged

         I. Sufficiency of the Evidence-Vehicular Homicide by Reckless Driving or Eluding

         Wilson contends "the evidence was not sufficient to prove (1) [he] drove the vehicle in a reckless manner as necessary for the reckless driving alternative; and (2) that an adequate causal connection existed as required for both the reckless driving alternative and the eluding alternative." Because his attorney failed to move for judgment of acquittal on these grounds, Wilson concedes the issue must be considered under an ineffective-assistance-of-counsel rubric.

         Although ineffective assistance claims are generally addressed in postconviction-relief proceedings, "claims of ineffective assistance for failure to challenge sufficiency of the evidence may be raised on direct appeal." See State v. Halverson, 857 N.W.2d 632, 639 (Iowa 2015) (citations omitted). On our de novo review, we must decide whether a motion for judgment of acquittal by trial counsel "would have been meritorious had it been made." See State v. Harris, 891 N.W.2d 182, 186 (Iowa 2017).

         The jury was instructed the State would have to prove the following elements of homicide by vehicle-reckless driving or eluding:

Element 1. On or about the 11th day of November, 2016, in Woodbury County, Iowa, Defendant Jerell Wilson was driving a motor vehicle.
Element 2. At that time and place, Defendant Jerell Wilson either:
a. was driving the vehicle in a reckless manner; or
b. was eluding or attempting to elude a law enforcement ...

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