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State v. Uchytil

Court of Appeals of Iowa

January 9, 2019

STATE OF IOWA, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
DAVID LARRY UCHYTIL, Defendant-Appellant.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Buchanan County, George L. Stigler, Judge.

         A defendant appeals his conviction for domestic abuse assault causing bodily injury. AFFIRMED.

          Mark C. Smith, State Appellate Defender, and Brenda J. Gohr, Assistant Appellate Defender, for appellant.

          Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, and Genevieve Reinkoester, Assistant Attorney General, for appellee.

          Considered by Tabor, P.J., and Mullins and Bower, JJ.

          TABOR, PRESIDING JUDGE.

         A jury convicted David Uchytil of domestic abuse assault causing bodily injury based on evidence he shoved, struck, and strangled the mother of his children. Uchytil claims his conviction is invalid because he did not receive effective representation. He alleges his attorney should have sought recusal by the trial judge for "overintervention" in the parties' presentation of the case. We are unable to resolve this allegation on direct appeal. We affirm Uchytil's conviction, but preserve his ineffective-assistance-of-counsel claim for possible postconviction-relief (PCR) proceedings.

         I. Facts and Prior Proceedings

         Uchytil and Tracy have two daughters in common: T.R. and A.R. In September 2015, the older daughter, T.R., then eighteen, called 911 to report her dad was being "violent" with her mom.[1] When police officers arrived, Tracy told them Uchytil had struck her face, pushed her down on the floor, and placed his hand on her neck. The officers documented a red lump under Tracy's eye and red marks at her jaw line. Tracy recalled the injuries "hurt very badly." By contrast, Uchytil told the police "nothing physical" occurred during the argument.

         The State originally charged Uchytil with aggravated misdemeanor domestic abuse assault, alleging he strangled Tracy. See Iowa Code §§ 708.2A(1), 708.2A(2)(d) (2015). After Uchytil waived his right to a speedy trial, the court approved numerous continuances. In September 2017, the State filed an amended trial information, reducing the charge to domestic abuse causing bodily injury, a serious misdemeanor. See Iowa Code § 708.2A(2)(b). Later that month, the case proceeded to a jury trial. The State presented testimony from Tracy, T.R., and two police officers.

         At trial, an issue arose concerning a possible witness, B.J.-a friend of Tracy's younger daughter, A.R. Uchytil claimed B.J. was visiting Tracy's home during the incident. After selecting the jury, the defense moved for a mistrial so it could investigate B.J.'s testimony. The defense expected B.J. to impeach the version of events offered by Tracy and T.R. Specifically, the defense anticipated B.J. would testify T.R. was upstairs with her boyfriend during her parents' argument and did not see Uchytil assault Tracy.

         The district court denied the mistrial motion, expressing concern the case had already been pending for two years. The court assured the defense it was free to call B.J. or T.R.'s boyfriend to testify for Uchytil. But even after the mistrial ruling, the court seemed preoccupied with the state of the evidence on this issue. For example, during the State's case, the judge intervened in the direct examination of Tracy, suggesting:

Before you leave this witness to cross-examination, I think it would be helpful to the jury if you would have the witness give explicit testimony as to what people were in the home, the locations of those individuals at the time of the alleged assault, who actually saw the alleged assault and things of that nature, so that the jury will have an ironclad understanding as to what she is testifying to.

         The prosecutor complied with the court's suggestion, asking Tracy who was present at the time of the alleged assault ...


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