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State v. Kobusch

Court of Appeals of Iowa

January 23, 2019

STATE OF IOWA, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
CYNTHIA KOBUSCH, MICHAEL KOBUSCH, and JEFFREY MERFELD, Defendants-Appellees.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Dubuque County, John J. Bauercamper, Judge.

         On discretionary review, the State challenges the district court's denial of its motions to dismiss criminal prosecutions in the furtherance of justice. REVERSED AND REMANDED

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

          Natalia H. Blaskovich, Todd N. Klapatauskas, and Samuel A. Wooden of Reynolds & Kenline, L.L.P., Dubuque, for appellee Cynthia Kobusch.

          Natalie H. Cronk of Cronk & Waterman, PLC, Iowa City, for appellee Michael Kobusch.

          Jeffrey E. Hiatt of Clemens, Walters, Conlon Runde & Hiatt, L.L.P., Dubuque, for appellee Jeffrey Merfeld.

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

          MULLINS, JUDGE.

         The supreme court granted discretionary review to the State to challenge the district court's refusal to dismiss one count of child endangerment resulting in bodily injury[1] pending against each defendant "in the furtherance of justice." Cynthia Kobusch and Michael Kobusch are the adoptive parents of a fourteen-year-old boy, and Jeffrey Merfeld is an uncle. The boy was physically abused by being chained and wired to weights, causing blisters and sores on his body. While criminal cases were pending, juvenile court proceedings were held. The State, the defendants, the guardian ad litem, and the child's therapist negotiated a global settlement intending to minimize further trauma to the child and achieve results that, in the whole, seemed ultimately beneficial to the child, including terminating the parental rights of the parents, which was ultimately ordered by the juvenile court. In the State's application for dismissal of the criminal charges with prejudice, [2] it stated:

A review of the best interest of the child was made with the therapist, guardian ad litem and investigators in the case. The actions of the parties, with regard to the long-term well-being of the child in the future, which had been consummated in Juvenile Court, and shield the child from future court appearances, convinced the State that dismissal was in the interest of justice.

The district court denied the motion. The order denying the motion to dismiss suggested additional or other charges could be filed against the defendants, a grand jury should review the case, and the possible appointment of a special prosecutor. The State sought discretionary review, joined by all parties, which was granted by the supreme court.

         Our review of a ruling on a motion to dismiss a prosecution under Iowa Rule of Criminal Procedure 2.33(1) includes two components. State v. Taeger, 781 N.W.2d 560, 564 (Iowa 2010).

The first question-whether the statement of reasons for dismissal complied with the rule-is a question of law. If the stated reasons are legally sufficient, the second question is whether dismissal was "in the furtherance of justice." This later determination is reviewable for an abuse of discretion.

Id. (citations omitted). Such an abuse of discretion occurs when "the trial court's discretion was exercised on grounds clearly untenable or clearly unreasonable." Id. (quoting State v. Henderson, ...


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