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Spahr v. State

Court of Appeals of Iowa

February 20, 2019

BRUCE SPAHR, Applicant-Appellant,
v.
STATE OF IOWA, Respondent-Appellee.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Mahaska County, Randy S. DeGeest, Judge.

         Bruce Spahr appeals the order denying his application for postconviction relief. REVERSED AND REMANDED.

          R.E. Breckenridge of Breckenridge Law P.C., Ottumwa, for appellant.

          Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, and Zachary Miller and Tyler J. Buller, Assistant Attorneys General, for appellee State.

          Considered by Potterfield, P.J., Doyle, J., and Scott, S.J.[*]

          DOYLE, JUDGE.

         Bruce Spahr appeals the order denying his application for postconviction relief (PCR), challenging his conviction for second-degree sexual abuse. He asserts claims of ineffective assistance of his trial, appellate, and PCR counsel. Because we conclude Spahr received ineffective assistance when his trial counsel failed to object to testimony that impermissibly bolstered the testimony of the complaining witness, we reverse the district court's judgment, remand for entry of an order vacating Spahr's conviction and sentence, and grant him a new trial.

         I. Background Facts and Proceedings.

         The underlying conviction giving rise to this PCR action occurred after A.L. accused Spahr of sexually abusing her between 2003 and 2006. A jury found Spahr guilty of one count of second-degree sexual abuse of A.L. but acquitted Spahr of another count of second-degree sexual abuse of A.L. and of two counts of second-degree sexual abuse of R.L. The trial court ordered Spahr to serve a sentence of not more than twenty-five years in prison, requiring him to serve seventy-percent of his sentence.

         Spahr directly appealed his conviction, arguing in part that his trial counsel was ineffective in failing to object to the following testimony from Deputy Sheriff Don DeKock, to whom A.L. reported the sexual abuse:

Q. Did [A.L.'s] revelation catch you off guard?

A. Yes and no.

Q. Can you explain what you mean by that?

A. You know, you can sometimes with—with victims of—of whatever, you can see something is not right here, something is going on with this student. It could just be how they react, maybe their response, etcetera, and at the same time that doesn't mean that they're a victim of sexual abuse. It may be something else. It could be suicidal, those types of things. So it—it's always yes and no to those type of questions.

Q. After that disclosure, what did you do?

A. Contacted the Department of Human Services.

Q. And why did you contact the Department of Human Services?

A. Because the named perpetrator in the allegation was her stepfather, which—who would be somebody who would be responsible for her care and which the Iowa law says we ...


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