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State v. Wayne West

Supreme Court of Iowa

March 1, 2019

STATE OF IOWA, Appellee,
v.
TRAVIS RAYMOND WAYNE WEST, Appellant.

         On review from the Iowa Court of Appeals.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Polk County, Robert J. Blink, Judge.

         Defendant seeks further review of a decision by the court of appeals affirming his conviction and sentence.

          Mark C. Smith, State Appellate Defender, and Nan Jennisch, Assistant Appellate Defender, for appellant.

          Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, Darrel L. Mullins, Assistant Attorney General, John Sarcone, County Attorney, and Andrea Petrovich and Joseph Danielson, Assistant County Attorneys, for appellee.

          APPEL, Justice.

         Travis West was convicted of delivery of a controlled substance, Iowa Code § 124.401(1)(c)(1) (2015), and involuntary manslaughter by a public offense other than a forcible felony or escape, id. § 707.5(1)(a). The charges arose out of the death of Bailey Brady as the result of a heroin and ethanol overdose. After a jury trial, West was convicted and sentenced for both offenses. West appealed.

         We transferred West's appeal to the court of appeals. The court of appeals held that there was sufficient evidence to support the verdict, that there was no error in the admission of certain challenged evidence, and that the crimes of involuntary manslaughter by a public offense and delivery of a controlled substance did not merge.

         We granted further review. We consider only the merger question. We decline to review the rulings of the court of appeals that there was substantial evidence to support the verdict and that certain evidence was properly admitted. On these issues, the ruling of the court of appeals stands. See State v. Doggett, 687 N.W.2d 97, 99 (Iowa 2004) (recognizing our discretion to consider all issues raised in initial appeal but considering on further review only one of those issues and allowing the court of appeals decision to stand on other issue).

         On the question of whether the offenses merge, we conclude, for the reasons expressed below, that they do not. As a result, the district court ruling on the merger question is affirmed.

         I. Procedural and Factual Background.

         A jury could have found the following facts. Bailey Brady died from a drug overdose on June 5, 2015. On the evening of her death, she visited several bars and consumed alcoholic beverages but was not intoxicated. After returning to her apartment, Brady invited West and his brother at about 1:00 a.m. to come to her apartment.

         West lived about two hours away. West occasionally used heroin, which he obtained from a man named "Snap" in Des Moines. In the past, West had obtained heroin from Snap for Bailey's use. West knew that in July 2014, Brady had overdosed on heroin. He drove her to the hospital on that occasion.

         Cell phone records reveal that Brady talked to West at 2:49 a.m. on the morning of June 5, 2015. Eight seconds later, West began a series of phone calls with Snap, his heroin supplier.

         After the West brothers arrived at Brady's apartment, West and Brady went to a convenience store to purchase food a few minutes after 4:00 a.m. They returned to the apartment. West's brother later found Brady slumped over the bathtub in the apartment and not breathing. West called 911 a few minutes after 5:00 a.m. Paramedics transported Brady's body to the hospital where she was pronounced dead. An autopsy revealed blood alcohol "below . . . legal limit" as well as a fatal amount of heroin. Medical testimony at trial indicated that "without the heroin, she would have been fine." The heroin that killed her was likely ingested within thirty minutes of death. After the 911 call, phone records reveal six actual or attempted calls between West and Snap.

         The State charged West with delivery of a controlled substance, Iowa Code § 124.401(1)(c)(1), and involuntary manslaughter by a public offense other than a forcible felony or escape, id. § 707.5(1)(a). The involuntary manslaughter charge is a class "D" felony, while delivery of a controlled substance is a class "C" felony. A jury found him guilty of both charges, the district court entered judgment, and West was duly sentenced for each crime.

          II. Standard of Review.

         West's claim that the district court erred in failing to merge convictions can be raised at any time because any unlawful failure to merge results in an illegal sentence. State v. Love, 858 N.W.2d 721, 723 (Iowa 2015). Review of an illegal sentence for lack of merger is for correction of errors at law. Id.

         III. Discussion.

         A. Introduction. The question of when one offense is a lesser included offense of another has perplexed courts for centuries. The question of what constitutes lesser included offenses has been characterized as a "many-headed hydra," as an issue that "has challenged the effective administration of criminal justice for centuries," and as one "not without difficulty." Fuller v. United States, 407 F.2d 1199, 1228 (D.C. Cir. 1967) (third quotation); Brown v. State, 206 So.2d 377, 380 (Fla. 1968) (second quotation), abrogated on other grounds by In re Use by Trial Cts. of Standard Jury Instructions in Criminal Cases, 431 So.2d 594, 596- 97 (Fla. 1981); Dorean Koenig, The Many-Headed Hydra of Lesser Included Offenses: A Herculean Task for the Michigan Courts, 1975 Det. C. L. Rev. 41, 63 (first quotation). Sometimes, the doctrine is said to turn on analysis of legal elements of the crimes, sometimes on the facts and evidence, and sometimes based on the interrelationship of the crimes involved. See generally Christen R. Blair, Constitutional Limitations on the Lesser Included Offense Doctrine, 21 Am. Crim. L. Rev. 445, 447-51 (1984).

         Whatever the proper test, the consequence of a finding that a crime is a lesser included offense of a greater crime is that the lesser crime merges into the greater crime where a defendant is convicted of both offenses. The common law doctrine of merger of lesser included offenses into greater offenses is often expressed in statutory provisions.

         As is apparent, the proposition that a lesser included offense merges into the greater offense is related to the constitutional concept of double jeopardy.[1] Although no constitutional issue is raised in this case, the double jeopardy cases provide a ...


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