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State v. Albright

Supreme Court of Iowa

March 22, 2019

STATE OF IOWA, Appellee,
v.
CHARLES RAYMOND ALBRIGHT, Appellant.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Franklin County, Gregg R. Rosenbladt, Judge.

         A defendant appeals his convictions and sentences for willful injury causing bodily injury and kidnapping in the first degree. JUDGMENT OF CONVICTIONS AFFIRMED; SENTENCES AFFIRMED IN PART, VACATED IN PART, AND REMANDED.

          Mark C. Smith, State Appellate Defender, and Martha J. Lucey, Assistant Appellate Defender, for appellant.

          Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, Martha E. Trout and Laura Roan, Assistant Attorneys General, and Brent Symens, County Attorney, for appellee.

          WIGGINS, JUSTICE.

         A defendant appeals his convictions and sentences for willful injury causing bodily injury and kidnapping in the first degree. He claims that there was insufficient evidence to support his kidnapping conviction and that he was prejudiced when the court instructed the jury on a lessor included charge of kidnapping in the second degree. He also claims his trial counsel was ineffective by failing to object to and by introducing evidence of his other crimes, wrongs, or other acts. Finally, he claims the district court erred in ordering him to pay restitution without first considering his reasonable ability to pay.

         On appeal, we find that substantial evidence supported his conviction for first-degree kidnapping and that he was not prejudiced when the court instructed the jury on a lessor included charge of kidnapping in the second degree. We also find we cannot reach his ineffective-assistance-of-counsel claims regarding his counsel's failure to object to and introduction of evidence of his other crimes, wrongs, or other acts on direct appeal. We further find the restitution prescribed in the sentencing order does not comply with our restitution statutes. Therefore, we affirm Albright's convictions for willful injury causing bodily injury and kidnapping in the first degree. We vacate the restitution part of the sentencing order and remand the case to the district court to order restitution in a manner consistent with this opinion.

         I. Background Facts.

         "Viewing the trial evidence in the light most favorable to the jury's guilty verdict[], the jury could have found the following facts." State v. Romer, 832 N.W.2d 169, 172-73 (Iowa 2013). The defendant, Charles Albright, and K.H. dated for over two years, during which time they lived together in various locations around Iowa. In October of 2016, Albright and K.H. lived in a house in Meservey.

         Around 1:30 a.m. on October 7, 2016, Albright became paranoid after using methamphetamine and decided not to go into work that day. Albright accused K.H. of having men over to their home while he was at work and said he was going to stay home to keep an eye on K.H. K.H. told Albright she was not having men over while he was at work. At that point, Albright became very angry and hit K.H. Albright continued to hit her in the face with both an open hand and a fist while accusing her of lying and calling her worthless, good-for-nothing, and other derogatory names.

         K.H. tried to get away from Albright. As she went toward the locked door of their home, Albright grabbed K.H. by the collar of her jacket, threw her against the wall, and told her she was not leaving the house. Albright then threw K.H. onto the floor and slammed her head into the ground twice. Albright continued to hit K.H. as he threw her onto the mattress in the living room. Albright's dog, who lived with the couple, began biting K.H. on the leg and on the hip while Albright continued to batter K.H. on the mattress.

         Albright hit K.H. in her pelvic region multiple times with the backside of a cordless drill. K.H. tried to block Albright's blows to her face and body with her hands and arms. Albright held K.H. down and cut behind her ear with a knife. He used a Taser to burn K.H.'s wrists. The assault went on intermittently for hours.

         K.H. could not escape because she was scared and Albright was always watching her. When she tried to leave the home by moving toward the door, Albright blocked the door and told K.H. to sit back down. K.H. had to remain within Albright's eyesight the entire morning, and Albright never fell asleep.

         That afternoon, Albright forced K.H. to go with him to the veterinarian in Sheffield. K.H. did not want to enter Albright's truck with him because she was afraid he would kill her. She told Albright she did not want to go. Albright started getting out of the truck to force her physically inside, so K.H. entered Albright's vehicle.

         On the way to the veterinarian's office, Albright continued to hit K.H. Albright made a phone call to a friend, and K.H. tried to call out "help" to the friend on the phone. Albright told K.H. he was going to bury her in a cornfield up to her neck and let a combine cut off her head.

         When Albright and K.H. arrived at the veterinarian's office, K.H. stayed in the truck while Albright took the dog inside. K.H. did not try to escape from the truck while Albright was inside the veterinarian's office because there was a large window looking out from the office to the parking lot, and she was afraid Albright would see her escape from the truck.

         After the veterinarian appointment, Albright drove to a Casey's gas station. While Albright was inside the gas station, K.H. escaped by leaving Albright's truck and running across the road to Dollar General. Once inside, K.H. asked the Dollar General clerk for a telephone and the keys to the restroom. K.H. called 911 for help from inside the restroom and waited there until an officer arrived.

         The Sheffield Chief of Police arrived at Dollar General at approximately 3:00 p.m. as the first officer on the scene. K.H. sounded very scared when he arrived, and she wanted to verify it was the officer outside the restroom door, not Albright. When K.H. opened the door for the officer and he first saw her, K.H. was propped up against the bathroom wall and her eyes were almost completely swollen shut. The chief called an ambulance and asked an EMT who was shopping at Dollar General to evaluate K.H. before the ambulance arrived.

         As a result of Albright's beating, K.H. suffered two nose fractures; bruising and swelling of her arms, legs, and face; head and wrist pain; dizziness; and vision problems. Albright also broke K.H.'s dentures when he repeatedly hit her in the face.

         II. Proceedings.

         On October 10, the court issued a warrant for Albright's arrest. On October 18, officers executed a search warrant for Albright's home in Meservey. Officers found a cordless drill sitting upside down on a chair near the mattress in the living room.

         Officers located and arrested Albright on October 19 at a home in Mason City. The State charged Albright with willful injury resulting in serious injury, a class "C" felony, in violation of Iowa Code section 708.4(1) (2016), and kidnapping in the first degree, a class "A" felony, in violation of Iowa Code sections 710.1 and 710.2.

         At trial, the State entered evidence that Albright had been abusive and controlling of K.H. and that she had tried to leave him in the past. Defense counsel did not object to the testimony and asked questions of K.H. that resulted in further prior bad acts evidence. The State and defense counsel also introduced evidence of Albright's prior convictions and jail time. Defense counsel did not request a limiting instruction on the prior bad acts or prior convictions evidence, and the district court did not give a limiting instruction to the jury.

         The jury found Albright guilty of willful injury causing bodily injury and kidnapping in the first degree. The district court entered judgment, ordering Albright to serve a term not to exceed five years for the willful injury conviction and life in prison for the kidnapping conviction. The district court ordered Albright to pay a $750 fine, 35% surcharge, and "court costs in the amount assessed by the Clerk" for the willful injury conviction. The district court also ordered Albright to pay court costs for the kidnapping conviction. Regarding his reasonable ability to pay, the district court's order said,

Pursuant to Iowa Code section 910.2, Defendant is found to have the reasonable ability to pay the obligations set forth herein, including but not limited to any crime victim assistance reimbursement, restitution to public agencies, and court costs including correctional fees, court-appointed attorney fees, contribution to a local anticrime organization, or restitution to the medical assistance program.

Albright appealed his convictions and sentences.

         III. Issues.

         Albright raises four issues on appeal. First, whether the State presented sufficient evidence to support his conviction of first-degree kidnapping. Second, whether the district court erred in submitting kidnapping in the second degree as a lesser included offense of kidnapping in the first degree. Third, whether counsel was ineffective by failing to object to and by introducing evidence of Albright's other crimes, wrongs, or other acts. Fourth, whether the district court was wrong in ordering Albright to pay restitution without first considering his reasonable ability to pay.

         IV. Whether the State Presented Sufficient Evidence to Support Albright's Conviction of First-Degree Kidnapping.

         Albright argues the State did not present sufficient evidence to prove two of the elements of first-degree kidnapping: (1) confinement and/or removal and (2) torture.

         A. Standard of Review. We review challenges to the sufficiency of evidence for correction of errors at law. State v. Copenhaver, 844 N.W.2d 442, 449 (Iowa 2014). We review all of the evidence presented at trial and consider it in the light most favorable to the State. Id. When the evidence could convince a rational trier of fact that the defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, the verdict is supported by substantial evidence. State v. Bower, 725 N.W.2d 435, 444 (Iowa 2006).

         B. Whether Albright Preserved Error on the Issue. The State contends Albright did not preserve error on this issue. Albright argues he preserved error by moving for a judgment of acquittal.

         Counsel does not preserve error on a sufficiency-of-evidence issue when counsel makes a general motion for judgment of acquittal but fails to identify specific elements of the charge not supported by the evidence. See State v. Crone, 545 N.W.2d 267, 270 (Iowa 1996) (en banc). The exception to this error preservation rule is when "grounds for a motion were obvious and understood by the trial court and counsel." State v. Williams, 695 N.W.2d 23, 27 (Iowa 2005). In Williams, we held the element to which counsel referred in his motion for acquittal was "obvious and understood" by the trial court and opposing counsel when the crime required the prosecution to prove only two elements and the parties stipulated the second element was present. Id. at 28.

Here, at the close of the State's evidence, defense counsel asserted,
I do have one motion, Judge. Comes now, Mr. Albright, through counsel, and moves to dismiss this matter and hold it in arrest of judgment for the reason that all of the evidence that's been presented, even when it's viewed in the best light for the State, could not allow these people to form or find- engender a jury question.

Again, at the close of all evidence, defense counsel renewed his motion, stating,

Comes now, the defendant, again through counsel, and moves for a directed verdict of acquittal on the grounds that all of the evidence, even in the best light for the State, would not engender a jury question.

         In his motions, defense counsel did not identify the specific elements of the charge of kidnapping in the first degree for which sufficient evidence was lacking. Defense counsel's motions do not fall under the "obvious and understood" exception either.

         The State was required to prove four elements in this case to prove kidnapping in the first degree. It was also required to prove three elements to prove willful injury causing bodily injury. When defense counsel failed to mention any of the elements in his motions for acquittal, neither the trial court nor counsel could be certain as to which element or elements defense counsel was arguing sufficient evidence did not support. Cf. Williams, 695 N.W.2d at 28. The present case is unlike Williams, where the parties stipulated to one of the two elements needed to prove domestic abuse assault. See id. Thus, in Williams it was clear which element was the fighting issue of the case. See id. Here, Albright did not stipulate to any of the ...


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