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State v. Mendez

Court of Appeals of Iowa

April 17, 2019

STATE OF IOWA, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
JOSE MANUEL DOMINGO MENDEZ, Defendant-Appellant.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Polk County, Douglas F. Staskal, Judge.

         A defendant appeals his convictions for possession of methamphetamine with intent to deliver, failure to possess a drug tax stamp, carrying a weapon, and criminal gang participation.

          Christopher R. Kemp of Kemp & Sease, Des Moines, for appellant.

          Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, and Thomas J. Ogden, Assistant Attorney General, for appellee.

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

          BOWER, JUDGE.

         Jose Domingo Mendez[1] appeals his convictions for possession with intent to deliver methamphetamine with a firearm enhancement, failure to affix a drug tax stamp, criminal gang participation, and carrying a weapon. Mendez claims the district court erred in overruling his motion for judgment of acquittal and the State introduced insufficient evidence to support all four counts. We affirm.

         I. Background Facts & Proceedings

         Shortly after midnight on July 15, 2017, Mendez was driving his girlfriend's vehicle with three passengers inside. After spotting a police car, Mendez attempted to evade police. Mendez parked and all four persons ran from the vehicle, but law enforcement officers caught and detained all four. Officers saw a .22-caliber Mossberg assault rifle propped between the center console and front passenger seat. During a search of the vehicle, officers found over twelve grams of methamphetamine along with small baggies in an open center armrest console by Mendez's cell phone. During a pat-down, officers found half a gram of methamphetamine in Mendez's pocket along with $275 in cash. Mendez told the officers he worked in construction and was paid in cash.

         The passengers in the vehicle all wore the color of a known criminal gang, and a bandana of the same color was found in the driver's area of the vehicle. The driver and two passengers had tattoos connecting them to the same gang. One of the passengers admitted being a member of the gang.

         On August 23, the State charged Mendez with possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver including a firearms enhancement, in violation of Iowa Code section 124.401(1)(b)(7) and (e) (2017); failure to possess a tax stamp, in violation of sections 453B.3 and 453B.12; criminal gang participation, in violation of sections 723A.1 and 723A.2; and carrying a weapon, in violation of section 724.4(1)(a).

         The case proceeded to a jury trial in January 2018. Six police officers testified on behalf of the State. A redacted video and audio recording of Mendez in the back of a police vehicle was shown, during which Mendez denied knowledge of the methamphetamine in the center console and the firearm leaning against the front passenger seat. Mendez testified in his own defense, stating he did not know the methamphetamine in the center console was there, his cousin brought the firearm into the vehicle, and he was not a member of the gang but used to associate with the gang's members.

         At the close of all evidence, Mendez moved for judgment of acquittal, claiming the State had not established sufficient evidence of any count for conviction. The court denied the motion and submitted the case to the jury. The jury returned a guilty verdict on all counts. On March 7, the court sentenced Mendez to the ...


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