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Dawson v. State

Court of Appeals of Iowa

May 1, 2019

DANIEL J. DAWSON, Applicant-Appellant,
v.
STATE OF IOWA, Respondent-Appellee.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Scott County, Henry W. Latham II, Judge.

         The applicant appeals from the denial of his application for postconviction relief challenging his convictions for murder in the second degree; assault with intent to inflict serious injury; and domestic abuse assault, second offense.

          Thomas Hurd of Greenberg & Hurd, LLP, Des Moines, for appellant.

          Daniel Dawson, Anamosa, pro se.

          Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, and Timothy M. Hau, Assistant Attorney General, for appellee State.

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

          POTTERFIELD, PRESIDING JUDGE.

         Daniel Dawson appeals from the denial of his application for postconviction relief (PCR) challenging his convictions for murder in the second degree; assault with intent to inflict serious injury; and domestic abuse assault, second offense. On appeal, Dawson argues for the first time that his trial counsel provided ineffective assistance by failing to move for a mistrial during closing arguments based on prosecutorial error; Dawson maintains all counsel since his first have been ineffective in failing to raise the issue sooner. Dawson raises an additional sixteen claims without the assistance of counsel; we address each one below.

         I. Background Facts and Proceedings.

         In 2005, Dawson was charged with murder in the first degree; willful injury; and domestic abuse assault, third offense. All three charges were based on allegations Dawson beat and stabbed Debra Mead to death in their home in Davenport in August 2005. Dawson pleaded not guilty and filed notices of a self-defense and an intoxication defense.

         At trial, Dawson did not deny that he assaulted and then stabbed Mead nor that Mead died as a result of the stab wound. Dawson testified in his own defense that he was angry at Mead for calling his parents while she was drinking, so he hit her in the face and kicked her a few times. Mead then got up from the ground, and Dawson followed her into the kitchen. While in the kitchen, Dawson noticed Mead was reaching for a large knife, so he grabbed it first, and the two struggled over the knife before he stabbed her in the chest.

         Dawson called 911, and a recording of the phone call was played for the jury. During the call, Dawson states, "Deb and I got into a [inaudible] fight for the last time" and, "She's pretty much dead," before disconnecting the call. Additionally, the dashboard cameras of some of the responding police officers recorded the scene outside of Dawson's and Mead's home as officers arrived and secured Dawson. In a video that was shown to the jury, Dawson can be heard saying, unprompted: "Oh, she's dead"; "I stabbed her"; "I got tired of getting threatened by her for the last few years"; "No, she'd dead now"; "Fucking bitch ain't threatening me no more"; and "Her psychologist can't save her from this one."

         The police officers found Mead lying on the kitchen floor with a knife protruding from her chest; Mead died en route to the hospital. The medical examiner's report indicates Mead suffered multiple blunt trauma injuries, multiple stab wounds, and died as a result of a stab wound to the chest. Dawson was only noted to have one injury-a chunk of skin missing from one knuckle.

         After the State rested, Dawson moved for judgment of acquittal regarding the charge of domestic abuse assault, third offense, as his first conviction for domestic abuse assault was too old to qualify as a previous offense. The court granted the State's motion to proceed with the charge of domestic abuse assault, second offense.

         The jury returned verdicts finding Dawson guilty of the lesser-included offenses of murder in the second degree and assault with intent to inflict serious injury, which the district court determined merged. Dawson was sentenced to a term of incarceration not to exceed fifty years for the murder conviction. The jury also found Dawson guilty of domestic abuse assault, and Dawson stipulated to his previous qualifying conviction; he was sentenced to an additional two-year term and ordered to serve the sentences consecutively.

         Dawson filed a direct appeal of his conviction, alleging he received ineffective assistance from trial counsel in a number of ways. The supreme court transferred the appeal to us, and a panel of our court affirmed Dawson's convictions, ruling, "Dawson's ineffective assistance of counsel claims fail because he cannot establish the requisite prejudice. The evidence against Dawson is fairly characterized as overwhelming." State v. Dawson, No. 06-0390, 2007 WL 1202384, at *3 (Iowa Ct. App. Apr. 25, 2007).

         Dawson filed his first application for PCR in 2007 and amended his application five times before it came on for hearing in August 2017. The PCR court denied the application in its entirety.

         Dawson appeals.

         II. Standard of Review.

         We generally review an appeal from a denial of a PCR application for correction of errors at law. Goode v. State, 920 N.W.2d 520, 523 (Iowa 2018). However, when the applicant claims ineffective assistance, because such are constitutional in nature, our review is de novo. Ledezma v. State, 626 N.W.2d 134, 141 (Iowa 2001).

         III. Discussion.

         Dawson raises seventeen unique claims on appeal. He purports to raise each claim under the ineffective-assistance framework. In order to succeed on a claim of ineffective assistance, Dawson has the burden to prove "(1) counsel failed to perform an essential duty, and (2) prejudice resulted." State v. Clay, 824 N.W.2d 488, 495 (Iowa 2012); see also Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 687 (1984). Both elements must be proved by a preponderance of the evidence. Ledezma, 626 N.W.2d at 142. However, we need not consider each element, as Dawson's inability to prove either element is fatal. See id.

         1. Prosecutorial Misconduct. Dawson maintains his trial counsel was ineffective for failing to object to instances of prosecutorial error during closing arguments in his trial. He argues the error was so significant as to deprive him of his right to a fair trial and asks that we remand for new trial. See State v. Graves, 668 N.W.2d 860, 869 (Iowa 2003) (providing a new trial is the proper remedy for prosecutorial error that results in the denial of a fair trial).

         Dawson lists several statements by the prosecutor that Dawson believes constitute error. He generally sorts them into two categories: statements questioning Dawson's ...


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