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State v. Rivers

Court of Appeals of Iowa

May 15, 2019

STATE OF IOWA, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
ROBERT EARL RIVERS JR., Defendant-Appellant.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Webster County, Angela L. Doyle, District Associate Judge.

         Robert Rivers Jr. appeals his convictions of eluding and driving while barred.

          Amy Moore of Mid-Iowa Mediation and Law PLLC, Ames, until withdrawal, and then John Dirks of Dirks Law Firm, Ames, for appellant.

          Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, and Louis S. Sloven, Assistant Attorney General, for appellee.

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

          MULLINS, JUDGE.

         Robert Rivers Jr. appeals his convictions of eluding and driving while barred. He argues (1) the district court's denial of his Batson[1] challenge violated his right to equal protection under the federal constitution, (2) the use of peremptory strikes under Iowa Rule of Criminal Procedure 2.18 violates due process and the right to an impartial jury under the state and federal constitutions, (3) the State failed to provide sufficient evidence to support the charges and the court therefore erred in denying his motions for judgment of acquittal, [2] and (4) his counsel rendered ineffective assistance in failing to object to testimony and evidence derived from the forensic examination of a cellular phone.

         I. Background Facts and Proceedings

         Upon the evidence presented at trial, a rational jury could make the following factual findings. At approximately 2:00 a.m. on June 3, 2017, Officer Steck of the Fort Dodge Police Department was on routine patrol when he came into contact with a white Pontiac SUV. Steck is familiar with Rivers from previous encounters, and Steck identified Rivers as the driver of the Pontiac. Steck contacted Officer Burns concerning the status of Rivers's driver's license. Burns is also familiar with Rivers from "prior dealings." Burns was in the area, so he proceeded to the vicinity of Steck's location. Burns located the Pontiac and began following it, after which it pulled into the parking lot of a local bar. Steck also saw the Pontiac near the bar, and he again identified Rivers as the driver at the time. Rivers parked in the bar's parking lot. Burns verified through dispatch that Rivers's driver's license was barred. The officers situated themselves nearby and waited for Rivers to leave the bar. About five minutes later, both officers observed the Pontiac leave the bar. Both officers were able to again identify Rivers as the driver. Burns attempted to initiate a traffic stop, after which Rivers led Burns and Steck on a high-speed pursuit. Rivers eventually ran his vehicle into a house, but he was able to flee the scene on foot. Officers were not able to locate him in the area.

         Subsequent investigation revealed the Pontiac was registered to Rivers's sister, Dominick. Officers located a cellular phone on the driver's side floorboard of the Pontiac. A search warrant was obtained authorizing forensic analysis of the cell phone. A Cellebrite program was used to extract data from the phone, which revealed a google email account was associated with the phone. In response to a subpoena, Google identified Rivers as the owner of the account. The phone number of the phone was also identified. Rivers provided the same phone number as his contact information to his community treatment coordinator with the department of correctional services. The phone's text messages were also extracted. One message received by the phone less than a day before the pursuit was addressed to "Rob." Dominick, testified on behalf of the defense that the phone found in the vehicle belonged to her son. On cross-examination, she conceded none of her children go by the name of Rob.

         A representative of the department of transportation (DOT) testified Rivers's driver's license was barred on the date in question. When asked on cross-examination if she could provide records showing Rivers was mailed a notice concerning the barred status of his drivers' license, the representative responded in the affirmative and provided defense counsel with the certified barment and proof of mailing.[3]

         Rivers was charged by trial information with aggravated eluding and driving while barred in connection with the foregoing events. A trial was held in December 2017. During jury selection, defense counsel lodged a Batson challenge as to the State's striking of a juror, the only African American seated on the jury panel, and additionally argued "discretionary strikes . . . are unconstitutional" under the state and federal constitutions. The court overruled both objections. The court also overruled Rivers's motions for judgment of acquittal made during trial. A jury ultimately found Rivers guilty as charged.

         Rivers filed a combined motion for new trial or in arrest of judgment arguing (1) the verdict was contrary to the weight of the evidence, (2) the court erred in denying his motions for judgment of acquittal, (3) the court erred in overruling his Batson challenge, and (4) the use of peremptory challenges violated his rights to a fair trial and due process. The court denied the motion. Rivers appealed following the imposition of sentence.

         II. Batson Challenge and ...


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