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State v. Ancell

Court of Appeals of Iowa

June 5, 2019

STATE OF IOWA, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
JOHN MICHAEL ANCELL, Defendant-Appellant.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Bremer County, Peter B. Newell, District Associate Judge.

         John Ancell appeals his convictions of domestic abuse assault causing bodily injury and possession of marijuana.

          Mark C. Smith, State Appellate Defender (until withdrawal), and Brenda J. Gohr, Assistant Appellate Defender, for appellant.

          Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, and Tyler J. Buller, Assistant Attorney General, for appellee.

          Considered by Vogel, C.J., and Mullins and Bower, JJ.

          MULLINS, JUDGE.

         John Ancell appeals his convictions, following a jury trial, of domestic abuse assault causing bodily injury[1] and possession of marijuana. Ancell asserts the court erred in not granting him a new trial based upon the State's late disclosure of evidence, arguing that the late disclosure resulted in a violation of his rights to due process and a fair trial. Ancell also challenges the sufficiency of the evidence supporting the jury's verdicts.

         I. Background Facts and Proceedings

         Upon the evidence presented at trial, a rational jury could make the following factual findings. Ancell and K.E. met in 1997. At the time, K.E. lived in Cedar Falls and Ancell lived in Minnesota. They initiated a friendship but they drifted apart by the end of that year. K.E. messaged Ancell through social media in late 2008 or early 2009, and they resumed their friendship. At that time, K.E. had moved to Waverly and Ancell continued to have an apartment in Minnesota. Ancell also stayed with his parents at their farm in Oskaloosa. The relationship between Ancell and K.E. progressed to a romantic one. They began dating later in 2009.

         For a majority of the relationship, K.E. and Ancell did not live in the same location. In mid-2016, K.E. purchased a home in Waverly. In August, Ancell began staying at the house. The time Ancell spent at K.E.'s house varied. He was a musician in a band and travelled to Des Moines at least once per week for practice. He would stay with friends in the Des Moines area during practice; otherwise, he spent a majority of the week at K.E.'s house. They spent time together, and while Ancell and K.E. did not always share a bed, the relationship was a sexual one. Ancell had a key to the house and was free to come and go as he pleased. He also kept clothing and personal items at the house. Ancell did not pay rent or utilities but made home improvements and repairs.

         On the evening of May 19, 2017, Waverly police officers responded to a possible domestic dispute at K.E.'s house. When officers arrived, they heard raised voices from inside the residence. The officers made contact with both Ancell and K.E., speaking with them separately. K.E. told officers that she and Ancell had argued in the house and he prevented her from going downstairs. Ancell also poked her forcefully in the chest. After she started screaming, he grabbed her face by her mouth in order to quiet her. At some point, Ancell pushed K.E. down. While K.E. was on the floor, crying and screaming, Ancell sat or leaned on top of her with his knees on her chest. K.E. made the excuse of needing to use the restroom, at which point Ancell permitted her to do so. Once in the restroom, K.E. texted a friend, who then called the police. Officers noted marks on K.E.'s shoulder and jaw and observed her chest was red. Photographs were taken of K.E.'s neck, face, and upper-chest area.

         Ancell told police that the argument was completely verbal and never escalated into a physical one. Both Ancell and K.E. described their relationship as a boyfriend-girlfriend one that had lasted about eight years. Ancell gave police a Minnesota driver's license but told them he was "pretty much living" at K.E.'s house.

         Police arrested Ancell for domestic abuse assault and transported him to the Bremer County Law Enforcement Center. Before transport, a male officer patted Ancell down before putting him into the police car. When booked, Ancell gave K.E.'s address as his home address. At the jail's booking area, the arresting officer searched Ancell's belongings for a house key and debit card K.E. had asked to have returned. Ancell was present and his belongings were in a tote on the counter of the booking area. The officer asked Ancell which key was K.E.'s, and Ancell pointed out the correct one. The officer removed K.E.'s key from Ancell's key ring and then located and opened Ancell's money clip in order to find the debit card. Ancell again verified the officer had the correct card. Once the officer found the card, she placed all of the contents back into the clip and returned the clip to the tote with Ancell's belongings.

         After verifying Ancell wished to speak without an attorney present, the officer interviewed Ancell. During the interview, Ancell offered adamant denials of hurting K.E. in specific ways without the officer asking him about specifics. When the officer did ask questions pertaining to K.E.'s particular accusations, such as preventing her from leaving or grabbing her face, Ancell answered that he did not know, could not recall, or was not sure. At the conclusion of the interview, the officer left Ancell with a blank form to fill out if he wished to provide a voluntary statement.

         During an inventory search by jail personnel, a small, clear baggie with a substance was found in Ancell's money clip. Jail personnel opened the baggie and, based on its odor, believed it to be marijuana.[2] The arresting officer returned to the booking area and spoke with Ancell. Ancell recognized the baggie and acknowledged that he knew it was marijuana and was in his property. He told the officer that he had found the baggie and intended to throw it away. Ancell was subsequently arrested for possession.

         Ancell was charged by trial information with one count of domestic abuse assault causing bodily injury and one count of possession of a controlled substance-marijuana. In August, the court granted Ancell's motion to produce, which asked for, among other things, "statements of the Defendant," including any written statements in the possession of the State; "all written or recorded statements, signed or unsigned confessions"; and "[a]ll materials known to the State, or which may become known, . . . which is exculpatory in nature or favorable to [Ancell]."

         The case proceeded to trial in March 2018. K.E. testified to the romantic nature of her relationship with Ancell, with Ancell spending most of his time at her house, though not on a consistent schedule. She also testified about the incident between herself and Ancell. She testified that it began as a verbal argument that escalated to a physical altercation, during which Ancell pushed her, grabbed her face to make her look at him, poked her, threatened to break her phone, raised his hand as if to hit her, prevented her from leaving, and pushed her down onto the floor. While sitting on the floor, Ancell put his hand over her mouth to stop her from crying and screaming. Ancell also pushed K.E. down to a supine position on the floor and kneeled ...


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