from the Iowa District Court for Hardin County, Kurt J.
Stephens appeals his conviction of leaving the scene of an
accident resulting in death.
R. Johnson of Brinton, Bordwell & Johnson, Clarion, for
J. Miller, Attorney General, and Louis S. Sloven, Assistant
Attorney General, for appellee.
Considered by Vogel, C.J., Bower, J., and Scott, S.J.
found Nikolas Stephens guilty of leaving the scene of an
accident resulting in death stemming from an incident in
which Stephens collided with a pedestrian on a dark highway
in the late-evening hours of September 12, 2015, while
traveling in the neighborhood of sixty miles per hour.
Stephens appeals his conviction, contending: (1) the court
abused its discretion in excluding evidence the pedestrian
victim was impaired by drugs or alcohol at the time of the
collision, (2) the court erred in declining to provide
instructions to the jury concerning the victim's
negligence, and (3) the court abused its discretion in
admitting the content of a text message as evidence because
it was irrelevant and prejudicial. We consider his arguments in
to trial, the State filed a motion in limine requesting any
evidence concerning the alleged use of alcohol or drugs on
the part of the victim on the evening in question to be
excluded as irrelevant. Stephens filed a resistance, arguing
the victim's intoxication "made it more likely that
Stephens did not see him"
because the victim may have been stumbling or otherwise
ambulating in an intoxicated fashion on the roadway. The
court heard the motion the morning of trial. The State
generally argued the victim's impairment had no bearing
on whether Stephens committed the elementary acts of the
crime. Stephens argued "the sobriety or intoxication of
the pedestrian makes" it more probable that he
"literally walked right in front of a moving
vehicle." The court granted the State's motion in
limine. Stephens made two offers of proof during trial
relative to evidence concerning the victim's
intoxication, but the court declined to modify its ruling.
Following the jury's guilty verdict, Stephens raised the
issue in a motion for a new trial, arguing evidence of the
victim's intoxication was relevant and exclusion of the
same violated his right to a fair trial. The court overruled
echoes his relevancy claims on appeal. We review district
court rulings on relevance of evidence for an abuse of
discretion, our most deferential standard of review.
State v. Tipton, 897 N.W.2d 653, 691 (Iowa 2017);
see State v. Roby, 897 N.W.2d 127, 137 (Iowa 2017).
An abuse of discretion occurs when the court exercises its
discretion on grounds or for reasons clearly untenable or to
an extent clearly unreasonable. Tipton, 897 N.W.2d
at 691. Relevant evidence is generally admissible. Iowa R.
Evid. 5.402. Evidence is relevant if (1) "[i]t has any
tendency to make a fact more or less probable than it would
be without the evidence" and (2) "[t]he fact is of
consequence in determining the action." Iowa R. Evid.
jury was instructed the State was required to prove as an
element of the crime that Stephens, at the time of the
accident, "knew the accident resulted in injury or death
to another person" or "knew the accident was of
such a nature that a reasonable person would anticipate that
injury or death had occurred to another person."
Stephens essentially argues the alleged fact that the victim
was impaired was relevant to whether Stephens saw him and
knew or had reason to know he hit a person. However, as the
State points out, Stephens "is unable to explain how
[the victim's] level of intoxication could have made him
easier [or] harder to recognize as a human." The video
footage of the collision shows the victim to be walking
upright in the roadway in the seconds before the collision.
Upon the evidence presented at trial, we see no relevance of
the victim's intoxication on the issue of whether
Stephens knew or had reason to anticipate the accident
resulted in death or injury to another. We therefore affirm
the district court on this point.
event, rulings excluding evidence only require reversal
"if the error affects a substantial right of the
party." Iowa R. Evid. 5.103(a).
To determine whether a substantial right of a party has been
affected when a nonconstitutional error occurs, we employ
harmless error analysis and ask: "Does it sufficiently
appear that the rights of the complaining party have been
injuriously affected by the ...