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State v. Elphic

Court of Appeals of Iowa

June 19, 2019

STATE OF IOWA, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
JONATHAN JAMES ELPHIC, Defendant-Appellant.

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

         The defendant appeals from his conviction of forgery, a class "D" felony.

          Andrew C. Abbott of Abbott Law Office, P.C., Waterloo, for appellant. Jonathan Elphic, Fort Dodge, pro se.

          Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, and Martha E. Trout, Assistant Attorney General, for appellee.

          Heard by Potterfield, P.J., and Doyle and May, JJ.

          POTTERFIELD, Presiding Judge.

         Jonathan Elphic appeals from his conviction for forgery, a class "D" felony. Elphic maintains the district court violated his right to due process and abused its discretion when it allowed the State to reopen the record after the prosecutor indicated the State rested its case and Elphic moved for a judgment of acquittal based on insufficient evidence.[1] Elphic asserts his conviction should be vacated for insufficient evidence.

         I. Background Facts and Proceedings.

         Elphic was charged by trial information with one count of forgery. The trial information identified Ana Palma Sierra as the person whose checks Elphic allegedly presented to various stores to purchase items and obtain cash.

         Elphic entered a plea of not guilty, and a jury trial was scheduled to take place in February 2018.

         On January 29, the State filed an application for the appointment of a court interpreter, indicating an oral language interpreter was needed to interpret the testimony of its witness, Palma Sierra, at the upcoming trial on February 8. The next day, the court granted the application and appointed an interpreter for the proceedings.

         The jury trial took place on February 8. The State presented evidence that Officer Dave Kelley interacted with Elphic at the local police station on October 19, 2017, in an unrelated matter. As part of the interaction, Officer Kelley searched Elphic's pockets. When the officer did so, he found two checks in the name of Palma Sierra. The checks were blank other than the signature line, which contained "APS" signed on both. A few weeks later, Palma Sierra went to the police department and gave officers notifications of insufficient checks she had received from the corporate headquarters of Kwik Star, Casey's, and Dollar General. Using the notifications, Officer Kelley contacted the local stores at which the checks were presented to obtain any surveillance video that may exist involving the transactions.

         The State introduced into evidence and played for the jury three videos of transactions from the dates and times Palma Sierra's checks were presented; two of the three store clerks who accepted the checks identified Elphic as the person in the video presenting the check in question.

         After the testimony of the third store clerk, the court asked the prosecutor if he had another witness, and the prosecutor responded: "The States rests, Your Honor." The court then indicated it was taking a recess, and the jury left the courtroom. Elphic moved for a judgment of acquittal, arguing "the State did not present any evidence that Mr. Elphic did not have permission to use the checks of Ms. Ana Palma Sierra." When the court gave the prosecutor a chance to respond, he stated: "Your Honor, um, I subpoenaed a witness who is not here ...


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