from the Iowa District Court for Story County, Timothy J.
applicant for postconviction relief appeals the order
dismissing the action as a discovery sanction.
Christopher A. Clausen of Clausen Law Office, Ames, for
J. Miller, Attorney General, and Kyle Hanson, Assistant
Attorney General, for appellee State.
Considered by Vaitheswaran, P.J., and Doyle and Bower, JJ.
Spellman appeals the dismissal of his postconviction-relief
(PCR) action. He contends the district court abused its
discretion in dismissing the action as a discovery sanction.
Because we find the sanction of dismissal was an abuse of
discretion under the facts before us, we reverse and
remand for further proceedings.
Background Facts and Proceedings.
State charged Spellman with two counts of first-degree murder
in December 2008. Following trial, a jury found Spellman
guilty as charged. Spellman appealed his convictions, which
this court affirmed. See State v. Spellman, No.
13-1670, 2015 WL 799538, at *1 (Iowa Ct. App. Feb. 25, 2015).
December 2015, Spellman filed a PCR application without the
aid of counsel. In it, he made several general allegations.
To sum up, he alleged his trial counsel was ineffective in
failing to investigate his case adequately or hire expert
witnesses; the evidence and testimony against him was false
or tainted; and "denial of right to a fair trial."
The PCR court appointed counsel to represent Spellman. For
various reasons, four attorneys sequentially represented
Spellman in the PCR proceedings.
August 2016, the State sent Spellman interrogatories and
requests for production of documents. Spellman failed to
respond. In January 2018, with the PCR trial only weeks away,
the State moved the court to compel Spellman's response
and to continue the trial. The PCR court granted the
State's motions and ordered Spellman to respond to
discovery by March 1.
submitted his discovery responses on February 27. He stated
he had no documents in his possession to support his claims
but would supplement his answers when his claims were
"better defined through discovery."
March 19, the State moved for discovery sanctions, asking the
court to dismiss the PCR action. It argued that the PCR
claims were too broad and vague and Spellman "refused to
define these issues by providing overly broad and vague
answers to Interrogatories."
moved to amend his PCR application on March 24. The stated
purpose of the amendment was "to clarify and narrow the
issues to be presented at the trial in this matter." The
amended application alleged that Spellman's trial counsel
rendered ineffective assistance by failing to: (1) hire a
forensic expert to review the physical evidence and show that
Spellman did not create certain footprints found at the crime
scene, (2) investigate the victim's injuries and hire a
forensic pathologist to refute the cause of the head
injuries, (3) cross-examine witnesses about the victim's