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State v. Sykes

Court of Appeals of Iowa

October 23, 2019

STATE OF IOWA, Plaintiff-Appellee,
MICHAEL JAMES SYKES, Defendant-Appellant.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Scott County, Cheryl Traum (motion in limine) and Christine Dalton (trial), District Associate Judges.

         Michael Sykes appeals his conviction of assault causing bodily injury.

          John O. Moeller, Davenport, for appellant.

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

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

          MULLINS, JUDGE.

         Michael Sykes was charged by trial information with child endangerment and domestic abuse assault causing bodily injury. The minutes of evidence and attachments alleged Sykes assaulted his girlfriend, K.M., in a hotel room while she was holding the couple's nine-month-old child. Sykes's brother discovered K.M. and called 911. Officer Matthew Stombaugh responded to the scene, and K.M. made statements to him implicating Sykes, which were apparently captured by Stombaugh's squad car recording system. Prior to trial, Sykes filed a motion in limine requesting that the court prohibit the presentation of evidence concerning the caller's statements during the 911 call and K.M.'s statements to Stombaugh; Sykes argued the presentation of such evidence would violate his Sixth Amendment right of confrontation.[1] At a subsequent hearing, Sykes also noted there might "also be a hearsay issue" but did not make any specific argument, instead taking the position that the confrontation argument "resolves the issue about the 911 tape." The arguments at the hearing were limited to the 911 recording, as the parties agreed the State would not attempt to admit the recording from Stombaugh's squad car at trial. The court ultimately ruled that the statements made in the 911 audio recording were nontestimonial in nature and were therefore not barred by the Sixth Amendment.

         The matter proceeded to a bench trial. The State called the dispatcher who received the 911 call as a witness and offered a recording of the call as an exhibit. Sykes objected on confrontation and hearsay grounds. The State stood by its earlier arguments as to confrontation. As to hearsay, the State argued the evidence fell within several exceptions to the rule against hearsay. The court conditionally admitted the recording, subject to its subsequent review of its contents.

         The State also called Stombaugh as a witness. He testified that, upon his arrival at the hotel, he scanned the parking lot for a suspect, then proceeded to the room in which K.M. was located. When he entered, he could smell blood and alcohol, and he observed "blood pretty much all over the place in th[e] room"; some of the blood was fresh and some of it was dried. K.M. was very emotional, and Stombaugh observed her face to be extremely swollen, she had fresh cuts, and blood was still dripping from a cut on her forehead. Sykes objected to Stombaugh testifying as to any statements K.M. made to him on confrontation and hearsay grounds. As to hearsay, the court ruled K.M.'s statements to Stombaugh amounted to present-sense impressions and excited utterances and, therefore, were not prohibited by the rule against hearsay. The court did not rule on the confrontation objection. Stombaugh then testified K.M. advised him "her boyfriend, Michael Sykes, beat her up." On cross-examination, Stombaugh admitted the purpose of his questioning of K.M. was for "making a report and later prosecution." Thereafter, defense counsel renewed his objection to Stombaugh's testimony on confrontation grounds. The court overruled the objection, noting the questioning had several purposes, including "determining safety of other people and himself and herself."

         Following the presentation of the State's evidence, Sykes moved for judgment of acquittal. The court reserved ruling pending its review of the 911 audio recording. In its subsequent written order, the court implicitly ruled the 911 audio recording was admissible. The court granted Sykes's motion for judgment of acquittal as to the child-endangerment charge but found Sykes guilty of the lesser-included offense of assault causing bodily injury on count two. Following the imposition of sentence, Sykes appealed.

         On appeal, Sykes argues the court erred in its rulings on his confrontation and hearsay challenges to the admissibility of the audio recording and Stombaugh's testimony concerning K.M.'s statements. Sykes also challenges the sufficiency of the evidence supporting his conviction.

         We begin with the argument concerning Sykes's Sixth Amendment right of confrontation as to the 911 call. We review claims of a confrontation violation de novo. State v. Kennedy, 846 N.W.2d 517, 520 (Iowa 2014). "The Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution guarantees that, 'in all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right . . . to be confronted with the witnesses against him.'" State v. Schaer, 757 N.W.2d 630, 635 (Iowa 2008) (ellipsis in original) (quoting U.S. Const. amend. IV). "[O]nly 'testimonial statements' of the sort that 'cause the declarant to be a "witness" within the meaning of the Confrontation Clause' are subject to the constraints of the constitutional provision." Id. (quoting Davis v. Washington, 547 U.S. 813, 822 (2006)). "If a hearsay statement made by a declarant who does not appear at trial is testimonial, evidence of that statement is not admissible under the Confrontation Clause unless the declarant is unavailable to testify at trial and the defendant had a prior opportunity for cross-examination." Id.

Statements are nontestimonial when made in the course of police interrogation under circumstances objectively indicating that the primary purpose of the interrogation is to enable police assistance to meet an ongoing emergency. They are testimonial when the circumstances objectively indicate that there is no such ongoing emergency, and that the primary purpose of the interrogation ...

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