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State v. Juste

Court of Appeals of Iowa

December 18, 2019

STATE OF IOWA, Plaintiff-Appellee,
WILDOR JUSTE, Defendant-Appellant.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Black Hawk County, George L. Stigler, Judge.

         Wildor Juste appeals his conviction of second-degree sexual abuse.

          James S. Nelsen, West Des Moines, for appellant.

          Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, and Zachary Miller, Assistant Attorney General, for appellee.

          Heard by Doyle, P.J., and Tabor and Mullins, JJ.

          MULLINS, JUDGE.

         Wildor Juste appeals his conviction of second-degree sexual abuse. Juste argues the district court erred in (1) admitting testimony alleged to have improperly vouched for the complaining witness, (2) admitting hearsay statements alleged to bolster out-of-court statements made by the complaining witness, (3) submitting a jury instruction naming a date range in which the alleged abuse took place, (4) denying access to department of human services (DHS) records relied upon by testifying witnesses, and (5) admitting an exhibit and related testimony over hearsay objections.

         I. Background Facts and Proceedings

         In January 2015, Juste resided with his paramour, P.L., and her child, who made allegations of sexual abuse at the hands of Juste.[1] The child alleged the sexual abuse took place on more than one occasion while the child lived with the couple in Iowa and previously in North Carolina. The allegations arose following a "take charge of your body" presentation at the child's school when a survey conducted by the presenter and answered by the child was turned over to the school. The survey indicated the child had been touched inappropriately and, in a comment, the child wrote "my dad."[2] A school guidance counselor interviewed the child regarding the survey answers, at which time the child identified Juste as the man described as "my dad" on the survey. The guidance counselor reported the allegations to DHS. The child was subjected to a forensic interview and physical examination. During the interview, the child made allegations of sexual abuse including both digital and genital penetration. The physical examination included the collection of specimens for possible DNA testing. After further investigation, charges were filed against Juste in May 2016 for sexual abuse in the second degree in violation of Iowa Code section 709.3 (2015).

         Juste filed four motions in limine in February 2018. The first motion sought to exclude the sexual-assault kit, an information form contained therein, all notes and testimony stemming from the kit created during the child's physical examination, and buccal swabs provided by the defendant and presented through an employee of the State crime lab. The second motion in limine sought to exclude testimony regarding certain prior statements made by the child to various DHS and school personnel. The third motion sought to exclude testimony related to any allegations stemming from conduct that occurred in North Carolina. The fourth motion sought to exclude testimony regarding Juste's discussions related to a polygraph examination and the interview itself. Hearing on the motions took place in July.[3] All four motions were denied.[4]

         The case proceeded to trial in August. During trial, a number of witnesses, including the child, testified. During the child's testimony, the State moved to admit the child's survey into evidence. Juste objected, arguing the exhibit was hearsay. The court admitted the evidence over the objection. Juste also objected when the child was asked if the child told the truth and argued the answer would bolster the child's testimony. The court overruled the objection.

         The guidance counselor from the child's school testified regarding the child's survey and discussions with the child following her receipt of the survey answers. Juste objected, arguing the counselor's testimony on how the child answered survey questions was hearsay and any motive the child had to fabricate the allegations arose prior to the initial disclosure of the abuse. Juste also argued the statements constituted improper vouching supporting the child's credibility. The district court overruled the objection and admitted the statements to explain the counselor's conduct in reaction to the statements and respond to the recent-fabrication allegation. However, the court cautioned the attorneys to carefully tailor the in camera examination to avoid vouching.

         A nurse practitioner conducted the physical examination of the child. She testified to a number of statements the child made to her during the examination. Juste raised a standing hearsay objection on that subject matter and whether the statements were admitted as statements made for medical diagnosis. When asked about her examination of the child's genitals, the nurse stated the results were "normal" and "for children who have or anyone actually for sexual abuse many times 95[%] or higher the results are normal as far as when we look at the genitalia." Juste objected. Argument took place outside the presence of the jury, during which Juste's counsel eventually stated, "I think the jury has been poisoned by this testimony and I would prefer a mistrial." Juste argued the nurse's statement suggested "there is a 95[%] likelihood that she was assaulted and then didn't show any injuries." The district court responded the inference came only from defense counsel and is not what the nurse said in testimony. The State explained the comment was that generally 95% of people who report sexual assault have a normal physical exam showing no injuries. The court overruled the objection to the testimony, and Juste was told he would be able to pursue the issue on cross-examination.

         On cross-examination, Juste questioned the nurse about her foundation for the statement. Argument again took place outside the presence of the jury, and Juste alleged there was no discovery related to the research the nurse relied on to make the statement. The court stated the nurse was an expert by the very nature of her qualifications as a nurse practitioner and her presence on the witness list put Juste on notice of that fact. Juste argued a production order required the State to produce any materials related to discovery. The State relied on the filed minutes of evidence and the nurse's deposition, in which she was asked about studies which were filed. The State argued there was no motion to produce filed for the reports or research and the State did not have any. The court stated:

In this instance this is apparently how people who practice in this field conduct business. They read the reports of others. They rely upon their own bases of knowledge and then they reach conclusions as to what is probable, what is not probable, and assign in certain instances percentages of probability. You have every right to cross examine. And you have every right to place before the jury any questions that you have as to disagreement with her opinion. Now, does the State owe you an obligation to produce what it does not have? No, it does not. The State has indicated it did not have the witness's expert opinion on it. And if you deposed her and you did not fully explore what you could have explored, again, that is not the State's fault. So she has complied fully with the rules and again the 95[%] figure you apparently do take serious issue with. You can bring in an expert to say that the 95[%] figure is wrong. You're entitled to do that. But all you're doing is quibbling over her opinion. It doesn't stop the opinion from coming in.

         Yvon Similca, a friend and colleague of Juste, testified to his knowledge of Juste in North Carolina and Iowa. Similca and Juste worked together in North Carolina and in Iowa. Similca also testified that he, his wife, and his child lived with Juste, P.L., and her child at the time some of the alleged abuse took place in Iowa. Similca testified he and Juste had similar work schedules and traveled in the same vehicle, along with Similca's wife, to and from work. During cross-examination, the State attempted to admit personnel records from the employer to which Similca's wife listed an address different from the address Similca alleged to share with Juste. Juste objected, arguing the document was an improper record for impeachment and was hearsay. The district court admitted the records for impeachment purposes only. Later, the State called one of the employer's supervisors to testify to the employer's development and maintenance of the records contained in the exhibit. Juste objected again. The objection was overruled, and the evidence was admitted.

         A social worker with DHS was called to testify to her work with the child in the child-in-need-of-assistance (CINA) proceeding stemming from the alleged abuse. Juste objected to her testimony, arguing any reports created by the worker as a product of her interaction with the child should be produced in order to properly cross-examine the witness. The social worker indicated her submissions were a part of the CINA matter. The district court noted the late timing of the request for documents and recommended Juste attempt to secure any necessary records from P.L., who was a party to the CINA proceeding. Juste reminded the district court the social worker was called as a rebuttal witness and was not listed as a witness either party expected to call in pre-trial filings. The district court continued to allow the testimony.

         During trial, the State moved to amend the trial information, which alleged the abuse occurred in January 2015, to allege the abuse occurred from September 2014 to January 2015. The State argued the testimony provided at trial supported the extended time period and that no new offense was being charged. The district court denied the motion, finding January 2015 was not a critical date but served to "place[] Mr. Juste on notice that this is the time frame that he is alleged to have committed this crime." The district court stated it intended to give a jury instruction indicating a January 2015 charge date but that the date was not critical. Juste moved for judgment of acquittal after the district court denied the State's motion to amend the trial information based on discrepancies in the timing of the abuse between different testifying witnesses. The district court denied the motion, again stating the January 2015 charge date was not conclusive.

         When the parties submitted jury instructions to the district court Juste objected to instruction twenty-four, which provided:

The State alleges this event occurred in January 2015. This is just a date to place a defendant on notice of the date a crime is alleged. It is not critical to whether a crime did occur.
If you find a crime did occur, it is not legally significant whether the event occurred in January 2015, December 2014, or any other date in proximity to January 2015.

Juste again insisted alleged instances of abuse prior to January 2015 and those that took place in North Carolina were separate offenses requiring separate charges. Juste requested any language referencing those alleged instances to be removed from the instruction. The district court denied the motion, finding the language of instruction twenty-four was an accurate statement of the law, putting Juste on notice of the general time frame in which the alleged events took place.

         The jury found Juste guilty of sexual abuse in the second degree in violation of Iowa Code section 709.3. Following entry of the verdict, Juste filed post-trial motions in arrest of judgment, for judgment of acquittal, and for a new trial. Juste argued insufficient evidence supported the verdict, specifically that acts alleged prior to January 2015 were outside of the acts alleged in the trial information, jury instruction twenty-four was improper, physical evidence from lab tests was improperly admitted over Juste's motion in limine, the nurse's testimony amounted to improper vouching for the child's credibility, the admitted employment records were hearsay and should have been excluded, and allegations stemming from conduct that took place in North Carolina admitted as character evidence should have been excluded. Juste argued the cumulative effect of the aforementioned issues resulted in a violation of his due process rights and required a new trial. Following a response from the State, the district court heard arguments on the motions at the sentencing hearing. Juste raised the same arguments made in his post-trial motions. The court found sufficient evidence supported the jury's verdict, and all motions were denied. Juste appeals.

         II. ...

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