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Lane v. State

Court of Appeals of Iowa

December 18, 2019

BENJAMIN ELLIOTT LANE, Applicant-Appellant,
STATE OF IOWA, Respondent-Appellee.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Black Hawk County, Bradley J. Harris, Judge.

         An inmate appeals the denial of his application for postconviction relief.

          Benjamin D. Bergmann and Gina Messamer of Parrish Kruidenier Dunn Boles Gribble Gentry Brown & Bergmann L.L.P., Des Moines, for appellant.

          Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, and Genevieve Reinkoester, Assistant Attorney General, for appellee State.

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


         Benjamin Lane is serving an indeterminate fifty-year prison sentence on his convictions for sexual abuse in the second degree and burglary in the first degree. On direct appeal, we upheld the district court's denial of Lane's motion to suppress and found sufficient evidence for his convictions. Now, in his push for postconviction relief (PCR), Lane contends his trial counsel was remiss in numerous ways. On de novo review, we find Lane received competent representation in his criminal case and affirm the PCR court's denial of relief. We also reject his claim of an illegal sentence.

         I. Facts and Prior Proceedings

         In September 2013, a man wearing a ski mask and dark clothing opened the door to nineteen-year-old J.C.'s bedroom in the early morning hours. The intruder displayed a knife and warned, "If you scream, I'll kill you." He covered her mouth with duct tape. The intruder then brutalized and sexually assaulted J.C.

         After the intruder left, J.C. peeked out her window and saw the taillights of a Ford Mustang. J.C. suspected the driver was Lane because he was in her apartment earlier in the evening playing video games with one of her roommates. J.C. also remembered Lane had parked that model of car on the street when he was visiting. J.C. also suspected Lane was the intruder based on his heavy-set build. J.C. asked one of her roommates to call 911. When the police arrived, J.C. placed Lane in the spotlight as the prime suspect. Police also learned Lane once lived at the same apartment, before J.C. moved in, and may have retained a key.

         The investigating officer noted J.C. was bleeding from the sexual assault. An ambulance took J.C. to the hospital where she required surgery to repair vaginal lacerations.

         Meanwhile, officers went to the house where twenty-one-year-old Lane lived with his parents. They found a "still warm" Ford Mustang parked outside. After knocking at the door at 5:30 a.m., the officers explained their investigation and asked Lane if he would come to the Cedar Falls police station to answer some questions. Lane's mother drove him to the station in her car.

         When Lane arrived at the station, Investigator Gavin Carman instructed his mother to wait in the lobby while they interviewed him. She said: "Well, then I'll send an attorney." The officer said Lane did not need an attorney because he was just giving a statement. Turning to Lane, the officer said: "You don't want an attorney, do you, Ben?" Lane responded, "Mom, I'm fine."

         Investigator Carman took Lane to an interview room, placing him closest to the door. Lieutenant Brooke Krantz advised Lane he was free to leave. Lane retained possession of his cell phone throughout the interview. Those two officers, neither in uniform, questioned Lane about the sexual assault. Intially, Lane denied going to J.C.'s room after he had left the house that night. Lane said he went to Taco Bell and then to his house.

         During the interview, officers saw dried blood on Lane's knee. Lane could not explain how the blood got there. The officer asked if he had suffered any injury, and Lane said no. The officer then asked for Lane's consent to a search of his person, including taking a sample of the dried blood. Lane consented.

         Lane also consented to a search of his vehicle but said he felt like he was being forced. Because the car was registered to Lane's mother, the officers obtained a search warrant. As they obtained the warrant, the officers told Lane he was no longer free to leave. An officer informed Lane of his Miranda rights and left him alone in the interview room.

         A few minutes later, Lane knocked on the door to catch the officer's attention. Lane asked to speak with his mother, but the officer informed him that she had left. Just a few seconds after the officer returned to his desk, Lane called him again. As soon as the officer opened the door, Lane blurted out: "I did it. I'm pleading guilty."

         After that spontaneous confession, Investigator Carman advised Lane to sit down and they would talk. The officer found Lane breathing heavily and in a state of distress, repeating he did not know why he did what he did. The officer asked follow-up questions to have Lane provide a sequence of events. Lane admitted keeping a key from when he was a tenant. Lane recounted the path he took to J.C.'s room. Lane explained what he did when he was in J.C.'s room. He also provided the exact locations of key evidence. The items included a knife, duct tape, pants, and socks. The officer took DNA swabs from Lane's hands, mouth, and knee. Testing confirmed J.C.'s blood was on the knife, the duct tape, Lane's pants, his sock, and his knee.

         The State charged Lane with burglary in the first degree, in violation of Iowa Code section 713.3 (2013), and sexual abuse in the second degree, in violation of section 709.3. A few months later, Lane moved to suppress his statements and related evidence, claiming (1) he was denied his rights under Iowa Code section 804.20 because police did not allow him to see his mother; (2) he did not knowingly and intelligently waive his Miranda rights; and (3) he did not knowingly, voluntarily, and intelligently consent to a search of his person.

         After a hearing, the district court denied the motion to suppress. The court found the police had not violated section 804.20. The court determined the officer properly gave Lane his Miranda warnings, and Lane understood and acknowledged those rights. The court additionally concluded Lane voluntarily consented to a search of his person. After losing his suppression motion, Lane waived his right to a jury trial. At the end of his bench trial, the district court found Lane guilty as charged. The court specifically found, "J.C.'s testimony was highly credible." Our court affirmed his convictions against claims the district court improperly denied ...

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