As mentioned in last month’s article, I was appointed to the legislative committee of the Iowa County Attorney’s Association. On the 26th of this month I attended an all-day meeting of this committee in Des Moines. The purpose of the meeting was to identify loopholes or flaws in Iowa’s criminal laws and to prioritize to more successfully lobby members of our legislature with specific fixes. I am pleased to report that 4 or 5 of the suggested fixes would fall under the heading “keeping Iowa safe from sexual predators and abusers.” For just one example, some prosecutors identified that people on the sex offender registry for life in some other states are moving to Iowa to take advantage of a difference in categorization between the states in order to be removed from the lifetime registry. Legislation that mandates that Iowa give full faith and credit to the registry determinations made in other states is the recommended fix.
As pleased as I was with the committee’s work, I was surprised and disappointed that the committee declined to pursue a fix of Iowa’s law on obstruction of justice that was suggested by a sharp prosecutor from Linn County. As the law is now written, it criminalizes the destruction of evidence that someone else has committed a crime but, curiously, the law does not apply to intentional destruction of evidence of one’s own crime. To support Linn County’s fix, I was able to cite a case last year in Murray where the execution of a search warrant found a Defendant in the act of flushing a significant amount of drugs down the toilet. While the Defendant in that case faced drug charges for the drugs that did not get flushed, he could not be charged with obstruction of justice for flushing (some of) the drugs. Unfortunately, after making bail in Clarke County, this same Defendant burned a trailer home in Murray and shot a law enforcement officer in another Iowa County. In any case, the suggestion to change Iowa’s obstruction law by criminalizing the destruction of evidence of one’s own crime was successfully opposed by another County Attorney who formerly made his living as a defense attorney. He suggested that “we’ve all (prosecutors) had these cases where they are destroying the evidence but we just have to accept that criminals sometimes get the drop on us.” I was disappointed to hear that attitude from a prosecutor on a committee to improve Iowa’s criminal law but I recognize that, in the world we live in today, perspectives differ greatly.
Over last year, a number of shocking and interesting case anecdotes have emerged from the work of this office. For example, following an evening that allegedly involved the consumption methamphetamine and alcohol, a Clarke County man was caught on a home security camera brutally beating his host’s pet cat to death with a piece of lumber as he exiting through the host’s garage. The host was alerted to the sounds of the brutal and bloody cat killing and confronted the man with a baseball bat and beat him and his vehicle with the bat-- putting the man in the hospital and his parent’s car in the scrap yard. According to the host, the man initially refused to leave when confronted. The alleged cat killer recently pleaded “not guilty” to charges related to this incident. Before resolving the charges related to the cat killing, the man was arrested and charged with a violent assault on another man in a completely unrelated incident. As the charges are unresolved, the Defendant is presumed innocent of all charges.
A 28 year old Osceola man recently killed himself with a pistol shot to the head. An investigation suggested that the man was playing himself in “Russian roulette” with a single bullet in a revolver. Drugs were found in the deceased man’s residence. It remains unclear whether the man was depressed and suicidal or just being extremely reckless. The national suicide prevention hotline is 1-800-273-8255.
This office recently defeated an attempt to have drugs and drug paraphernalia found in a search warrant thrown out through what is called a suppression motion and hearing. The case involved a local woman that had reportedly called on police to check the inside of her house several times because she was apparently in a paranoid state and felt that people were breaking into her home through her smartphone and hiding from her throughout her house. The Judge of the suppression hearing ruled that a sooty glass pipe of the type used to smoke methamphetamine, which was left in plain view on the woman’s kitchen table, was sufficient probable cause for the police to go to a judge and obtain a search warrant. As the charges are unresolved, the woman is presumed innocent.
In terms of August’s workload, 10 Felony cases came in and 10 were disposed. Felony cases are the most serious of criminal cases. The number of pending Felony remains steady at 86.
Indictable Misdemeanors are Misdemeanor crimes that are punishable by more than a year but no more than two years of incarceration. Misdemeanor crimes are categorized as Aggravated, Serious, and Simple. Aggravated Misdemeanors are the most serious misdemeanors and can be punished by up to two years in prison. Serious Misdemeanor crimes are punishable by up to one year in the County Jail. Simple Misdemeanor crimes are punishable by up to 30 days in the county jail. As you can imagine, fines increase with the severity of the crime.
In August, 17 Indictable Misdemeanors came in 19 were disposed. The State’s case tracking system reflects that the pending number is down from 199 to 197.
In August, 253 Simple Misdemeanors came in and 165 were disposed. Though we resolved significantly more Simple Misdemeanors than last month a lot more came in this month and the State’s case tracking system reflects that the total number of pending Simple Misdemeanors is now up from 429 to 519. Clarke’s Judicial Magistrate, the judicial officer that handles all Simple Misdemeanors has announced her resignation and it is my understanding the Judiciary is working to cover and refill the position. Clarke County’s Clerk of Court and Clarke County’s Juvenile Court Officer have also announced their respective
resignations. Jury trials are set to resume on September 14th with extra health precautions. The temporary cessation of jury trials due to COVID has created a significant and challenging backlog. We now have jury trials scheduled every week for the rest of the year and beyond.
In August, the Clarke County Attorney’s Office Juvenile case load included no new Child in Need of Assistance (CINA) cases with 3 (CINA & other) cases disposed. The State’s case tracking system reflects 97 total pending Juvenile cases. Of the total Juvenile cases, 1 Juvenile Delinquency matter was disposed. The State’s case tracking system rests at 11 total pending Juvenile Delinquency cases.