Iowa Supreme Court 2016-17 Preview: Will the Iowa Supreme Court reconsider its speedy-indictment rule?

By: Rox Laird on September 8th, 2016

Students and faculty at the University of Iowa will have the opportunity to witness oral arguments in an interesting appeal when the court convenes at the law school tomorrow.

The court in Iowa v. Deantay Darelle Williams is being asked by state prosecutors to reverse two lower court rulings as well as its own decision from 2010.

Williams was charged with kidnapping and sexual abuse involving two 15-year-old girls stemming from a police raid on a residence in Waterloo. Black Hawk County District Judge Bradley Harris dismissed the charges, however, because the county prosecutor did not bring the indictment against Williams until 16 months after Williams was initially held by police, exceeding the 45-day speedy indictment rule.

The Iowa Court of Appeals upheld the District Court in rulings that include two Williams co-defendants. (The co-defendants’ cases are on appeal as well, but the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments only in Williams’ case.)

The District Court and Court of Appeals rulings were based in part on a 2010 decision of the Iowa Supreme Court in State v. Wing, in which the court defined the meaning of “arrest” for purposes of the speedy indictment timeline.

The question in that case was whether a person is under arrest when physically detained or only when formally informed of a criminal charge. In Wing, the court said the test should be when a “reasonable person” believes he or she is under arrest:

When an arresting officer does not follow the protocol for arrest outlined in [state law] and does not provide any explicit statements indicating that he or she is or is not attempting to effect an arrest,” the court said, “we think the soundest approach is to determine whether a reasonable person in the defendant’s position would have believed an arrest occurred . . . .

In a brief filed with the court, Attorney General Tom Miller argues that ruling was a mistake and the court should reverse it now. The Iowa County Attorneys Association took the same position an amicus curiae (friend of the court) brief written by Muscatine County Attorney Alan Ostergren.

The Attorney General minced no words in criticizing the Wing decision:

The unfortunate result was a rule inconsistent with past Iowa precedent, inconsistent with rules of statutory interpretation, and divorced from the legal underpinnings of the speedy indictment rule previously recognized by our Court and the courts of every other U.S. jurisdiction. In short, Wing had the effect if not the purpose of revolutionizing Iowa’s speedy indictment law – a revolution that, in retrospect, is not supported by sound precedent, statutory text, or legislative intent.

It is rare, though not unprecedented, for the Iowa Supreme Court to second-guess itself, especially in a ruling that is not quite six years old.

But that is not beyond the realm of possibility here. Wing was a 6-1 ruling, with Justice Mark Cady in dissent. The majority included the three justices who were removed by voters in the retention election later that year, and replaced by Justices Edward Mansfield, Thomas Waterman and Bruce Zager. If those three agree with Cady’s dissent, they would have the votes to overturn Wing.

If that happens, University of Iowa Law School students will have witnessed Iowa legal history.

The oral argument is scheduled to begin at 10:30 a.m. today in the Levitt Auditorium at the law school

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On Brief is devoted to appellate litigation, with a focus on the Iowa Supreme Court, the Iowa Court of Appeals, and the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit.
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