Home arrow B. John Burns Blog arrow Biting the Hand that Feeds Us (Again)
Biting the Hand that Feeds Us (Again)
By B John Burns
January 25, 2013

There’s a lot of good things to say about today’s Supreme Court decision in State v. Huston.  Most of all, it’s a reversal of a conviction carrying a 15-year prison sentence, and a big win for Assistant State Appellate Defender Shellie Knipfer and Student Legal Intern Sam Berbano.

Essentially, the holding is that where the prejudicial effect of testimony, in a child-endangerment trial, that there was a founded child abuse complaint against the defendant, along with testimony describing the procedures available to appeal such a finding, substantially outweighs its probative value the defendant is entitled, under Iowa R.Evid. 403, to a new trial.

Justice Waterman’s opinion contains some of that beautiful language that I like to see about the danger of calling a government witness to place the official imprimatur of approval on the State’s case.  So I should be pretty happy, right?

Well, yes I am.  Nevertheless, being the guy who has never passed on an opportunity to bite the hand that feeds me, I feel compelled to bring up one thing.  See, I’m the guy who was a full-time appellate lawyer for the first nine years he was in practice (out of the 28 which, by the way, began 28 years ago TODAY), and then a part-time appellate lawyer for the last 14.  So I notice these things.

In the section of the opinion captioned “Scope of Review” Justice Waterman correctly noted, “We review evidentiary rulings for abuse of discretion.”  But then, in the very next paragraph, under “Analysis,” Justice Waterman states, “We must decide whether the district court committed reversible error by allowing the DHS caseworker to testify that the child abuse report against Huston was determined to be founded.”

There is a difference.  Either the standard is one of abuse of discretion, or it’s review for reversible error.  You were right the first time.

Comments (0)Add Comment

Write comment
smaller | bigger

security code
Write the displayed characters

< Prev   Next >

Criminal Procedure 4A

By B.John Burns 

This reference offers a comprehensive analysis of Iowa criminal procedure. It analyzes criminal procedure, including pre-trial, trial, sentencing, and post-conviction procedure. Provides a comprehensive manual covering all procedural aspects of an Iowa criminal case, from the time you are first engaged to represent a suspected or charged individual, through the final steps of a criminal appeal or state or federal post conviction relief proceeding. Separate divisions review evidentiary issues in criminal trials, constitutional provisions affecting criminal cases, and the representation of inmates in prison litigation.

Buy Book

Who's Online


© 2017 Iowa Public Defender