Iowa criminal law, recusal

MIowa case law summary by Attorney Richard Clem: criminal law, recusal.

State of Iowa v. Termaine Deshawn Toles. IA criminal judge, recusal

At the sentencing hearing in this Black Hawk County, Iowa, case, the trial judge made the following remarks:

ll right. Mr. Toles, I used to sit in Mr. Blink's shoes. I used to sit as a prosecutor and do the gun crime, and I can tell you your name is a name that has come across my desk as both a prosecutor and a judge for a long time. I am not- your name is not unfamiliar to me. The fact that I know your middle name is not a good thing. . . . .

. . . And not that I gauge individuals, but I do have a tendency to recognize when I know somebody's middle name, it tells me I have been--I have been confronted with their name or presented with their name far, far too many times.

he Court of Appeals held that this statement did not warrant recusal by the trial judge, and the Supreme Court affirmed. However, the Court of Appeals had also held that the defendant was not entitled to a new trial on the grounds of ineffective assistance of counsel, on the grounds that the trial attorney had not made a motion for recusal.

The Supreme Court reversed this portion of the ruling, holding that this ruling was premature:

We conclude that the record on direct appeal in this case is inadequate to determine whether Toles's counsel was ineffective for failing to file a motion for recusal at the sentencing hearing. Had counsel made a timely motion for recusal, counsel could have requested a hearing at which Toles may have learned additional facts regarding any bias or prejudice the judge might have had towards Toles. Because we cannot determine whether Toles's counsel was ineffective on this record, we leave his ineffective-assistance-of counsel claim for another day.

No. 15-0321 (Iowa Sept. 16, 2016).

Please see the original opinion for the court's exact language.


Richard P. Clem is an attorney and continuing legal education (CLE) provider in Minnesota. He has been in private practice in the Twin Cities for 25 years. He has a J.D., cum laude, from Hamline University School of Law in St. Paul and a B.A. in History from the University of Minnesota. His reported cases include: Asociacion Nacional de Pescadores a Pequena Escala o Artesanales de Colombia v. Dow Quimica de Colombia, 988 F.2d 559, rehearing denied, 5 F.3d 530 (5th Cir. 1993), cert. denied, 510 U.S. 1041 (1994); LaMott v. Apple Valley Health Care Center, 465 N.W.2d 585 (Minn. Ct. App. 1991); Abo el Ela v. State, 468 N.W.2d 580 (Minn. Ct. App. 1991).

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