IA Defendant Doesn't Get New Trial When One Theory of Case Not Supported

Iowa case law summary by Attorney Richard Clem: criminal law.

State of Iowa v. James Alon Shorter. IA criminal law

In this Polk County, Iowa, case, Richard Daughenbaugh died after an assult by three people. James Alon Shorter was convicted of second-degree murder. He appealed to the Iowa Court of Appeals, which agreed with him that there was insufficient evidence to support the verdict under either of the state's theories. The state then sought review by the Iowa Supreme Court, which heard the case.

The Court of Appeals had ruled that even though there was sufficient evidence to support a conviction on the grounds that Shorter was either a principal or an aider and abetter, there was insufficient evidence to support the alternative theory of joint criminal conduct. The Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals and reinstated the conviction.

The Supreme Court first agreed with the lower courts that there had been sufficient evidence to support the conviction under the first two theories. Therefore, it turned to the impact of the unsupported theory. After reviewing the evidence, it concluded that there were no predicate crimes that could have served as a basis for vicarious liability. The only possible crime supported by the evidence was the initial assault, which would have sufficed for conviction under one of the other two theories. For that reason, a retrial was not required.

For this reason, the Supreme Court affirmed the conviction.

No. 14-1239 (Iowa April 14, 2017, Amended April 17, 2017).

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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