Iowa OWI Case Thrown Out When Based on Alternative Theories of Guilt

Iowa case law summary by Attorney Richard Clem: IA criminal law, alternative theories of guilt.

State of Iowa v. Matthew Allen Curtis Davis. IA criminal law, alternative theories of guilt

Matthew Davis was stopped at a red light in Fort Dodge with his right turn signal turned on. When the light turned green, he went straight ahead. This caught the attention of a police officer, who also noticed that the car had no rear license plate. When the officer turned on his lights, the car pulled over, but the driver took off running. Davis was apprehended by another officer, and the car contained an open beer and some other unopened containers. Davis refused to cooperate or provide any specimens for testing, but there was a prominent smell of alcohol and other symptoms of intoxication. There was testimony of "fidgeting," but a videotape at the station failed to show it.

He was charged and convicted of a third offense of driving “under the influence of an alcoholic beverage or drugs or a combination of such substances,” and he appealed to the Iowa Court of Appeals. The Court of Appeals reversed, because the jury was presented with alternate theories of guilt--alcohol or drugs. But the appeals court held that the evidence was insufficient to establish one of the alternative theories, because there was no evidence of intoxication by drugs other than alcohol.

Quoting earlier cases, the court held, "if the jury instructions allow the jury to consider multiple theories of culpability, only some of which are supported by the evidence, and a general verdict of guilty is returned, a reversal is required because 'we have no way of determining which theory the jury accepted.'"

For these reasons, the court reversed and remanded the case for a new trial.

No. 14-0829 (Iowa Ct. App. Aug. 19, 2015).

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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