Humboldt County Woman Can't Claim Damages for Wrongful Imprisonment

Iowa case law summary by Attorney Richard Clem: wrongful imprisonment, Iowa Code 663A.1.

Tammy Smith v. State of Iowa. Iowa Code 663A.1

In 2007, Tammy Smith was convicted in Humboldt County, Iowa, District Court of child endangerment resulting in serious injury to her four-year-old nonverbal son. She had given inconsistent explanations and there had been medical testimony that the injuries could have been the result of someone applying tremendous force to the arm. Since the son was nonverbal, he was unable to tell how the injury happened. She was sentenced to up to ten years and began to serve her prison sentence.

Smith appealed the case to the Iowa Court of Appeals, which affirmed the conviction in 2008. State v. Smith, No. 8-523/07-1406 (Iowa Ct. App. 2008).

In 2009, the son communicated that the injury had occurred when he placed his arm in the washing machine. She filed for postconviction relief, but the district court denied the application. She once again appealed to the Court of Appeals which this time reversed and remanded the case for a new trial. Smith v. State, No. 1-028/10-1020 (Iowa Ct. App. 2011). On remand, the District Court granted the county attorney's motion to dismiss the case.

Smith then filed a petition for wrongful imprisonment under Iowa Code 663A.1. Under that statute, a person who is wrongfully imprisoned may gain the right to seek damages. Both the District Court and the Court of Appeals denied the petition, and she sought review by the Iowa Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court held that she had not met her burden under the statute to show by clear and convincing evidence that neither she nor anyone else committed the crime of child endangerment. The Court examined the evidence and concluded that while the evidence might establish reasonable doubt as to guilt, Smith had failed to establish her innocence by clear and convincing evidence as required by the statute. It pointed out discrepancies in the case, and noted that she had admitted to previously giving false statements. There was also some suggestion that the child's father might have allowed the witness to repeat back things the father had said.

A DVD of the washing machine was in evidence, and showed the washer constinue to spin after the cover was opened. However, the court noted that it would have been difficult for a child to perform the acts necessary to make this happen.

For these reasons, the Supreme Court affirmed the judgments of the lower courts.

No. 12-1771 (Iowa April 4, 2014).

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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