The Iowa Attorney General Office argued Friday at the state Supreme Court that justices should overturn a ruling from six years ago.
In Iowa, when someone is arrested, law enforcement have 45 days to press charges. Back in December 2010, the court ruled six-to-one in State v. Wing, that when a person reasonably believes they are under arrest, law enforcement must still adhere to the 45-day deadline. That's even if an individual isn't actually under arrest.
But Assistant Iowa Attorney General Tyler Buller says a case involving the gang rapes of two 15-year-old girls shows that the court’s previous ruling is flawed.
The Waterloo Police Department didn’t arrest suspects of the assaults for more than a year, even though police detained the men hours after the rapes occurred, and gathered DNA evidence from their bodies. Though three men were convicted of the crime, the appellate court tossed these verdicts on the grounds that WPD waited too long to press charges.
Justice Daryl Hecht pointed out that one of the defendants, Deantay Williams, even admitted to police that he had sex with the victims.
“You didn’t have to figure out this was the right guy, and yet 16 months elapsed,” said Hecht. “So this isn’t really a good case to say that we needed time…and we couldn’t make a decision in 45 days.”
“It’s not this court’s position to tell if law enforcement when the investigation should end,” Buller replied.
Buller went on to explain that Dorian Clark, one of the original suspects, was never charged because DNA testing could not link him to the rapes. Lab analysis of vaginal and penile swabs, as well as used condoms weren’t completed until well after the 45 day deadline.
“But if Wing was right,” Buller said, “then the county attorney should have filed an indictment, charged Mr. Clark and prosecuted him, even though the police could have eventually cleared him of wrongdoing.”
Justices also wondered, if the Wing ruling was so problematic then why hasn’t the legislature written a new law that amends Iowa's code on speedy indictments?
"They're the ones that made the rule, we interpreted the rule," said Justice David Wiggins. "They haven't made a peep."
Buller told the court the consequences of Wing have not been immediately apparent.
"I'm not sure anyone quite understood what Wing said until we started to try to apply it," said Buller. "I think we all know when a case is decided, you aren't going to see a problem the very next day."
“Oh yeah, we did a case on a Monday and they changed the law on Wednesday. Dealing with coaches, and whether or not they’re subject to the sexual predator statute,” countered Wiggins.
After Buller sparred with justices, Deantay Williams’s attorney Cory Goldensoph also fielded hard questioning. Justice Bruce Zager wanted know if the men truly believed they were under arrest.
“The defendant under any of these cases would always say, ‘I reasonably thought I was under arrest,’” said Zager. “I think it just creates a kind of a squishy standard.”
“This standard was put into place because it’s a rule protecting the defendants, it’s not a rule protecting the state or the police,” Goldensoph replied.
“But isn’t is also natural that when you are in fact under arrest, and you believe that you’re actually under arrest…that they’re going to make you go to your criminal appearance and answer to the charge?” asked Zager. “But these individuals were questioned, they consented to the various swabs, and then they were released.”
“I don’t know if that the average, reasonable person knows the procedure for the criminal case,” answered Goldensoph.
For a court to overturn a ruling is rare, but the attorney general stands a chance. That’s partly because three of the justices who handed Wing his victory six years ago are no longer on the court.
If Justices Brent Appel, Hecht and Wiggins vote to keep the standard they set forth in Wing, and Chief Justice Mark Cady again votes against this standard, then the state would need three more votes.
Justices Edward Mansfield and Thomas Waterman are more conservative jurists, while Zager is often the bench's swing vote. So four-to-three ruling that overturns Wing is not out of the question.