This is an audio case brief of State v. Donaldson, 663 N.W. 2d 882 (2003). The audio brief provides a full case analysis. However a written summary of the case is provided below.
At approximately 1:30 in the morning, Dean Lester Donaldson entered a van owned by Combined Pool & Spa. The owner of the van did not give Donaldson authority or permission to take possession or control of the van. At 1:50 the same morning, a Sioux City police officer saw a van parked in front of combined pool & spa with its sliding door partially open. As the officer walked toward the van, he saw the brake lights flash suggesting someone was inside the van. As the officer approached, Donaldson got out of the driver’s side and ran away. The officer called after Donaldson, identified himself as a police officer, and ordered him to stop. Donaldson kept running. When the officer checked the van, he saw the steering column had been forcibly dismantled; there were wires hanging from the column. The ignition switch had been removed. The radio was operating. And the “check engine” sign on the dashboard was lit. At trial, one of the officers testified Donaldson had engaged all of the electric systems. After turning on the electric accessory systems in the car, according to the officer, all Donaldson had left to do was engage the starter.
The state charged and convicted Donaldson of second degree theft. At the end of trail Donaldson moved for a judgment of acquittal. He argued the facts at most only support an attempted theft. The judge denied his motion. And Donaldson appealed the judgement against him.
Iowa Second Degree Theft Statute:
A person commits theft when” he or she “takes possession or control of the property of another, or property in the possession of another, with the intent to deprive the other thereof.
The issue before the Iowa supreme court was whether Donaldson possessed or controlled another’s van when he broke into it, dismantled the steering column, and manipulated the ignition switch turning the radio on, lighting the “check engine” sign, and causing the brake lights to flash.
Donaldson argued that he did not possess or control the van because he did not have the ability to move or remove it. That is, he fled when the police officer arrived , and leaving the van behind.
The court disagreed. Donaldson’s argument would have been convincing if Iowa followed the common law requirement of caption and asportation. Instead Iowa abandoned the common law asportation requirement and adopted the Model Penal Code’s possession and control terms in defining what constitute a second degree theft.
The Iowa statute replaces the common law “taking” with “possession” A defendant possess an object if he or she has dominion over it. Control of the object begins when the defendant uses it in a manner beyond his authority.
Because Iowa has abandoned the common law asportation requirement, movement or motion of the car is not essential to finding the defendant has possession or control of the car. The test is whether Donaldson exercised wrongful dominion or unauthorized control of the van.
And the court found that he did.
The moment Donaldson begun to manipulate the electrical wires for the purpose of starting the engine, he exerted complete control over the vehicle. Donaldson was in a position to exclude all other from the van. For example, by locking it. No one else could have hot-wired the van or started it with a key while Donaldson had control over it. And moreover, he used the van without the owner’s consent and in a manner beyond his authority. Donaldson entered the company’s van around 1:30 in the morning. He tore apart the steering column. The ignition switch had been removed; wires protruded from the ignition. The brake lights flashed. The radio worked. The “check engine” sign was lit. When the officer approached the van, Donaldson got out of the driver’s side and ran away. All of these facts together are sufficient to show Donaldson controlled the van within the meaning of Iowa’s second degree theft statute.
The denial of Donaldson’s motion for judgment of acquittal is affirmed.