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Adams v. State

Supreme Court of Idaho

March 19, 2015

IRWIN RYAN RAY ADAMS, Petitioner-Appellant,
STATE OF IDAHO, Respondent

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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2015 Opinion No. 32

Appeal from the District Court of the Fifth Judicial District, State of Idaho, Jerome County. Hon. John K. Butler, District Judge.

District court order dismissing post-conviction petition, affirmed.

Sara B. Thomas, Idaho State Appellate Public Defender, Boise, for appellant.

Jason C. Pintler, Deputy Appellate Public Defender, argued.

Hon. Lawrence G. Wasden, Idaho Attorney General, Boise, for respondent.

John C. McKinney, Deputy Attorney General, argued.

BURDICK, Chief Justice. Justices EISMANN, J. JONES and HORTON, CONCUR. KIDWELL, Justice Pro-Tem, dissenting.


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BURDICK, Chief Justice

The Idaho Supreme Court granted a petition for review of a Court of Appeals decision in this case. Irwin Ryan Ray Adams appealed the Jerome County district court's decision summarily dismissing his post-conviction relief petition, which the Idaho Court of Appeals affirmed. Adams asserts that the district court erroneously: (1) weighed the State's accident reconstruction expert's trial testimony against Adams's accident reconstruction expert's affidavits; (2) reached its own conclusions as to purported flaws in Adams's accident reconstruction expert's conclusions; and (3) wrongfully determined that even if Adams's accident reconstruction expert's testimony would have been presented at trial, it would not have changed the outcome of the case. Adams also contends that the district court erred when it dismissed the claim that trial counsel was ineffective for failing to investigate and present evidence that Adams's vehicle was incapable of going the speeds the State alleged during trial. Accordingly, Adams asks this Court to vacate the district court's order summarily dismissing his post-conviction relief petition and remand the case back to the district court for an evidentiary hearing. We affirm the district court's decision.

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On October 24, 2009, Irwin Ryan Ray Adams (" Adams" ) lost control of his vehicle while traveling at a high rate of speed and crashed. Adams's best friend, who was in the passenger seat, died from injuries he sustained in the accident. The State subsequently charged Adams with felony vehicular manslaughter. The State contended that Adams drove with gross negligence by driving 108 miles per hour (mph) in a 50 mph zone trying to chase down another vehicle, which resulted in Adams crashing his vehicle and killing his friend. Adams entered a not guilty plea on June 28, 2010, and the trial began on March 9, 2011.

Two attorneys represented Adams in the underlying case. Dan Taylor (" Taylor" ), who represented Adams before trial, retained Carl Cover (" Cover" ), an accident reconstruction expert. Taylor gave Cover photographs of the roadway where the accident occurred, interviews of Adams's family members, and the Idaho State Police (" ISP" ) accident reconstruction report. Cover subsequently presented his preliminary results to Taylor, which concluded that Adams was traveling between 70 and 75 mph when the accident occurred. However, Cover advised Taylor that he needed to see copies of all accident scene photographs the ISP took before he could finalize his findings as to Adams's speed. Cover also informed Taylor that he needed to view Adams's vehicle if Taylor intended to proceed with the theory that Adams lost control of his vehicle because another vehicle struck him from behind. In response, Taylor told Cover to finish the report and agreed to provide him with the additional photographs he requested. According to Cover, that was the last contact he had with Taylor despite Cover's numerous attempts to reach him, and Cover never received the additional material he requested. Cover testified that from that point forward, he never had contact with anyone else acting on Adams's behalf.

Adams's second counsel, Stacey Gosnell (" Gosnell" ), took over Adams's case after she and Taylor dissolved their legal partnership. On two separate occasions prior to trial, Gosnell represented to the court that she had been in contact with Cover. First, at a continuance hearing, Gosnell informed the district court that Cover's report was delayed because he was involved in another trial. Following yet another continuance, Gosnell advised the State and the district court that after speaking to Cover on the phone, she decided she would not call Cover as a witness at trial. Gosnell never did call Cover as a witness at trial.

At trial, the State contended that on October 24, 2009, Adams was chasing his girlfriend who was in another vehicle at the time of the accident. The State argued that Adams was going approximately 108 mph when he lost control and rolled his vehicle, resulting in his passenger's death. There were no witnesses to the accident other than individuals who came to the scene shortly after the accident had already occurred. Sean Walker (" Walker" ) and Denise Gibbs (" Gibbs" ) of the ISP investigated the accident. They concluded that Adams's vehicle hit a crest in the roadway and went airborne, leaving two parallel gouge marks approximately seven feet long where it touched down, beginning 77-80 feet from where the vehicle went airborne. The ISP investigation further revealed that Adams's vehicle then slid for approximately 200 feet, where it left the roadway and traveled another 19 feet until it struck an irrigation ditch, which caused the vehicle to roll and travel approximately another 138 feet to its final resting point. In all, Adams's vehicle traveled approximately 578 feet from the time Adams lost control to the final resting point. Gibbs presented extensive testimony at trial regarding the report and the formula the ISP used to determine Adams's speed.

Adams argued at trial that someone in a white or gray Honda was chasing him at the time of the accident and that he was not traveling faster than 75 mph.[1] Adams testified

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that he had not seen his girlfriend that day and that he and his friend left his house to purchase a fuel pump in Twin Falls when the Honda started following him and " pushing" him from behind.[2] Adams stated that he decided to go to the Jerome Police Department and that the last time he looked at his speedometer he was doing approximately 75 mph and the other vehicle was right on his tail. Adams then testified that after that, he did not remember anything until after his car came to a rest. Adams's theory was that the vehicle chasing him struck his vehicle from the rear, which caused him to lose control and crash.

On March 11, 2011, the jury returned a guilty verdict on the felony vehicular manslaughter charge. Adams subsequently appealed his conviction. While his appeal was pending, Adams filed a post-conviction petition. In that petition, Adams asserted several grounds for relief, including that his counsel was ineffective by failing to investigate and present evidence that another vehicle was chasing Adams and that Adams could not have been traveling faster than 75 mph at the time of the accident. Adams filed several affidavits to support his petition, including affidavits from Cover, a mechanic, and Adams's father.

On December 12, 2011, the district court issued a notice of intent to dismiss, which pointed out several deficiencies in Adams's petition that prevented the district court from granting Adams's requested relief. Specifically, the district court found that Cover's affidavit was conclusory and that Adams failed to present facts to show how Gibbs's formula for calculating Adams's speed was erroneous or unreliable. Moreover, the court pointed out that Adams's family sold Adams's vehicle before the State charged Adams and that although Adams's father later recovered the motor, the rest of the vehicle was no longer available to inspect. The court reasoned that those facts created a presumption that the evidence would have been unfavorable to Adams and that Adams could not argue his counsel was ineffective for failing to present evidence of the vehicle's mechanical difficulties when Adams's own family destroyed the evidence.

Adams subsequently filed a memorandum opposing the court's notice of intent to dismiss and several affidavits in support of that memorandum, including a supplemental affidavit from Cover. The district court found that Adams's additional evidence did not cure the deficiencies in his claims and as a result, Adams failed to establish a genuine issue of material fact that would entitle Adams to his requested relief. The district court summarily dismissed Adams's post-conviction petition. Adams appealed the district court's decision, arguing that there was a genuine issue of material fact as to whether he was prejudiced by trial counsel's failure to: (1) present Cover's expert witness testimony; and (2) investigate and present evidence of Adams's motor's mechanical issues.

The Court of Appeals affirmed the district court's decision on the basis that Cover's proffered testimony was conclusory and speculative and that neither Cover's testimony nor the mechanic's testimony created a reasonable probability that the jury's ...

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