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STATE OF IOWA vs. NASSER MUHAMED SAHIR
Nasser Muhamed Sahir - Sex Offender in Waterloo, IA
Case Number: 16-1925
Judge: Richard G. Blane, II
Court: COURT OF APPEALS OF IOWA
Plaintiff's Attorney: Thomas J. Miller
Thomas E. Bakke
Assistant Attorney General
Defendant's Attorney: Mark C. Smith
State Appellate Defender
Bradley M. Bender
Assistant Appellate Defender
Description: In 2012, T.O.C. (born 1996) was living with her mother and Sahir. One
evening, Sahir came into T.O.C.’s bedroom while she was in bed and told her
“there’s things [she] can do to make [herself] feel better so [she’s] not so mad and
so [she doesn’t] go have sex.” Sahir put his hand on her, put his hand into her
pants, and penetrated her vagina with his fingers, “moving them in a circle inside
of [her] vagina.” On Father’s ay, a similar incident occurred, although Sahir’s
hand was above T.O.C.’s clothing.
Shortly thereafter, T.O.C. went to stay with her mother’s sister in California
for the summer. The relative observed Sahir made frequent late night phone calls
to T.O.C. while she was in California. The relative asked T.O.C. if Sahir abused
her, and, after an initial denial, T.O.C. said Sahir had abused her. Soon thereafter,
the relative and T.O.C. returned to Iowa. T.O.C.’s mother questioned her about
the allegation against Sahir. T.O.C. was not allowed to return home. She first
went to live with her grandmother and was then placed in foster care. In August
2012, T.O.C. gave an interview with a child protection center about the abuse.
In July 2013, Sahir was charged with sexual abuse in the third degree, a
class “C” felony, in violation of Iowa Code section 709.4 (2011); and assault with
the intent to commit sexual abuse, an aggravated misdemeanor, in violation of
section 709.11. Sahir pleaded not guilty. Throughout the proceedings, Sahir
wholly denied the allegations made against him. e stated the incident on Father’s
Day could not have happened because he had a severe toothache that day. He
also argued the allegations against him only surfaced once he and T.O.C.’s mother
threatened to send T.O.C. to Mexico as punishment for her behavior.
Sahir went to trial and was ultimately found guilty as charged by a jury.
Sahir filed a motion for new trial on the following grounds: (1) the verdict returned
was contrary to the law and evidence in several respects; (2) the court erred in
granting the State’s motion to amend the trial information, which prejudiced Sahir;
and (3) the district court erred in ruling on several evidentiary issues at trial. The
trial judge denied the motion and sentenced Sahir to concurrent sentences of ten
years and two years in prison, along with fines, a lifetime special sentence
pursuant to section 903B.1, a sex offender treatment program, and registration as
a sex offender. Sahir now appeals.
II. Weight of the Evidence
We review rulings on motions for new trial for abuse of discretion. See State
v. Nitcher, 720 N.W.2d 547, 559 (Iowa 2006). Trial courts have wide discretion in
ruling on motions for new trial. See Iowa R. App. P. 6.904(3)(c). A court only
abuses its discretion in denying a motion for new trial when “the evidence
preponderates heavily against the verdict.” State v. Reeves, 670 N.W.2d 199, 202
Sahir argues T.O.C.’s testimony was not credible. e points to
inconsistencies between her trial testimony and earlier deposition testimony. For
example, T.O.C. gave conflicting testimony about whether Sahir’s hand was above
or under her clothing during the Father’s ay incident.1 e also notes T.O.C.’s
admission she disliked Sahir. Sahir also points to other witnesses’ testimony
containing some minor inconsistencies and some witnesses who testified T.O.C.
did not give them the full account of what happened with Sahir.
All of the evidence of inconsistency to which Sahir points was brought out
at trial and heard by the jury. It is generally for the jury to decide the credibility of
a witness. State v. Sanford, 814 N.W.2d 611, 615 (Iowa 2012). The jury, by its
verdicts, found T.O.C. to be credible. Trial courts have been cautioned “to exercise
[their] discretion carefully and sparingly when deciding motions for new trial based
on the ground that the verdict of conviction is contrary to the weight of the
evidence” because of the deference due to the jury’s credibility determinations.
State v. Ellis, 578 N.W.2d 655, 659 (Iowa 1998).
That several witnesses gave slightly differing accounts of what happened is
unsurprising given the number of witnesses who testified and the amount of time
between the incidents and trial. But the inconsistencies are altogether minor and
do not at all suggest the evidence “preponderates heavily against the verdict” in
this matter. The district court did not abuse its discretion in denying Sahir’s motion
for new trial. This claim fails.
III. Ineffective Assistance
1 Sahir cites a thirteen-page swath of testimony for the contention “T.O.C. admitted that she has testified differently at trial than she did in her deposition.” No specific inconsistencies are alleged, and this is the one inconsistency we can find in those thirteen pages. Where Iowa Rule of Appellate Procedure 6.903(2)(g)(3) requires “references to the pertinent parts of the record,” we assume it means meaningful references, enabling our review. Broad omnibus references are profoundly unhelpful.
Sahir raises several claims of ineffective assistance of counsel. We review
claims of ineffective assistance de novo. Everett v. State, 789 N.W.2d 151, 155
To prevail on an ineffective-assistance claim, Sahir must show that “(1)
counsel failed to perform an essential duty, and (2) prejudice resulted therefrom.”
State v. Fountain, 786 N.W.2d 260, 265–66 (Iowa 2010). We presume counsel’s
conduct fell within the range of reasonable professional assistance. Anfinson v.
State, 758 N.W.2d 496, 499 (Iowa 2008). “The crux of the prejudice component
rests on whether the defendant has shown ‘that there is a reasonable probability
that, but for counsel’s unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would
have been different.’” Whitsel v. State, 439 N.W.2d 871, 873 (Iowa Ct. App. 1989)
(quoting Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 694 (1984)). If we determine the
defendant has failed to prove prejudice, we do not need to consider whether
counsel breached an essential duty. See Ledezma v. State, 626 N.W.2d 134, 142
Normally, we preserve claims of ineffective assistance for possible
postconviction relief. See State v. Tate, 710 N.W.2d 237, 240 (Iowa 2006). We
may review such claims on direct appeal if “the record is adequate to address the
claim.” Iowa Code § 814.7(2); see also State v. Clay, 824 N.W.2d 488, 494 (Iowa
Sahir’s trial counsel made broad motions for judgment of acquittal during
trial. When a general motion for judgment of acquittal does not identify the specific
elements of the charge alleged to lack sufficient evidence to support a conviction,
we have held such a motion does not preserve a sufficiency-of-the-evidence claim
for our review. See State v. Green, 592 N.W.2d 24, 29 (Iowa 1999). Ineffective
assistance claims are exceptions to the normal rules of error preservation. See
State v. Ondayog, 722 N.W.2d 778, 784 (Iowa 2006); State v. Truesdell, 679
N.W.2d 611, 615–16 (Iowa 2004). Sahir now claims on appeal that his trial counsel
was ineffective for failing to adequately challenge the sufficiency of the evidence
supporting his conviction.
When a defendant challenges the sufficiency of the evidence against him,
we will uphold a jury verdict if substantial evidence supports it. State v. Bash, 670
N.W.2d 135, 137 (Iowa 2003). Evidence is considered substantial if it would
convince a rational fact finder the defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
Id. We review the evidence in the light most favorable to the State. Id.
nder this rubric, we find no prejudice from the failure of Sahir’s trial counsel
to argue his motion with more specificity. There was substantial evidence to
support conviction. Sahir cites the same evidence here as he did in arguing his
weight-of-the-evidence claim. This evidence roughly boils down to credibility
determinations. “In determining the correctness of a ruling on a motion for
judgment of acquittal, we do not resolve conflicts in the evidence, pass upon the
credibility of witnesses, or weigh the evidence.” State v. Hutchison, 721 N.W.2d
776, 780 (Iowa 2006). The jury is free to credit or reject evidence as it sees fit.
Sanford, 814 N.W.2d at 615. A more specific motion would not have succeeded.
We therefore find no prejudice.
Sahir also argues his counsel was ineffective for failing to make offers of
proof with respect to certain evidence—dental records, text messages, and phone
records—to attempt to admit this evidence. The district court denied admission of
the dental records and phone records because of a lack of foundation. The district
court denied admission of the text messages because of a lack of reliability.
Sahir wanted to admit the dental records to show the extent of his tooth
ache on Father’s ay. owever, the State stipulated he received treatment and
admitting the dental records would have added nothing to his argument. He was
not prejudiced by the failure to have the dental records admitted.
The text messages were printed records prepared by T.O.C.’s mother. The
district court denied their admission because of a risk of tampering and their lack
of reliability. A foundational witness or offer of proof would not have overcome this
issue. Sahir’s counsel did not breach any duty in failing to obtain admission of
The phone records relate to the question of when and how often Sahir was
calling T.O.C. while she was in California. Sahir testified he knew exact dates and
times from looking at the relevant phone records and that he made six phone calls
to T.O.C. over four days while she was in California, with the latest at 10:35 p.m.
California time, two others around 8:00 or 9:00 p.m., and the rest in the afternoon
or earlier. T.O.C. testified, “Typically, he would call me late. I remember it was
always, ‘Oh, your mom’s with the kids’ or ‘your mom’s asleep.’” She further
testified she “only recall[ed] [calls] happening a couple of times.” Sahir contends
admission of the phone records with proper foundation would have corroborated
his story and damaged T.O.C.’s credibility. Sahir argues T.O.C.’s credibility was
the key factor in his conviction and documentary evidence undermining her
credibility would have significantly strengthened his case.
We find no prejudice from the failure to lay foundation and offer the phone
records. Sahir’s testimony is not necessarily inconsistent with T.O.C.’s testimony.
She testified she only recalled phone calls happening “a couple of times,” which
could encompass six times. She said the calls occurred “[t]ypically . . . late,” and
if three of the six calls occurred after 11:00 p.m. on the east coast—where Sahir
was then located—those could reasonably be categoried as “late.” Even if
considered inconsistent, such evidence relates to a minor, collateral point. The
testimony by T.O.C.’s aunt was her concern that Sahir was the one frequently
calling T.O.C. If anything, the phone records would have corroborated the aunt’s
testimony that Sahir was calling T.O.C., which his own testimony admitted. In any
event, from reviewing Sahir’s trial testimony, he made several references to
reviewing the phone records prior to testifying. Admission of the records would not
have changed the outcome of the proceeding.
Outcome: Finally, Sahir makes an argument regarding trial counsel’s failure to present
reputation or opinion evidence as to T.O.C.’s untruthfulness. We preserve this
claim for possible postconviction relief.