Court throws out man's kidnapping conviction

By Ryan J. Foley
Associated Press

IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) - A man did not commit kidnapping when he sexually assaulted a woman in his Dubuque apartment and therefore will not serve the rest of his life in prison, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled Friday.

The sexual assault by Scott R. Robinson didn't rise to the level of first-degree kidnapping and the mandatory life sentence that it triggers, Justice Brent Appel wrote for the court.

The ruling is a victory for Robinson, 37, who had been serving life in prison without parole for the 2011 attack. The decision could also have a broader impact by making prosecutors less likely to file kidnapping charges, with the court cautioning that they should be reserved for crimes that are "substantially more heinous" than typical sexual abuse and robbery cases.

"They are going to have to re-evaluate how they pursue those kinds of charges and not make every sex abuse into a kidnapping," said Robinson's appellate attorney, Shellie Knipfer.

Prosecutors say Robinson met a 25-year-old woman at an East Dubuque, Illinois, bar in October 2011, and invited her to his apartment for an after-party. The woman said she became concerned when nobody else showed up, and Robinson grabbed her phone and threw it behind a chair. The woman left the apartment when Robinson went in the bathroom, but went back in to retrieve her phone after realizing she didn't have it. She says Robinson shut and locked the door behind her, grabbed her, covered her mouth, dragged her to his bedroom and locked the door.

Robinson then allegedly forced the woman to perform sex acts. After a neighbor called police to report a disturbance, officers arrived and kicked down the door after hearing screaming. They broke Robinson's bedroom door to find him with the woman, who was visibly upset.

Prosecutors charged Robinson with first-degree kidnapping - which required proof that he confined the woman beyond what was necessary to commit the assault. A jury found him guilty and Judge Michael Shubatt imposed the life sentence, saying Robinson committed a despicable act and showed no remorse.

Robinson, a former factory worker who is now an inmate at the Iowa State Penitentiary in Fort Madison, has maintained his innocence and accused the woman of lying about the assault.

"It is extremely good news," his mother, Ann Robinson, said Friday when told of the ruling. "The whole family has absolutely supported him. We never believed that he kidnapped her."

An appeals court upheld the conviction last year, ruling that Robinson confined the woman by locking the doors, moving her to his bedroom and holding her in a way to prevent her escape.

But all seven Supreme Court justices agreed those actions did not give rise to a kidnapping conviction, which requires confining a victim in a way that "substantially increases the risk of harm, significantly lessens the risk of detection, or significantly facilitates escape."

"We note in particular the potential of sliding downhill into situations in which a person with limited additional criminal culpability suffers a dramatically increased penalty," Appel wrote.

He said prosecutors now have two options. They can put Robinson on trial for second-degree sexual abuse, which carries a 25-year sentence but requires proof that he "used or threatened to use force creating a substantial risk of death or serious injury" during the attack. Or they can ask a judge to sentence Robinson for third-degree sexual abuse, which carries up to 10 years and was supported by the jury's verdict.

Published: Mon, Feb 09, 2015

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