A Feb. 21 ruling by a three-member Iowa Court of Appeals panel upheld the conviction of David Miller on manslaughter and motor vehicle theft charges. In October of 2016, a Benton County jury convicted Miller of manslaughter for the 2015 death of Sabrina Hustad Janish, as well as for stealing two trucks as he tried to flee the crime scene.
The same Appeals Court panel, however, ordered a review in Benton County District Court of the sentence pronounced in the case under the states habitual offender guidelines.
Benton County Attorney David Thompson explains that after Miller was sentenced, the Iowa Supreme Court, in what is now called the Harrington case, put into effect new rules regarding colloquy (conversation) that a judge must have with a defendant before sentencing that defendant as an habitual offender. While Judge Ian Thornhill followed all of the guidelines that where then in effect, the Appeals Court ruled that the District Court must re-visit the habitual offender sentencing issue, under the new rules. Thornhill had sentenced Miller to the maximum 10-year sentence for the manslaughter conviction, and to two consecutive 15-year sentences with the habitual offender enhancements on the auto theft felony convictions.
The court sentenced Miller in December of 2016; the Supreme Court’s Harrington ruling came about four months later.
Thompson said he did not believe that the new ruling will result in any major changes in the Miller case or sentencing, although it means that the court and lawyers will have to do more “homework” in following the new guidelines. The result of the appeals court ruling is that there will be future hearings in Benton County District Court concerning this case.
While the official terminology of the Appeals Court ruling says that the sentence is “vacated,” that phrase only refers to the habitual offender enhancement on the vehicle theft charges. Miller is still officially under a 10-year sentence for manslaughter in the death of Sabrina Hustad Janish in 2015. Under the recent Appeals Court ruling, only the habitual offender enhancements of the two motor vehicle theft charges is vacated, pending review and re-sentencing.
See the entire ruling here: 162110_State_v_Miller_6F866A89BA7E2