The Iowa Supreme Court issued a ruling today setting limits on the state’s material witness law. The case involved the murder of John Versypt in an Iowa City apartment in October of 2009. Police questioned Justin Marshall who lived in the apartment and believed he might have information about the murder.
As the investigation continued they learned that Marshall was planning to go to Texas and they arrested him a material witness warrant that would require him to pay $100,000 to be released. Three months after Marshal’s arrest another man was charged with the murder.
Marshall sought to have the material witness warrant dismissed. The district court ruled in his favor saying with a trial date set, Marshall could be subpoenaed to appear at the trial and should be released. The state appealed that decision and the Iowa Supreme Court upheld the ruling, saying that once someone had been subpoenaed to appear, they could no longer be held.
Three justices, including Chief Justice Mark Cady, issued a dissenting opinion. Cady wrote that it seemed impractical to arrest someone to ensure they could be subpoenaed to appear, and then release them even though there were indications the person may still not appear at the trial.
Cady says the issue should be decided on a case-by-case basis.