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State v. Iowa District Court For Jones County

Supreme Court of Iowa

December 23, 2016

STATE OF IOWA, Plaintiff,

         Certiorari to the Iowa District Court for Jones County, Lars G. Anderson, Judge.

         Iowa Department of Corrections appeals district court's ruling reversing agency decision requiring inmate convicted of domestic abuse assault to participate in sex offender treatment program. WRIT SUSTAINED AND CASE REMANDED.

          Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, and John B. McCormally, Assistant Attorney General, for plaintiff.

          Mark Smith, State Appellate Defender, and John Bishop, Cedar Rapids, until withdrawal, and then Anthony Burton Irvin pro se.

          WATERMAN, Justice.

         In this appeal, we must decide whether the Iowa Department of Corrections (IDOC) violated an inmate's rights by requiring him to participate in the Sex Offender Treatment Program (SOTP). The inmate pled guilty to domestic abuse assault in a plea bargain that dismissed a related sex abuse charge. The IDOC initially relied on the dismissed sex abuse charge and the victim's detailed, written statement included in a police report to refer him for mandatory SOTP. An administrative law judge (ALJ) upheld that determination following an evidentiary hearing based on the inmate's admission that he assaulted his girlfriend during oral sex and the victim's statement. The district court reversed based on an unpublished, nonprecedential decision, Lindsey v.State, No. 13-2042, 2015 WL 568560 (Iowa Ct. App. Feb. 11, 2015), which held the IDOC cannot use unproven charges to require SOTP. We granted the IDOC's request for a writ of certiorari.

         For the reasons explained below, we hold the IDOC may rely on the victim's written statement in a police report for the initial classification requiring SOTP, provided the inmate is afforded due process, including an evidentiary hearing to challenge that classification. The ALJ, in turn, may uphold the classification based on the inmate's own testimony admitting to a sexual component to the assault, along with other evidence, including hearsay such as the victim's detailed account. Accordingly, we sustain the writ, reverse the judgment of the district court, and remand the case to reinstate the IDOC's decision requiring this inmate's participation in the treatment program.

         I. Background Facts and Proceedings.

         Anthony Irvin is an inmate at Anamosa State Penitentiary under the custody of the IDOC serving a prison sentence for domestic abuse assault following his guilty plea. The victim was his live-in girlfriend. The minutes of testimony, which incorporated by reference the police report with the victim's detailed account, alleged that at 8:30 p.m. on October 28, 2012, Irvin became angry upon finding calls to another man made from his girlfriend's phone. Irvin accused her of infidelity. When she attempted to explain, he grabbed her by the throat and threw her across the room. Irvin then began smoking crack cocaine and watching porn. About 1:30 a.m., he forced his girlfriend to smoke crack and perform oral sex on him. According to her statement, at around 3:30 a.m., she told him she did not want to continue. Irvin ordered her to keep going. She stopped and pulled away. Irvin again grabbed her by the throat. She struggled, and Irvin put her in a headlock and strangled her until she passed out. When she awoke, she felt dizzy and found she had urinated on herself. She began sobbing, and Irvin threatened to kill her before she could call the police or neighbors. She laid in bed until morning, when she went to work. The police were contacted and came to her workplace. Her statement and photos of her injuries were taken that day. Police arrested Irvin at their home.

         The State charged Irvin with two counts: (1) domestic abuse assault by knowingly impeding the normal breathing or circulation of the blood of another person in violation of Iowa Code 708.2A(2)(d) (2013); and (2) sexual abuse in the third degree for performing a sex act by force in violation of section 709.4. At that time, Irvin also had prior charges of domestic abuse assault and sexual abuse in the third degree pending for another incident with a different victim.

         On August 20, 2013, the State reached a plea agreement with Irvin, who pled guilty to two counts of domestic abuse assault in violation of section 708.2A(2)(d) in exchange for the dismissal of both charges of sexual abuse in the third degree. The court sentenced Irvin to an indeterminate period of incarceration not to exceed two years on each offense, to be served consecutively, and imposed a $625 fine. Irvin was also sentenced on two unrelated theft charges. Irvin's cumulative sentence totaled six years. The sentencing order recommended that Irvin be enrolled in a batterer's education treatment course. The district court made no finding that the crimes to which Irvin pled were sexually motivated and did not require Irvin to register as a sex offender.

         On October 14, shortly after Irvin arrived at the IDOC's Mount Pleasant Correctional Facility (MPCF), his counselor, Kasey Bean, sent an email to Sean Crawford, the director of the SOTP. Bean's email stated that based on Irvin's original sexual abuse charge, she "believe[d] he may be eligible for SOTP." Crawford responded a few weeks later, stating, "Offender's file has been reviewed and it is my opinion there is a sexual component involved in his current conviction. DOC will require SOTP."

         On December 16, 2013, the IDOC notified Irvin that he had been classified as an offender required to complete sex offender treatment. The notice stated the classification "may affect [his] future accrual of earned time and tentative discharge date pursuant to Iowa Code § 903A.2(1)(a)." The notice set forth the reasons for his classification in a section entitled, "Classification Committee Justification/Evidence":

Offender Irvin is currently incarcerated on charges of domestic abuse and 3rd degree theft. Originally charged also with sex abuse 3rd, he ple[d] to the current charges. Along with beating his victim up, he forced the female to perform oral sex on him. Offender Irvin has never completed any type of sex offender treatment program and because of the sexual component to his crime the DOC/MPCF will require he do so.

         The notice listed the evidence relied upon by the IDOC for Irvin's classification, including the (1) program records, (2) email by Sean Crawford, (3) trial information, (4) police report, and (5) minutes of testimony. The police report was attached to the minutes and noted that Irvin "beat his victim up" and "force[d] her to perform oral sex." The police report quoted a detailed statement from the victim taken down the day after the assault. The victim's account was also quoted in the minutes. Finally, the notice informed Irvin "that an in-person or telephonic hearing on your appeal of the sex offender treatment program requirements will be held on Wednesday, January, 8, " before an ALJ. The notice stated that "[a]ll documents or other exhibits that you want considered at the hearing" must be submitted two business days before the hearing, and if Irvin did not appear, a judgment would be entered against him. At the bottom of the notice was a section an offender could sign to waive the hearing. On December 17, Irvin signed to waive the hearing.

         In February of 2014, Irvin was transferred from the MPCF to Anamosa State Penitentiary. On April 14, Irvin wrote a letter to John Baldwin, then director of the IDOC, and Jason Carlstrom, then chair of the Iowa Board of Parole. Irvin asserted that he should not be referred to SOTP because he "had never been convicted of a sex charge, only accused of one." He alleged the prosecutor dismissed the sex counts because, during the course of trial preparation, the prosecutor determined those charges to be unfounded. Irvin noted neither the sentencing order nor the plea agreement recommended that he participate in SOTP, only that he participate in batterer's education. Sheryl Dahm, then assistant deputy director at the IDOC, responded to Irvin's letter on April 22, stating that Irvin's classification was based on IDOC policy.

         In June, Irvin received another classification notice. The notice mentioned that, due to an error, Irvin's accrual of earned time had not been halted since the first December classification notice. The June notice gave Irvin another opportunity for an ALJ hearing scheduled for July 16. Irvin acknowledged this notice, and this time did not waive the hearing. At the hearing, Irvin submitted his affidavit; a copy of the plea agreement; and a copy of Dykstra v. Iowa District Court, 783 N.W.2d 473 (Iowa 2010). The hearing was unreported.

         On July 25, the ALJ affirmed the IDOC's classification decision. The ALJ specifically found that due process requirements for the classification had been met: Irvin had been given notice of the hearing and presented evidence, the ALJ provided an explanation for the reasons behind the classification, and the ALJ "was not involved in the [initial] classification decision at issue, so he [could] be an impartial decisionmaker in this matter." The ALJ examined the two domestic abuse convictions, one arising out of Irvin's altercation with his girlfriend and the other arising from the separate incident with a different victim. The ALJ determined the allegations in the separate incident were "not sufficient to find that IRVIN needs SOTP" because the violence was unrelated to a sex act. The ALJ found the other charge involving Irvin's girlfriend required SOTP because "[t]he evidence in the record indicates that IRVIN's behavior shows that he currently suffers from a problem for which treatment is needed to rehabilitate him or that such treatment is needed to protect the community from him."

         The ALJ determined that requiring SOTP would not violate Irvin's plea agreement or sentencing order because both "were silent about SOTP" and the IDOC retains the authority to establish treatment program policies for offenders. The ALJ rejected Irvin's claim that the prosecutor had dropped the sex charge as unsubstantiated. The ALJ noted Irvin produced no evidence to support that assertion, such as the deposition transcripts that he claimed existed. The ALJ observed the plea agreement stated that "charges could be brought back if IRVIN raised challenges to the plea agreement." In the ALJ's view, this showed the prosecutor "still believed the charges could reasonably be brought again if need be." Finally, the ALJ weighed the victim's detailed statement together with Irvin's testimony on his version of events. The ALJ found the victim's statement to be "credible" after testimony from Irvin that the victim "did not have to fabricate a story if she wanted him to leave because she could have simply told him to leave the house." In the ALJ's view, Irvin "indicate[d] that [the victim] did not have a reason to fabricate a story about what IRVIN did to her." The ALJ also concluded that even under Irvin's version of events, the conviction for domestic abuse still had a sexual component, and thus, Irvin should be required to complete SOTP:

IRVIN's version of events was that he pushed the victim away by the throat when she bit his penis while performing oral sex. As noted above, he pleaded guilty to "knowingly" impeding her airway. Thus, his plea indicated that he did not merely react, but purposely pushed her hard in the neck. According to IRVIN his action was because the sexual encounter he was having did not go as he expected. Reacting with violence during a sex act also raises the types of concerns that can properly be addressed in SOTP. The ALJ finds that even under IRVIN's version of events (as modified by his guilty plea), he should still be required to take SOTP.

         On July 28, Irvin appealed the ALJ's determination to the warden by completing the SOTP appeal form. See Iowa Code § 903A.3(2) ("The orders of the administrative law judge are subject to appeal to the superintendent or warden of the institution, . . . who may either affirm, modify, remand for correction of procedural errors, or reverse an order."). Irvin claimed the SOTP classification violated his procedural due process rights. On August 4, the warden affirmed the decision of the ALJ, ruling due process had been followed and the ALJ "considered [Irvin's] statement and the evidence when making this decision."

         Irvin filed an application for postconviction relief under Iowa Code section 822.2(1)(f) and (g) in the Iowa district court. Irvin claimed he was denied due process and equal protection of the law because the ALJ relied on the unproven factual allegations. The district court held a hearing on April 15, 2015. On May 20, the district court found that it was error for the ALJ to rely on "unadmitted minutes of testimony and police reports in making its recommendation." The district court relied on the unpublished decision of Lindsey, in which a divided Iowa Court of Appeals concluded the IDOC lacked authority to rely on unproven facts to require participation in SOTP. 2015 WL 568560, at *5. In addition, the district court relied on In re Detention of Stenzel, 827 N.W.2d 690, 708-10 (Iowa 2013), which disallowed expert testimony in a district court civil commitment trial when the expert relied on unproven facts in the minutes of testimony to support his opinion that the individual was a sexually violent predator. The district court concluded because the IDOC had improperly relied on the minutes in making the initial recommendation, "[n]o hearing should have occurred in the first place."

         The IDOC sought a writ of certiorari, which we granted. We retained the case.

          II. Standard of Review.

         "We normally review certiorari actions for correction of errors at law." State v. Iowa Dist. Ct., 801 N.W.2d 513, 517 (Iowa 2011). "Generally, postconviction relief proceedings are reviewed for correction of errors at law." Dykstra, 783 N.W.2d at 477. "We review questions of statutory construction, including . . . the proper interpretation of Iowa Code section 903A.2, for errors at law." Id. We review de novo the evidence relevant to a constitutional claim. Iowa Dist. Ct., 801 N.W.2d at 517.

         III. Analysis.

         We must decide two related questions: (1) whether the IDOC properly relied on the victim's detailed statement to initially refer Irvin for SOTP; and (2) whether the IDOC properly required Irvin's participation in SOTP based on the ALJ's finding that he admitted at his evidentiary hearing to assaulting his girlfriend during a sex act and based on the victim's statement, police report, and Irvin's guilty plea. We first address the IDOC's broad discretion to refer inmates to SOTP and require their participation. We next review the permissible uses by the IDOC of a victim's statement in a police report. We conclude that the IDOC properly rejected Irvin's challenges to his initial referral to SOTP and the decision to mandate his participation following an evidentiary hearing.

         A. The IDOC's Broad ...

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