JAMES E. WRIGHT, JR., Applicant-Appellee,
STATE OF IOWA, Respondent-Appellant.
from the Iowa District Court for Polk County, Karen A.
State appeals from a district court order granting a
defendant postconviction relief. REVERSED AND
J. Miller, Attorney General, and Benjamin Parrott, Assistant
Attorney General, for appellant State.
Dickey and Angela Campbell of Dickey & Campbell Law Firm,
P.L.C., Des Moines, for appellee.
by Vogel, P.J., and Doyle and McDonald, JJ.
State v. Heemstra, 721 N.W.2d 549, 558 (Iowa 2006),
the supreme court held willful injury cannot serve as the
predicate felony for felony murder "if the act causing
willful injury is the same act that causes the victim's
death." The court limited application of this new rule
"only to the present case and those cases not finally
resolved on direct appeal in which the issue has been raised
in the district court." Heemstra, 721 N.W.2d at
primary question presented in this postconviction-relief
appeal is whether the supreme court's limitation of the
application of Heemstra to only non-final cases in
which the issue had been raised in the district court
violated the equal protection and due process clauses of the
Iowa Constitution. The postconviction court held it did:
If the specific facts of a criminal case on direct appeal
require application of a new substantive rule, it should be
applied. There is little perceptible difference between
defendants who needlessly raised the merger issue at trial
before Heemstra, and those who focused their
arguments on issues supported by the law at the time.
Application of the new merger rule to all cases pending on
appeal, whether the issue was raised in the district court or
not, is required to provide equal treatment to all similarly
situated defendants with appeals which are not final and to
comport with the requirements of due process.
postconviction court vacated Wright's conviction for
murder in the first degree and ordered new trial. The State
timely filed this appeal.
4, 2000, James Wright was involved in the shooting death of
Ollie Talton. Wright was charged with first-degree murder, in
violation of Iowa Code section 707.2 (1999). The district
court instructed the jury on premeditated murder and felony
murder with willful injury serving as the predicate felony.
The jury returned a general guilty verdict. Wright did not
object to the jury instruction or verdict form or otherwise
raise the Heemstra issue.
appealed his conviction. While the appeal was pending, the
supreme court decided Heemstra. Wright's
appellate counsel filed a motion to amend his brief to
address the Heemstra decision. This court ordered
supplemental briefing on the issue. Meanwhile, the State
filed a petition for rehearing in Heemstra, asking
the supreme court to address whether its merger rule would
apply retrospectively or prospectively. The supreme court
amended its decision, writing: "The rule of law
announced in this case regarding the use of willful injury as
a predicate felony for felony-murder purposes shall be
applicable only to the present case and those cases not
finally resolved on direct appeal in which the issue has
been raised in the district court."
Heemstra, 721 N.W.2d at 558 (emphasis added). We
affirmed Wright's conviction shortly thereafter.
State v. Wright, No. 05-0679, 2006 WL 3018149, at *4
(Iowa Ct. App. Oct. 25, 2006).
filed an application for postconviction relief in 2008. Among
other claims, Wright asserted his trial counsel was
ineffective for failing to object to the felony-murder
instruction. While Wright's application for
postconviction relief was pending, the supreme court decided
Goosman v. State, 764 N.W.2d 539, 545 (Iowa 2009).
In that case, the court held Heemstra was a change
in the law and trial counsel could not be deemed ineffective
for failing to anticipate the change in law in Heemstra.
See Goosman, 764 N.W.2d ...