review from the Iowa Court of Appeals.
from the Iowa District Court for Black Hawk County, Stephen
C. Clarke, Judge.
Ryan Lee Roby challenges the district court's imposition
of a minimum term of incarceration without the possibility of
parole following a resentencing hearing in which the district
court was to consider certain mitigating factors attributable
to his youth at the time of the offense.
Audlehelm of Audlehelm Law Office, Des Moines, for appellant.
J. Miller, Attorney General, and Kyle Hanson, Assistant
Attorney General, for appellee.
appeal, we must decide if article I, section 17 of the Iowa
Constitution categorically prohibits any minimum term of
incarceration without the possibility of parole when imposed
on an individual who was a juvenile at the time of the
offense. If it does not, we must also decide whether the
district court erred in resentencing Christopher Roby to a
minimum term of incarceration following a hearing in which
the court was to consider certain mitigating factors
attributable to his youth at the time of the offense. In
December of 2004, a jury found Roby guilty of two counts of
sexual abuse for his conduct when he was sixteen and
seventeen years of age. The court initially sentenced him, as
required by statute, to twenty-five years with a mandatory
minimum of seventeen and one-half years for sexual abuse in
the second degree and a concurrent term of ten years for
sexual abuse in the third degree. Following our decision in
State v. Lyle, 854 N.W.2d 378 (2014), in which we
held all statutorily imposed mandatory minimums constituted
cruel and unusual punishment under the Iowa Constitution, the
district court held a resentencing hearing to determine
whether the minimum term of incarceration should be imposed.
It found it should and issued an order detailing its
reasoning. Roby appealed, arguing any minimum term of
incarceration without the possibility of parole is
unconstitutional and, in the alternative, that the district
court failed to properly apply the factors we identified in
Lyle. The court of appeals disagreed with Roby on
both matters and affirmed the sentence. We granted further
review. On further review, we find the Iowa Constitution does
not prohibit a district court from sentencing a juvenile
offender to a minimum term of incarceration without the
possibility of parole, but we remand for resentencing.
Factual Background and Proceedings.
Roby was convicted following a jury trial of the crimes of
sexual abuse in the second and third degrees on December 2,
2004. He was sixteen and seventeen when he committed the
crimes. The conviction resulted from Roby's inappropriate
sexual conduct with S.M., who was ages eleven through
thirteen during the relevant times.
first incident, for which Roby was not prosecuted, but the
jury did hear evidence on, was apparently in the spring of
1998. Roby was staying at S.M.'s house. S.M.'s
parents were downstairs, while S.M. and her siblings, along
with Roby, were upstairs. This was not unusual. Roby was
S.M.'s brother's best friend since kindergarten and
would often stay overnight. He was considered a member of the
family and would even accompany them on vacations and to
church. S.M., then ten years old, fell asleep in her
parents' bedroom while watching television. She awoke to
Roby, then fifteen, forcing his hand under her pants and
underwear. She immediately left the room, went downstairs,
and told her parents what had occurred. S.M.'s parents
were furious and confronted Roby, who left the house with
S.M.'s brother, and the two walked to a gas station
before Roby went home to his own parents. S.M.'s parents
did not contact the police or Roby's parents at that
about six to eight weeks, S.M.'s parents allowed Roby
back into the home. They insisted Roby not be left alone with
S.M. Over time, however, this precaution eased. Years passed
with Roby frequently coming and going and staying over, just
as he was before the initial incident. In March of 2002,
Roby, now eighteen, left for the Navy. In September of 2002,
he returned on leave. That was when S.M., now fourteen,
confided in her brother's girlfriend that Roby had been
abusing her ever since being let back into the house. S.M.
stated the abuse would occur nearly every time Roby had
stayed over during the preceding three years and that it
occurred again with Roby back on leave. Either Roby would
touch S.M.'s genitals and breasts or he would force S.M.
to masturbate him. This contact with S.M. was always
nonconsensual and was severely impacting her mental health.
S.M.'s parents learned of the abuse, and S.M.'s
mother confronted Roby. Roby denied any contact occurred.
S.M.'s mother then went to the police.
police arrested Roby. There is some indication Roby initially
thought the police were investigating him for stealing a
video game or maybe thought admitting that crime would
deflect them from investigating the abuse. During an
interrogation, Roby confessed to the contact. However, the
court ultimately suppressed the interrogation because Roby
only confessed after the investigator implied he must submit
to a polygraph for use in court, promised him leniency, and
threatened greater punishment if he continued to deny the
the interrogation, Roby was charged and released on bond to
return to the Navy. He served for two years until being
discharged to answer for this case. The prosecutor had
initially charged Roby with one count of sexual abuse in the
third degree for the alleged conduct while Roby was eighteen
and S.M. was under fourteen. After a breakdown in plea
negotiations, the prosecutor charged Roby with four counts,
delineated by Roby and S.M.'s birthdays: (Count I) sexual
abuse in the second degree for conduct occurring when S.M.
was under twelve and Roby was fifteen or sixteen, (Count II)
sexual abuse in the third degree for conduct occurring when
S.M. was under fourteen and Roby was under eighteen, (Count
III) sexual abuse in the third degree for conduct occurring
when S.M. was under fourteen and Roby was eighteen, and
(Count IV) sexual abuse in the third degree for conduct
occurring when S.M. was fourteen and Roby was eighteen. After
Roby moved to dismiss Count I for alleging conduct while Roby
was fifteen and therefore under the jurisdiction of the
juvenile court, the prosecutor amended Count I a second time
and confined it to the time after Roby turned sixteen. Thus,
while the jury heard evidence regarding the initial incident
when S.M. told her parents Roby was touching her while she
was sleeping, he was not charged for this event. Instead, he
was charged based on S.M.'s statements of continuing
abuse from that point.
trial, the State presented testimony from S.M., her parents,
and her brother. Roby did not testify. He also did not
present witnesses. The jury found Roby guilty of Counts I and
II. They found him guilty of sexual abuse occurring when Roby
was sixteen and S.M. was eleven, and when Roby was seventeen
and S.M. was twelve or thirteen years old. The jury found
Roby not guilty of Counts III and IV, abuse occurring after
he turned eighteen.
presentence investigation (PSI) report was prepared, and the
court held a sentencing hearing with testimony from Roby and
his parents. Though the record is limited on Roby's life
before prison, at least some history appears from trial
testimony, this hearing, and the PSI. The record shows Roby
was born two months premature on December 20, 1983. His
mother indicated his biological father abducted, abused, and
neglected him for four years when he was very young.
Roby's father eventually returned him to his mother in
Waterloo, who later married a man who adopted Roby.
Roby's mother was a homemaker and his adoptive father
worked for a farm implement company as a designer. Roby is
the middle child of three. He maintained a good relationship
with his family, despite the absence of his biological
father, but generally felt his childhood was
"rough." He was diagnosed with attention-deficit
disorder. He completed the tenth grade at Expo Alternative
Learning Center in Waterloo and reported getting along well
with his teachers, although he was suspended once for
fighting. Roby joined the Navy to, in his words, straighten
out his life. The PSI reported Roby frequently consumed
alcohol while in the Navy and used marijuana. At sentencing,
Roby denied any alcohol or drug use. Roby had no juvenile
record before this case.
It just seems like it's been one thing after another with
this kid. . . . This kid has tried and tried and tried to get
his life on track, and it seems like every time he does,
it's one thing after another waitin' there to knock
him back down. And now you're going to take him away from
me for 25 years or whatever, and I just-I think it's
adoptive father testified,
I think the penalty for the crime far outweighs the crime.
It's absurd and it's even more absurd that the judge
is not allowed to make any adjustments to that. I don't
think you can take things like that away from the judges.
Second-degree sexual abuse, you can't lump all of them
into one. Chris was a minor when it happened. And like what
he did get a little therapy, you don't put them in jail
for 25 years. That's not going to solve anything.
also testified. He maintained his innocence and stated,
"There's just so many inconsistencies in her story,
and I mean, I just-I don't see how one person can-can
take another person's life like this."
court sentenced Roby, stating, "The court is sympathetic
to the feelings of the family, however, as they point out,
this is the only disposition available to the court under the
law as it presently stands." The court was statutorily
required to, and did, impose the maximum sentence of
twenty-five years on Count I with a mandatory minimum of
seventeen and one-half years before eligibility for parole.
The court imposed a concurrent sentence of ten years for
Count II. This was in January of 2005. Roby had recently
turned twenty-one while in jail awaiting sentencing.
2014, following this court's holdings in State v.
Null, 836 N.W.2d 41 (Iowa 2013), State v.
Pearson, 836 N.W.2d 88 (Iowa 2013), and State v.
Ragland, 836 N.W.2d 107 (Iowa 2013), Roby, who was
thirty years old, moved to correct an illegal sentence. He
argued he was entitled to an individualized review under the
principles of those cases. Around the same time, we issued
our opinion in Lyle and confirmed juveniles like
Roby were entitled to individualized review of their
statutorily imposed sentences. 854 N.W.2d at 404. Pursuant to
these opinions, the court held a resentencing hearing to
correct the statutorily mandated minimum sentence of
seventeen and one-half years using the five factors
identified in Lyle:
(1) the age of the offender and the features of youthful
behavior, such as "immaturity, impetuosity, and failure
to appreciate risks and consequences"; (2) the
particular "family and home environment" that
surround the youth; (3) the circumstances of the particular
crime and all circumstances relating to youth that may have
played a role in the commission of the crime; (4) the
challenges for youthful offenders in navigating through the
criminal process; and (5) the possibility of rehabilitation
and the capacity for change.
Id. at 404 n.10 (quoting Miller v. Alabama,
567 U.S. 460, ___, 132 S.Ct. 2455, 2468 (2012)). On
"considering all the relevant factors and facts of the
case, " the district court had to either
"resentence [Roby] by imposing a condition that [Roby]
be eligible for parole" or, "[i]f the mandatory
minimum period of incarceration is warranted, . . . impose
the sentence provided for under the statute, as previously
presented his prison disciplinary and other prison treatment
records. This was the only exhibit. Roby's counsel
addressed the Lyle factors by first noting Roby was
kicked out of his parents' home, indicating a lack of
familial support. Roby's counsel continued, noting Roby
had no prior criminal record. She argued Roby had
difficulties navigating the criminal justice system as
indicated by the interrogation the court ultimately had to
suppress. She noted he served two years in the Navy. She
argued he had the potential to be rehabilitated based on his
prison disciplinary records, which showed most of his
violations occurred early on in his incarceration. She also
noted he had obtained his GED, taken a college course, been a
lead person in the science shop, worked in the kitchen, and
tutored other inmates. Finally, Roby's counsel pointed
out that Roby had family in Waterloo willing to assist him on
State countered that Roby's disciplinary records did not
indicate rehabilitation potential because they included an
infraction for inappropriately touching female staff. The
State also pointed to Roby's failure to obtain
sex-offender treatment, which Roby's counsel argued was
due to department of corrections backlog and policy not to
treat offenders until they are nearing release. The State
also argued Roby continued to deny responsibility and blame
the victim based on statements he made while being treated
for anxiety and sleeplessness. The State concluded as to the
first Lyle factor, "It would cut against him
because of the multiple acts that were involved in this
case." The State continued its arguments on the
Lyle factors, noting Roby's home environment was
the same as the victim's. As to the circumstances of the
crime, the State noted Roby's actions were not sexual
exploration, but abuse. As to navigating the criminal
process, the State noted Roby had to be taken from the Navy
and that he exercised his rights to have the interrogation
suppressed. As to rehabilitation, the State again argued Roby
failed to take responsibility, as shown by his numerous
posttrial appeals and motions.
testified on his own behalf, stating,
Your Honor, over the last ten years, I've tried to better
myself while I was in there. I was told when I was getting my
GED, one of the teachers told me that if you fail to plan,
you plan to fail. So everything I've done since I've
been in there has been to make it so I'll be a better
person when I get out, Your Honor. I've gotten my GED.
I've taken any courses that's been available to me.
I've learned job skills. I've learned trades.
I've helped other people bettering themselves, teaching
them how to do a cover letter, a resume, how to use a
I'm sorry for all of this, Your Honor. I just-I hope that
after ten years I can get my life back.
a month later, the court issued its ruling.
the first Lyle factor, the court found,
The acts that resulted in the jury's guilty verdicts were
not merely based on the defendant's immaturity,
impetuosity and failure to appreciate the risks and
consequences. In this case this defendant had been confronted
at an earlier time about improper touching of this victim.
Notwithstanding that, the defendant continued to sexually
abuse his victim.
the second factor,
While the defendant's family and home environment were
obviously not the best, the victim's family attempted to
step in and provide a home for him. It was during this time
that the defendant took advantage of the child victim.
The defendant's participation in the conduct that
resulted in his conviction was not the result of any familial
or peer pressure. It was conduct freely chosen by the
defendant with no care at all for the victim and less care
for the victim's family that was giving him a home.
court did not address the fourth factor, but noted as to the
While the court may have been hopeful that a period of
incarceration would have led the defendant to some remorse
for his behavior, it is apparent that this is not the case.
The documents submitted as Defendant's exhibit 1 show
that in an evaluation conducted in May of 2005 at the Iowa
Medication and Classification Center the defendant again
denied any sexual contact ever occurring with the victim. In
a note entitled "Psychological Encounter" showing
an encounter date of October 12, 2012, while explaining his
sleep problems, it was reported, "He noted that he does
not understand how his case has not been overturned because
he was not in Iowa at the time of the crime."
The victim stance taken by the defendant does not bode well
for rehabilitation. After 10 years the defendant has yet to
confront his own behavior or even begin to be able to
empathize with the victim of his acts.
the court found a mandatory minimum sentence was appropriate.
Roby appealed, and the court of appeals affirmed. We granted
further review to address Roby's two arguments: (1) that
the Iowa Constitution categorically prohibits all minimum
terms of incarceration without the possibility of parole when
imposed on juveniles, and in the alternative, (2) that the
district court erred in its analysis of the Lyle
Standard of Review.
review a constitutional challenge to a sentence de novo.
See State v. Sweet, 879 N.W.2d 811, 816 (Iowa 2016).
Roby's first argument is a categorical one, and
therefore, we apply de novo review. See, e.g.,
id. at 816-17; see also Lyle, 854 N.W.2d at
382-83. However, the parties dispute the appropriate standard
of review on Roby's second challenge, and we have not yet
established the standard of review for appeals following a
juvenile's resentencing hearing.
recently noted in State v. Seats, "We have
expressed three different standards of review when a
defendant challenges his or her sentence on appeal." 865
N.W.2d 545, 552 (Iowa 2015). We review for an "abuse of
discretion, " our most deferential standard, "if
the sentence is within the statutory limits."
Id. We review for "correction of errors at law,
" an intermediate standard, "when the defendant
challenges the legality of a sentence on nonconstitutional
grounds." Id. at 553. Finally, we apply de novo
review, our least deferential standard, to constitutional
reasons the individualized hearing requirement is
constitutional in origin, and therefore, an appeal from such
a hearing is on constitutional grounds subject to de novo
review. The State argues the sentence imposed is within the
statutory limits, and therefore, our review is for an abuse
of discretion. The court of appeals in this case reviewed
Roby's resentencing hearing for an abuse of discretion.
We affirm this approach, but would elaborate on the use of
the abuse-of-discretion standard in the juvenile sentencing
begin by noting an unconstitutional sentence remains
unconstitutional even if the district court held a hearing
before imposing it. See Montgomery v. Louisiana, 577
U.S. ___, ___, 136 S.Ct. 718, 734 (2016) ("Even if a
court considers a child's age before sentencing him or
her to a lifetime in prison, that sentence still violates the
Eighth Amendment for a child whose crime reflects
'unfortunate yet transient immaturity.' "
(quoting Miller, 567 U.S. at ___, 132 S.Ct. at
2469)). However, we have not yet categorically declared all
minimum sentences of incarceration unconstitutional when
imposed on juvenile offenders. See Lyle, 854 N.W.2d
at 403 ("[T]he holding in this case does not prohibit
judges from sentencing juveniles to prison for the length of
time identified by the legislature for the crime committed .
. . ."). Instead, we have held it is the "absence
of a sentencing procedure" that offends article I,
section 17 of the Iowa Constitution. Id. at 402.
Thus, when there is an appropriate sentencing procedure there
is no constitutional violation. Under our existing law, if
the district court follows the sentencing procedure we have
identified and a statute authorizes the sentence ultimately
imposed, then our review is for abuse of discretion; we ask
whether there is "evidence [that] supports the
sentence." Seats, 865 N.W.2d at 553.
we agree with a recent decision from a Michigan appellate
court that "the abuse-of-discretion standard requires
further explanation in this context." See People v.
Hyatt, 891 N.W.2d 549, 576 (Mich. Ct. App. 2016).
Although the Michigan court was reviewing the imposition of a
sentence of life without parole, we find the special
considerations involved in sentencing a juvenile offender to
an adult sentence similarly mean that, "even under this
deferential standard, an appellate court should view such a
sentence as inherently suspect, " and "cannot
merely rubber-stamp the trial court's sentencing
decision." Id. at 577-78. We too import this
guidance from the Eighth Circuit:
A discretionary sentencing ruling, similarly, may be [an
abuse of discretion] if a sentencing court fails to consider
a relevant factor that should have received significant
weight, gives significant weight to an improper or irrelevant
factor, or considers only appropriate factors but
nevertheless commits a clear error of judgment by arriving at
a sentence that lies outside the limited range of choice
dictated by the facts of the case.
Id. at 578 (alteration in original) (quoting
United States v. Haack, 403 F.3d 997, 1004 (8th Cir.
2005)). In sum, while the review is for abuse of discretion,
it is not forgiving of a deficiency in the constitutional
right to a reasoned sentencing decision based on a proper
The Categorical Challenge.
the United States Supreme Court, we address a categorical
constitutional challenge to a sentencing practice by using a
two-step analysis. See Graham v. Florida, 560 U.S.
48, 61, 130 S.Ct. 2011, 2022 (2010); Roper v.
Simmons, 543 U.S. 551, 564, 125 S.Ct. 1183, 1192 (2005);
Sweet, 879 N.W.2d at 835; Lyle, 854 N.W.2d
at 386. Under this analysis, we first "look to whether
there is a consensus, or at least an emerging consensus,
" to guide our consideration of the question.
Sweet, 879 N.W.2d at 835. "Second, we exercise
our independent judgment" to decide the question.
Id. In this case, the question is whether a
twenty-five-year sentence with a minimum period of
incarceration of seventeen and one-half years for a juvenile
offender convicted of sexual abuse is categorically
prohibited under the cruel and unusual punishment clause of
the Iowa Constitution. In other words, the question is
whether our constitution requires all juvenile offenders be
immediately eligible for parole.
Evidence of Consensus.
recognize the presence or absence of a national consensus is
normally indicated by the actions of legislatures. See,
e.g., Graham, 560 U.S. at 61, 130 S.Ct. at 2022
("The Court first considers 'objective indicia of
society's standards, as expressed in legislative
enactments and state practice, ' to determine whether
there is a national consensus against the sentencing practice
at issue." (quoting Roper, 543 U.S. at 563, 125
S.Ct. at 1191)).
decided Lyle, we noted some states had already
"limited or abolished mandatory minimums for
juveniles." 854 N.W.2d at 386 n.3 (compiling statutes).
Since then, state legislatures have continued to reform their
state's juvenile justice systems. For example, many
jurisdictions have reconsidered "the more sweeping
question of whether too many juveniles are being tried in
'adult' court." Brief of the Charles Hamilton Houston
Inst. for Race & Justice and Criminal Justice Inst. as
Amici Curiae in Support of Neither Party,
Montgomery, 136 S.Ct. 718 (No. 14-280), 2015 WL
4624172, at *11. Others have shortened the minimum term of
incarceration juveniles must serve before parole
eligibility. Still others are working to
improve juvenile justice by providing safer
facilities and greater access to
rehabilitative programs.All the foregoing tells us juvenile justice
is undergoing significant and comprehensive reform. However,
it also tells us that, in this time of feverish legislative
action, no legislature has chosen to require a
Miller-type hearing before imposing any minimum term
of incarceration, and no legislature has chosen to make all
juvenile offenders immediately eligible for parole.
may broaden our inquiry to consider rapid changes in
constitutional protections. See Lyle, 854 N.W.2d at
387. The State of Iowa was the first to prohibit sentencing
juveniles to statutorily imposed mandatory minimums. See
id. at 386 (noting no court has constitutionally
prohibited the practice, and most states permit or require
minimum sentences). We are aware of one state supreme court
that has since held similarly. See State v.
Houston-Sconiers, 391 P.3d 409, 420 (Wash. 2017)
("In accordance with Miller, we hold that
sentencing courts must have complete discretion to consider
mitigating circumstances associated with the youth of
any juvenile defendant . . . ." (Emphasis
added.)). We also note courts are still in the midst of
defining the new system of individualized hearings, with
little uniformity emerging as to either when the hearing is
required and what it should look like. Compare Landrum v.
State, 192 So.3d 459, 467 (Fla. 2016) (concluding a
Miller-type hearing is required before a sentencing
court may impose a discretionary sentence of life without
parole), with Foster v. State, 754 S.E.2d 33, 37
(Ga. 2014) (finding Miller-type hearing inapplicable
to discretionary sentence of life without parole).
Compare Casiano v. Comm'r of Corr., 115 A.3d
1031, 1044 (Conn. 2015) (concluding Miller applies
to juvenile offenders sentenced to the "functional
equivalent" of life without parole), with State v.
Ali, ___ N.W.2d ___, ___, 2017 WL 2152730, at *1 (Minn.
2017) (holding Miller only applies to the specific
sentence of life without parole). Compare State v.
Charles, 892 N.W.2d 915, 922-23 (S.D. 2017) (finding a
resentencing hearing satisfied the standard announced in
Miller), with People v. Berg, 202
Cal.Rptr.3d 786, 795 (Cal.Ct.App. 2016) (finding a
resentencing hearing failed to satisfy Miller). The
Supreme Court has intervened only to say that parole
eligibility is the simplest way to cure an otherwise
constitutionally impermissible juvenile sentence. See
Montgomery, 577 U.S. at ___, 136 S.Ct. at 736. In all,
we can foresee these challenges will continue, with
frequency, for some time before the Constitution's role
in sentencing juveniles is clarified.
also consider changes in professional opinion and scholarly
commentary in finding consensus. See Sweet, 879
N.W.2d at 835-36. Many academics appear comfortable with the
idea of either individualized sentencing or "a system of
minimum sentences for juvenile offenders that are shorter in
duration than those imposed on their adult
counterparts." Elizabeth Scott et al., Juvenile
Sentencing Reform in a Constitutional Framework, 88
Temp. L. Rev. 675, 708 (2016) [hereinafter Scott]. But others
assert the time has come to refocus on rehabilitative
efforts, with a heavy emphasis on the availability of parole.
See Martin Gardner, Youthful Offenders and the
Eighth Amendment Right to Rehabilitation: Limitations on the
Punishment of Juveniles, 83 Tenn. L. Rev. 455, 495
(2016) ("Rather than either parole release or
individualized presentencing hearings, the best reading of
both."). As one commentator explains,
Given the Court's acknowledgment of the pre-sentence
impossibility of precisely distinguishing those juveniles
whose crimes are one-time products of "transient
immaturity" and those "rare [offenders] whose
crime[s] reflect irreparable corruption, "
rehabilitation programs within prison with parole release are
necessary to effectuate a youthful offender's right to a
"meaningful opportunity to obtain release based on
demonstrated maturity and rehabilitation." Moreover,
because rehabilitation can occur at any time and requires
immediate release from prison upon its occurrence, it follows
that mandatory minimum sentences can no longer be imposed on
juvenile offenders if Graham is followed to its
Id. at 495-96 (alterations in original) (footnotes
omitted) (quoting Graham, 560 U.S. at 68, 75, 130
S.Ct. at 2026, 2030). In addition, the American Law Institute
(ALI), in section 6.11A of its Model Penal Code:
Sentencing, proposes the court must always have the
"authority to impose a sentence that deviates from any
mandatory-minimum term of imprisonment under state law,
" in keeping with its "categorical
disapproval" of mandatory penalty provisions.
See Model Penal Code: Sentencing § 6.11A(f)
& cmt. f, at 36, 43 (Am. Law. Inst., Tent. Draft
No. 2, 2011). This section was approved in 2011, one year
prior to the Supreme Court's guidance in Miller.
See Model Penal Code: Sentencing at xii (Am. Law.
Inst., Tent. Draft No. 4, 2016). Even then, the ALI
recognized the lessened blameworthiness of juvenile
offenders, their potential for rehabilitation, and the lack
of "persuasive empirical support for the proposition
that increased punishment severity acts as an effective
deterrent of criminal acts." ...