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State v. Cox

Court of Appeals of Iowa

September 27, 2017

STATE OF IOWA, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
MATTHEW EARL COX, Defendant-Appellant.

         Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Linn County, Robert E. Sosalla, Judge.

         Defendant appeals the district court's denial of his motion to correct illegal sentence as to the requirement that he must comply with lifetime registration as a sex offender pursuant to Iowa Code chapter 692A, even though his conviction was for a sex crime committed as a juvenile. AFFIRMED.

          Elizabeth Araguás of Nidey, Erdahl, Fisher, Pilkington, & Meier, P.L.C., Cedar Rapids, for appellant.

          Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, and Louis S. Sloven, Assistant Attorney General, for appellee.

          Considered by Danilson, C.J., Potterfield, J., and Blane, S.J. [*]

          BLANE, SENIOR JUDGE.

         Defendant Matthew Earl Cox appeals the district court's partial denial of his motion to correct illegal sentence pursuant to Iowa Rule of Criminal Procedure 2.24(5). Cox claims (1) the sentence to lifetime registration as a sex offender for a crime committed by him as a juvenile is punitive in nature; (2) lifetime registration as a sex offender constitutes cruel and unusual punishment in violation of state constitutional provisions when applied to him for a crime committed as a juvenile; (3) Iowa Code chapter 692A (2005), as applied to him, is an ex post facto application of the law; and (4) lifetime registration as a sex offender violates his rights under the federal and state Due Process Clauses because it imposes restrictions on his liberty without an individualized determination of his risk to the community. The first two issues have recently been decided adversely to Cox by the supreme court in State v. Graham, 897 N.W.2d 476 (Iowa 2017), and we are required to follow that precedent.[1] As the supreme court previously held in State v. Pickens, 558 N.W.2d 398, 400 (Iowa 1997), the provisions of Iowa Code chapter 692A are not punitive, so the statute is not subject to an ex post facto claim. Finally, we conclude Iowa Code chapter 692A does not violate due process. For these reasons, we affirm the district court.

         A. Procedural and Factual Background.

         In 2006, a trial information accused Cox of sexual abuse in the second degree and alleged that between January 1, 1996, and December 31, 2005, he committed a sex act against a child under the age of twelve. The victim turned twelve years of age in June of 1998. To fall under the definition of second-degree sexual abuse, the crime therefore had to have taken place before the child's birthday in June 1998. On that date, Cox was fifteen years old.

         On January 29, 2008, a jury returned a guilty verdict against Cox for sexual abuse in the second degree, in violation of Iowa Code sections 709.1, 709.3(2), and 901A.2(3). Sexual abuse in the second degree is a class "B" felony.[2] On February 20, Cox was sentenced to a prison term not to exceed fifty years, plus a mandatory minimum of 85% of the sentence before eligibility for parole. He was also sentenced to lifetime parole and registration as a sex offender at the conclusion of the prison sentence. Cox filed an appeal as to his sentence. The supreme court vacated his sentence and remanded the case to the district court for resentencing. On January 16, 2009, Cox was resentenced to an indeterminate prison sentence of twenty-five years, plus a mandatory minimum requirement of 70%. Upon completion of his prison term, he is also required to register as a sex offender for his lifetime, pursuant to Iowa Code chapter 692A.

         On November 24, 2015, Cox filed a motion to correct illegal sentence. Cox argued his sentences were illegal because he had committed the offense as a juvenile. Cox requested a twenty-five-year indeterminate sentence with immediate parole eligibility, that he be excluded from the mandatory minimum penalty imposed by Iowa Code section 902.12, that he not be subject to lifetime parole as set forth in Iowa Code chapter 903B, and that he not be subject to lifetime sex offender registration pursuant to Iowa Code chapter 692A. As to this last issue, he argued that the Iowa and United States Constitutions prohibit the State from imposing upon him, as a juvenile offender, a lifetime sex offender registration requirement. On January 6, 2016, the district court entered an order granting Cox's motion in part. In particular, the court ordered Cox was not subject to the 70% mandatory minimum and not subject to lifetime parole, but it denied Cox's request he be relieved from lifetime registration as a sex offender. Cox filed this timely appeal as to this last issue.

         B. Standard of Review.

         A defendant may challenge the legality of a sentence at any time. State v. Bruegger, 773 N.W.2d 862, 869 (Iowa 2009); accord State v. Lyle, 854 N.W.2d 378, 382 (Iowa 2014). While we ordinarily review challenges to illegal sentences for errors at law, we review allegedly unconstitutional sentences de novo. Lyle, 854 N.W.2d at 382; State v. Ragland, 836 N.W.2d 107, 113 (Iowa 2013). Statutes are presumed constitutional-to rebut this presumption, one must prove the statute unconstitutional beyond a reasonable doubt. State v. Wade, 757 N.W.2d 618, 622 (Iowa 2008); State v. Seering, 701 N.W.2d 655, 661 (Iowa 2005). A statute is unconstitutional beyond a reasonable doubt if one refutes "every reasonable basis upon which the statute could be found to be constitutional." Seering, 701 N.W.2d at 661 (quoting State v. Hernandez-Lopez, 639 N.W.2d 226, 233 (Iowa 2002)); see State v. Graham, 897 N.W.2d at 481, reh'g denied (June 22, 2017).

         C. Discussion.

         I. Whether the lifetime sex offender registration requirement for juvenile sex offenders is sufficiently punitive to designate it as a punishment and whether an argument can be made that it constitutes cruel and unusual punishment.

         Initially, Cox argues the appellate court must apply the analysis set out in Kennedy v. Mendoza-Martinez, 372 U.S. 144, 168-69 (1963) to determine if Iowa Code chapter 692A is punitive as applied to juveniles so as to be subject to a constitutional cruel-and-unusual-punishment challenge. In Pickens, our supreme court applied the Mendoza-Martinez test to Iowa Code chapter 692A and determined the statute is not punitive as applied to adults. 558 N.W.2d at 399-400. In Seering, the supreme court again examined Iowa Code chapter 692A with respect to a constitutional challenge to the "2000 foot rule" within the statute. 701 N.W.2d at 662-71. It found the statute withstood federal and state constitutional challenges as to claimed violations of substantive and procedural due process and cruel and unusual punishment. Id. at 670. Cox in this appeal asks us to review Pickens and Seering in light of a 2009 amendment to the statute, which he claims is "more limiting than its predecessors."

         We find it unnecessary to undertake a Mendoza-Martinez analysis as the supreme court recently looked at the constitutionality of Iowa Code chapter 692A as applied to juveniles. See Graham, 897 N.W.2d at 488-91. In Graham, the supreme court addressed (1) whether a mandatory special sentence of lifetime parole is categorically cruel and unusual punishment and violates due process when imposed on a juvenile, (2) whether mandatory lifetime sex offender registration is categorically cruel and unusual punishment and violates due process when imposed upon a juvenile, and (3) whether a mandatory special sentence of lifetime parole and mandatory lifetime sex offender registration, as applied, amounts to cruel and unusual punishment because the punishment is grossly disproportionate to the underlying offense. In examining these issues, the supreme court did not find it necessary to apply a Mendoza-Martinez analysis. It stated:

In the past, however, we have held, at least as applied to adults, lifetime sex offender registration was not punitive under statutes then in existence. We have also held that an offender failed to show that the 2000-foot rule was effectively banishment as applied to him, and therefore punitive. And, while a federal district court in Iowa concluded that lifetime sex offender registration under Iowa Code chapter 692A was punitive after the development of a thorough record in Doe v. Miller, 298 F.Supp.2d 844, 871 (S.D. Iowa 2004), a divided United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit reversed.

Graham, 897 N.W.2d at 489 (citations omitted). The court concluded as to his categorical constitutional challenges, [3] the defendant "has not demonstrated any injury in fact to entitle him to relief." Id. The supreme court left in place its prior opinions in Pickens and Seering and affirmed both the district court and court of appeals decisions holding that Iowa Code chapter 692A is not punitive and does not impose unconstitutional cruel and unusual punishment. Id. We are bound to follow that precedent. Under the present state of the law, lifetime sex offender registration requirements for juvenile sex offenders is not punitive. As such, Iowa Code chapter 692A, imposing lifetime sex offender registration, is not subject to a constitutional cruel-and-unusual-punishment challenge.[4] See id.

         II. Whether application of Iowa Code chapter 692A in thismatter requiring Cox to register as a sex offender for life constituted an ex post facto application of the statute because a jury did ...


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