from the Iowa District Court for Scott County, Mark D. Cleve,
for writ of certiorari challenging the denial of a motion to
correct illegal sentence. WRIT ANNULLED.
Blair III of Blair & Fitzsimmons, P.C., Dubuque, for
J. Miller, Attorney General, and Kelli Huser, Assistant
Attorney General, for appellee.
Considered by Danilson, C.J., and Tabor and McDonald, JJ.
September 2010, Johnny Clayton was convicted as a habitual
offender of robbery in the second degree, in violation of
Iowa Code sections 711.1 and 711.3 (2009), and assault while
participating in a felony, in violation of section 708.3. The
district court sentenced Clayton to concurrent fifteen-year
terms of incarceration. The facts and circumstances of the
case are set forth in two prior unsuccessful appeals but are
immaterial to the resolution of this appeal. See State v.
Clayton, No. 14-0034, 2015 WL 582017, at *3 (Iowa Ct.
App. Feb. 11, 2015) (affirming denial of motion to correct
illegal sentence based on defendant's contention he was
not habitual offender); State v. Clayton, No.
10-1736, 2011 WL 2565658, at *2 (Iowa Ct. App. June 29, 2011)
(preserving claim of ineffective assistance of counsel).
2016, the General Assembly amended the sentencing statute for
robbery in the first or second degree. See 2016 Iowa
Acts ch. 1104, § 8. In the prior sentencing scheme,
those defendants, like Clayton, convicted of robbery in the
first or second degree were required to serve seven tenths,
or seventy percent, of the maximum term of the person's
sentence before becoming eligible for parole or work release.
See Iowa Code § 902.12(5) (2009). The new law
affords some sentencing discretion to the sentencing court,
changing the mandatory minimum sentence for robbery in the
first or second degree from seventy percent to "between
one-half and seven-tenths" of the maximum term of the
defendant's sentence. Compare Iowa Code §
902.12(5) (2009), with Iowa Code § 902.12(3)
(2016). This change in the law applies to convictions
"that occur[red] on or after July 1, 2016."
See 2016 Iowa Acts ch. 1104, § 8.
and August 2016, Clayton filed two "motions to reduce
minimum mandatory and resentence, " contending the
change in the sentencing law should be applied retroactively
to his sentence for robbery in the second degree. In
substance, the motions were treated as motions to correct an
illegal sentence. The district court denied Clayton's
motions. Clayton timely filed his notice of appeal. However,
there is no appeal as a matter of right from the denial of a
motion to correct illegal sentence. See State v.
Propps, 897 N.W.2d 91, 96 (Iowa 2017). The supreme court
ordered Clayton's notice of appeal be treated as a
petition for writ of certiorari and, at its discretion,
granted the petition. The supreme court then transferred
Clayton's case to this court for disposition on the
question presented is a narrow one. Clayton concedes the
sentencing amendment is not retroactive. He contends,
however, the failure to apply the ameliorative sentencing
statute retroactively violates his right to equal protection
under the United States and Iowa Constitutions. See
U.S. Const. amend XIV; Iowa Const. art. I, § 6. A claim
of an illegal sentence is ordinarily reviewed for correction
of errors at law. See State v. Hoeck, 843 N.W.2d 67,
70 (Iowa 2014). However, we review constitutional claims de
novo. See State v. Kout, 854 N.W.2d 706, 708 (Iowa
Ct. App. 2014).
Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution
provides, in part: "No State shall make or enforce any
law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of
citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive
any person of life, liberty, or property without due process
of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the
equal protection of the laws." Article I, section 6 of
the Iowa Constitution provides: "All laws of a general
nature shall have a uniform operation; the general assembly
shall not grant to any citizen or class of citizens,
privileges or immunities, which, upon the same terms shall
not equally belong to all citizens." See also
Iowa Const. art. I, § 1 ("All men and women are, by
nature, free and equal . . . ."); id. art. I,
§ 2 (recognizing "[a]ll political power is inherent
in the people" and "[g]overnment is instituted for
the protection, security, and benefit of the people").
essential promise of equal protection is that "all
persons similarly situated should be treated alike."
Racing Ass'n of Cent. Iowa v. Fitzgerald, 675
N.W.2d 1, 7 (Iowa 2004). "More precisely, 'the equal
protection guarantee requires that laws treat all those who
are similarly situated with respect to the purposes of the
law alike.'" Nguyen v. State, 878 N.W.2d
744, 757 (Iowa 2016) (quoting Varnum v. Brien, 763
N.W.2d 862, 883 (Iowa 2009)). "Although we have
'generally applied the same analysis to federal and state
equal protection claims, [Iowa appellate courts have] not
foreclosed the possibility that there may be situations where
differences in the scope, import, or purpose of the two
provisions warrant divergent analyses.'"
Id. (quoting In re Det. of Hennings, 744
N.W.2d 333, 338 (Iowa 2008)). However, absent an argument to
the contrary, we generally decline to apply divergent
analyses under the two constitutions. See, e.g., State v.
Wade, 757 N.W.2d 618, 624 (Iowa 2008). Here, Clayton
makes no argument for a different standard under the Iowa
first step in an equal-protection analysis is to determine
the appropriate standard of review." State v.
Biddle, 652 N.W.2d 191, 202 (Iowa 2002). "Unless a
suspect class or fundamental right is involved, any
classification made by the legislature need only have a
rational basis." Id.; see Heller
v. Doe, 509 U.S. 312, 319-20 (1993) ("[A]
classification neither involving fundamental rights nor
proceeding along suspect lines is accorded a strong
presumption of validity [and] cannot run afoul of the Equal
Protection Clause if there is a rational relationship between
the disparity of treatment and some legitimate governmental
Under the rational basis test, "[t]he plaintiff has the
heavy burden of showing the statute unconstitutional and must
negate every reasonable basis upon which the classification
may be sustained." In deference to the legislature, a
statute will ...