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Clayton v. Iowa District Court For Scott County

Court of Appeals of Iowa

October 11, 2017

JOHNNY TERRELL CLAYTON, Plaintiff-Appellant,

         Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Scott County, Mark D. Cleve, Judge.

         Petition for writ of certiorari challenging the denial of a motion to correct illegal sentence. WRIT ANNULLED.

          Les M. Blair III of Blair & Fitzsimmons, P.C., Dubuque, for appellant.

          Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, and Kelli Huser, Assistant Attorney General, for appellee.

          Considered by Danilson, C.J., and Tabor and McDonald, JJ.

          MCDONALD, Judge.

         In 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).

         In 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.

         In July 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 merits.

         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).

         The 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").

         The 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 Constitution.

         "The 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 purpose.").

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 ...

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