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Dixon v. State

Court of Appeals of Iowa

February 7, 2018

LANCE RUSSELL DIXON, Applicant-Appellant,
v.
STATE OF IOWA, Respondent-Appellee.

         Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Polk County, Michael D. Huppert, Judge.

         Lance Dixon appeals the district court's summary dismissal of his fourth application for postconviction relief following his 2001 conviction for first-degree murder.

          Christine E. Branstad of Branstad Law, P.L.L.C., Des Moines, for appellant.

          Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, and Sharon K. Hall, Assistant Attorney General, for appellee State.

          Considered by Danilson, C.J., and Vaitheswaran and Bower, JJ.

          VAITHESWARAN, JUDGE.

         In Heemstra v. State, 721 N.W.2d 549, 558 (Iowa 2006), the Iowa Supreme Court reversed a first-degree murder conviction that was partially based on the statutory alternative of killing "another person while participating in a forcible felony." See Iowa Code § 707.2(1)(b) (2001). The court held "if the act causing willful injury is the same act that causes the victim's death, the former is merged into the murder and therefore cannot serve as the predicate felony for felonymurder purposes." Heemstra, 721 N.W.2d at 558. The court declined to apply the holding retroactively, stating, "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." Id.

         A postconviction relief applicant whose conviction became final four years before Heemstra was decided appeals the summary disposition of his fourth postconviction relief application. He argues a recent United States Supreme Court opinion requires retroactive application of Heemstra.

         I. Background Proceedings

         A jury found Lance Dixon guilty of first-degree murder in connection with a 1999 shooting. This court affirmed his judgment and sentence in 2001, and procedendo issued shortly thereafter. See State v. Dixon, No. 00-829, 2001 WL 1450991, at *6 (Iowa Ct. App. Nov. 16, 2001).

         Dixon filed three postconviction relief applications, all unsuccessful. See Dixon v. State, No. 12-0499, 2013 WL 3291837, at *1 (Iowa Ct. App. June 26, 2013). In 2014, Dixon filed a fourth application alleging, "Heemstra v. State, 721 N.W.2d at 558 and State v. Nguyen No. 10-2037 demand when a jury relied on a willful injury instruction to find a defendant guilty the conviction cannot stand."

         The State moved for summary judgment and dismissal on the ground the application was "neither within three years of the Heemstra decision nor within three years of the procedendo of his direct appeal" and, accordingly, was "time-barred." Meanwhile, Dixon amended his petition to allege a new "ground of fact and or law that require Heemstra to be applied retroactively." He cited "Welch v. United States, No. 15-6418 April 2016 and Montgomery v. Louisiana, No. 14-280 January 2016." Following a non-evidentiary hearing, the postconviction court granted the State's motion for summary disposition. Dixon appealed.

         II. Ground-of-Law-Exception to Section 822.3 Time Bar

         Iowa Code section 822.3 (2013) states postconviction relief applications "must be filed within three years from the date the conviction or decision is final or, in the event of an appeal, from the date the writ of procedendo is issued, " but "this limitation does not apply to a ground of fact or law that could not have been raised within the applicable time period." Dixon's fourth ...


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