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Benavidez v. State

Court of Appeals of Iowa

March 7, 2018

PABLO BENAVIDEZ, Applicant-Appellant,
v.
STATE OF IOWA, Respondent-Appellee.

         Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Polk County, David M. Porter, Judge.

         An inmate challenges the penalty imposed upon the dismissal of his third application for postconviction relief. REVERSED AND REMANDED WITH DIRECTIONS.

          Erin M. Carr of Carr & Wright, P.L.C., Des Moines, for appellant.

          Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, and William A. Hill, Assistant Attorney General, for appellee State.

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

          DANILSON, Chief Judge.

         Pablo Benavidez appeals the sanction imposed by the district court for the summary dismissal of his third application for postconviction relief (PCR). Specifically, Benavidez asserts the district court misinterpreted the available statutory sanctions.

         We review claims involving the interpretation of statutes for correction of errors at law. State v. Harrington, 893 N.W.2d 36, 41 (Iowa 2017).

         Pursuant to Iowa Code section 610A.2 (2016), if the district court finds an inmate has filed a frivolous civil action, the court may dismiss the action. See Maghee v. Iowa Dist. Ct., 712 N.W.2d 687, 691 (Iowa 2006). If the court dismisses the action, the inmate is subject to penalties pursuant to Iowa Code section 610A.3. Id. Section 610A.3 provides:

(1) If an action or appeal brought by an inmate or prisoner in state court is dismissed pursuant to section 610A.2, or, if brought in federal court, is dismissed under any of the principles enumerated in section 610A.2, the inmate shall be subject to the following penalties:
(a)The loss of some or all of the earned time credits acquired by the inmate or prisoner. Previous dismissals under section 610A.2 may be considered in determining the appropriate level of penalty.
(b) If the inmate or prisoner has no earned time credits to deduct, the order of the court or the disciplinary hearing may deduct up to fifty percent of the average balance of the inmate account under section 904.702 or of any prisoner account.

         A penalty appears to be mandatory. See Iowa Code § 610A.3(1) (stating "the inmate shall be subject to" penalties (emphasis added)); Kopecky v. Iowa Racing & Gaming Comm'n, 891 N.W.2d 439, 443 (Iowa 2017) ("When the term 'shall' appears in a statute, it generally connotes the imposition of a mandatory duty." (citation omitted)). The court has the discretion to order "[t]he loss of some or all of the earned time credits acquired by the inmate or prisoner." Iowa Code § 610A.3(1)(a); see Maghee, 712 N.W.2d at 695 ("Because this provision does not mandate a set penalty, the sanction must rest in the discretion of the district court."). But "[i]f the inmate . . . has no earned time credits to deduct, " the statute allows deducting "up to fifty percent of the average balance of the inmate account." Id. § 610A.3(1)(b).

         Here, the district court concluded Benavidez's PCR application was frivolous and "[a]ccordingly, fifty percent (50%) of the average balance of [Benavidez's] inmate account shall be deducted pursuant to Iowa Code [section] 610A.3(1)(a), (b)." ...


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