from the Iowa District Court for Black Hawk County, Bradley
J. Harris, Judge.
defendant appeals his sentence on constitutional grounds
following his conviction for first-degree robbery.
C. Smith, State Appellate Defender, and Stephan J. Japuntich,
Assistant Appellate Defender, for appellant.
J. Miller, Attorney General, and Sharon K. Hall, Assistant
Attorney General, for appellee.
Considered by Vaitheswaran, P.J., and Potterfield and Tabor,
was eighteen years old, Gary Wise held up a Pizza Hut at
gunpoint. After being convicted of robbery in the first
degree, Wise received an indeterminate twenty-five-year
prison sentence and must serve at least seven-tenths of the
maximum term before he is eligible for parole. On appeal,
Wise contends the mandatory minimum sentence violates the
prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment because it is
grossly disproportionate as applied to his situation. Because
we defer to the legislature's authority to set the length
of sentences, the gravity of his offense was on par with the
severity of the punishment, and his age was not a unique
factor generating a high risk of gross disproportionality, we
Facts and Prior Proceedings
day of the offense, around 11:30 p.m., Wise entered the Pizza
Hut where he used to work, pointed a handgun at employees,
and ordered them to lie on the floor. Wise covered the bottom
half of his face with a bandana but his former co-workers
recognized his physical features and his voice. Wise took
money from the cash registers and a safe. When police stopped
Wise, he admitted the handgun and stolen cash were in his
car. Officers also found a Pizza Hut money tray in the car.
During a police interview Wise confessed to carrying out the
robbery. "Wise reported to police he had been struggling
both financially and emotionally and his actions occurred in
the spur of the moment."
agreed to a bench trial on the minutes of evidence. The
district court found him guilty of first-degree robbery, in
violation of Iowa Code sections 711.1 and 711.2 (2013), a
class "B" felony with a maximum sentence of
twenty-five years. Iowa Code § 902.9(b). This term is
generally indeterminate but, under the mandatory minimum
sentencing provision, Iowa Code section 902.12(e), Wise must
serve at least seven-tenths, or seventeen-and-a-half years.
appeals his sentence under the cruel-and-unusual-sentencing
clauses of the federal and state constitutions. See
U.S. Const. amend. VIII; Iowa Const. art. 1, § 17. He
argues the seven-tenths rule creates a sentence that is
grossly disproportionate to the gravity of the offense, to
other felony offenses for which the mandatory minimum is
imposed, and to sentencing provisions for the same offense in
other jurisdictions. Wise also asserts the sentence is cruel
and unusual as applied due to his specific circumstances,
particularly the fact he was "mere months past the age
of minority" and had "no appreciable criminal
history" when he engaged in armed robbery. Wise asked
the Iowa Supreme Court to retain his appeal to address what
he bills as a "substantial issue of first
impression" in Iowa, but the supreme court transferred
the case to us.
Scope of Review
review challenges to the constitutionality of a sentence de
novo. State v. Zarate, 908 N.W.2d 831, 840 (Iowa
2018). An illegal sentence may be challenged at any time.