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Webster v. State

Court of Appeals of Iowa

August 15, 2018

MICHAEL WEBSTER, Applicant-Appellant,
v.
STATE OF IOWA, Respondent-Appellee.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Polk County, Glenn E. Pille, Judge.

         Michael Webster appeals the summary dismissal of his application for postconviction relief.

          Alfredo Parrish and Adam C. Witosky of Parrish Kruidenier Dunn Boles Gribble Gentry Brown & Bergmann, LLP, Des Moines, for appellant.

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

          Considered by Vaitheswaran, P.J., and Doyle and Mullins, JJ.

          DOYLE, JUDGE.

         Michael Webster appeals the summary dismissal of his application for postconviction relief. Upon our de novo review, we affirm.

         I. Background Facts and Proceedings.

         In 2010, Michael Webster pled guilty to three counts of robbery in the second degree, in violation of Iowa Code section 711.3 (2010).[1] He was sentenced to ten years on each count, two of which were to run consecutively, resulting in a total sentence of twenty years of incarceration. At that time, the sentencing statute for second-degree robbery required those convicted of that offense to serve seven-tenths, or seventy percent, of the maximum term of their sentence before becoming eligible for parole or work release. See Iowa Code § 902.12(5) (2010); Clayton v. Iowa Dist. Ct., 907 N.W.2d 824, 826 (Iowa Ct. App. 2017).

         Section 902.12 was amended by the legislature in 2016, changing the mandatory-minimum sentence for second-degree robbery 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) (2010), with Iowa Code § 902.12(3); see also Clayton, 907 N.W.2d at 826. Thus, the amendment granted a sentencing court some discretion to reduce a mandatory minimum sentence from 70% to 50%. See Iowa Code § 902.12(3); Clayton, 907 N.W.2d at 826; see also Robert R. Rigg, 4 Iowa Practice Series: Criminal Law § 8:6 (2017-2018 ed.) (discussing the penalty for a second-degree-robbery conviction). However, the section as amended explicitly limited its application to convictions "that occur[red] on or after July 1, 2016." Iowa Code § 902.12(3).

         After the amended section went into effect, Webster filed an application for postconviction relief (PCR), based upon the change in section 902.12. He claimed under the due process and equal protection clauses of the United States and Iowa Constitutions, he should be resentenced in light of the amendment to section 902.12(3). Thereafter, the State filed a motion for summary judgment and dismissal, see id. § 822.6, contending his PCR application was time-barred and the new sentencing requirements in section 902.12 were inapplicable to Webster. Webster resisted, arguing the amendment to section 902.12 was "a new substantive rule of constitutional law" that should be applied retroactively because of case law and in the interests of "fairness, justice, and Iowa and U.S. Constitutional rights of Due Process and Equal Protection." Following a hearing, the district court granted the State's motion for summary judgment, concluding the new statute does not apply retroactively, and the court dismissed Webster's PCR application.

         II. Discussion.

         Webster now appeals the summary dismissal, arguing the district court erred in concluding the change in section 902.12 did not apply retroactively. He asserts the amendment creates classes of defendants that undermine the purpose of the amendment-"to reduce racial disparity in incarceration." He contends a strict-scrutiny constitutional analysis applies based upon the alleged racial-disparity statutory purpose and that higher standard of review necessitates retroactive application of the amendment. Our review is de novo. See Clayton, 907 N.W.2d at 826; see also Moon v. State, 911 N.W.2d 137, 142 (Iowa 2018).

         "Both the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution and article I, section 6 of the Iowa Constitution provide all citizens equal protection under the law." Nguyen v. State, 878 N.W.2d 744, 757 (Iowa 2016) (citing U.S. Const. amend. XIV; Iowa Const. art. I, § 6).[2] "A fundamental principle of equal-protection law is 'that similarly-situated persons be treated alike.'" State v. Dudley, 766 N.W.2d 606, 615 (Iowa 2009) (citation omitted). Specifically, "'the equal protection guarantee requires that laws treat all those who are similarly situated with respect to the purposes of the law alike.'" Nguyen, 878 N.W.2d at 757 (citation omitted). This does not mean states are denied

the power to treat different classes of people differently. It does, however, deny states
the power to legislate that different treatment be accorded to persons placed by a statute into different classes on the basis of criteria wholly unrelated to the objective of that statute. A classification "must be reasonable, not arbitrary, and must rest upon some ground of difference having a fair ...

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