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Bryant v. State

Court of Appeals of Iowa

March 20, 2019

CLARENCE G. BRYANT, Applicant-Appellant,
STATE OF IOWA, Respondent-Appellee.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Mahaska County, Shawn Showers, Judge.

         Clarence Bryant appeals the dismissal of his application for postconviction relief. AFFIRMED.

          Denise M. Gonyea of McKelvie Law Office, Grinnell, for appellant. Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, and Richard J. Bennett, Assistant Attorney General, for appellee State.

          Considered by Vogel, C.J., Vaitheswaran, J., and Blane, S.J. [*]

          VAITHESWARAN, Judge.

         Clarence Bryant pled guilty to four counts of third-degree sexual abuse in 2003. The district court imposed judgment and sentence. Bryant's appeal was subsequently dismissed as frivolous, and procedendo issued the same year.

         Fifteen years later, Bryant filed the second of two postconviction-relief applications. He alleged in part that "two facts" showed "he could not have physically committed the alleged four . . . first degree sexual abuse charges that he was accused of." Specifically, he alleged (1) "he was diagnosed with Type II diabetes in July of 1994 resulting in erectile dysfunction so therefore it would have been physically impossible for [him] to have committed these four sexual acts" and (2) "[i]n approximately late July 1994 [he] ruptured two discs in his lower back while working at his job," making "it impossible for him to have committed the alleged abuse charges."

         The State moved to dismiss the second application on the ground the statutory three-year limitations period had long since expired. See Iowa Code § 822.3 (2018) (requiring postconviction-relief applications to "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 stating "this limitation does not apply to a ground of fact or law that could not have been raised within the applicable time period"). Bryant resisted the State's motion on the ground the claim "that his medical ailments precluded the physical element of his crime" was "a claim of actual innocence" under Schmidt v. State, 909 N.W.2d 778 (Iowa 2018). Bryant asked the postconviction court to determine that Schmidt was "a ground of law that could not have been raised in the three-year limit." Following a non-evidentiary hearing, the district court dismissed the application. Bryant appealed.

         Bryant concedes his second postconviction relief application "was due on or before August 20, 2006, unless" his claim fell within the ground of fact or law exception. He again asserts his claim is one of "actual innocence," which "was not legally viable until the decision in Schmidt v. State was filed in 2018." He also asserts "reasonable minds could differ on the question of whether [he] could have raised the ground of fact earlier."

         If we were reviewing the merits of an actual-innocence claim, our review would be de novo. Schmidt, 909 N.W.2d at 795; State v. Gonzalez, 18-0137, 2018 WL 6130305, at *2 (Iowa Ct. App. Nov. 21, 2018). Because we are simply reviewing the court's application of section 822.3, our review is for errors of law. Schmidt, 909 N.W.2d at 784.

         We begin and end with Schmidt. There, a defendant pled guilty to two crimes. Id. at 782-83. Years after the three-year limitations period expired, the defendant filed a postconviction-relief application alleging the victim recanted his story and the recantation amounted to new evidence. Id. at 783. The Iowa Supreme Court overruled precedent disallowing "defendants to attack their pleas based on extrinsic grounds when they claim actual innocence." Id. at 790. The court held "convicted defendants can attack their pleas when claiming actual innocence even if the attack is extrinsic to the pleas." Id. at 798.

         The court went on to explain why the three-year limitations period set forth in section 822.3 did not foreclose Schmidt's actual-innocence claim. Applying the ground-of-fact exception, the court stated the victim's recantation "was not available to Schmidt within the three-year period following the date of his conviction and Schmidt could not have discovered the recantation earlier than he did in the exercise of due diligence." Id. at 799. Accordingly, the court concluded "section 822.3 [did] not time bar Schmidt's freestanding claim of actual innocence. Id.

         Bryant's effort to circumvent the time-bar runs head on into Schmidt's ground-of-fact analysis. Unlike the defendant in Schmidt, who discovered new facts well after the three-year limitations period expired, Bryant knew of his medical conditions almost a decade before he pled guilty. The conditions, then, were grounds of fact that could have been raised within the applicable time period, and Bryant's belated "actual-innocence" claim is barred by the three-year limitations period. As the district court stated:

[Bryant's] medical condition at the time of his offenses is not newly discovered evidence. This is a claim that could have been raised on direct appeal or previous PCR case and was not. It is barred by the statute of limitations. Applicant's observation that the State did not have DNA evidence is not of legal significance. The State is not required to possess physical evidence to prove an individual guilty of a crime. If the victim had allegedly recanted, then, ...

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