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Goodwin v. Iowa District Court For Davis County

Supreme Court of Iowa

December 20, 2019

MICHAEL THOMAS GOODWIN, Plaintiff,
v.
IOWA DISTRICT COURT FOR DAVIS COUNTY, Defendant.

          Certiorari to the Iowa District Court for Davis County, Joel D. Yates, Judge.

         Juvenile offender challenges the district court's denial of his motion to correct an illegal sentence. WRIT ANNULLED; DISTRICT COURT RULING AND SENTENCE AFFIRMED.

          Martha J. Lucey, Assistant Appellate Defender, for plaintiff.

          Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, Louis S. Sloven, Assistant Attorney General, Rick L. Lynch, County Attorney, and Douglas D. Hammerand, Assistant Attorney General, for defendant.

          WATERMAN, JUSTICE.

         In this appeal, we must decide whether a motion to correct an illegal sentence is a proper vehicle to challenge a mandatory minimum term of imprisonment on grounds alleging the sentencing court failed to correctly apply our precedent governing juvenile sentencings. A sixteen-year-old fatally shot his father and pled guilty to second-degree murder under a plea agreement to jointly recommend a twenty-year mandatory minimum. The district court conducted his individualized sentencing hearing after our decision in State v. Roby, 897 N.W.2d 127, 145-47 (Iowa 2017), which elaborated on the juvenile sentencing factors set forth in Miller v. Alabama, 567 U.S. 460, 477-78, 132 S.Ct. 2455, 2468 (2012), and State v. Lyle, 854 N.W.2d 378, 404 n.10 (Iowa 2014). The district court, relying on expert testimony, imposed a fifty-year prison sentence with a twenty-year mandatory minimum before parole eligibility, consistent with the parties' plea agreement, and recited its consideration of the sentencing factors. The defendant filed no direct appeal. Months later, the defendant filed a pro se motion in district court to correct an "illegal" sentence and for appointment of counsel, alleging the district court had failed to properly apply the Miller/Lyle/Roby factors. The district court denied his motion. We granted the defendant's petition for a writ of certiorari.

         On our review, we hold that a motion claiming the district court misapplied the Miller/Lyle/Roby factors does not constitute a challenge to an illegal sentence with a concomitant statutory right to counsel. A failure to conduct an individualized hearing before imposing a mandatory minimum sentence would render a juvenile's sentence unconstitutional and subject to a challenge as an illegal sentence. This defendant, however, received an individualized sentencing hearing that addressed the Miller/Lyle/Roby factors. Accordingly, we annul the writ and affirm the district court's ruling and sentence.

         I. Background Facts and Proceedings.

         On December 11, 2015, sixteen-year-old Michael Goodwin Jr. fatally shot his father, Michael Goodwin Sr.[1] twice in the head while the father rested in a recliner in their living room. The son walked out without reporting the crime and spent the night at his ex-girlfriend's house, telling her his father left town and he was locked out.

         Goodwin had access to his grandfather's home and truck. His grandfather was hospitalized at that time. Goodwin drove the truck to his ex-girlfriend's home with his family dog, dog food, clothing, and two firearms. She found his house keys in the truck the next day when he picked her up from work, contradicting his claim that he was locked out. They attended a school dance separately that evening, December 12. There, he coerced her into leaving the dance with him by telling her if she did not get into the truck with him he would hurt her boyfriend and "it would not end well." Goodwin drove her to his grandfather's house where he took the firearms inside. Her boyfriend picked her up there despite Goodwin's refusal to let her leave, which infuriated Goodwin. She reported this incident to law enforcement that evening. Deputies detained Goodwin and brought him to the emergency room for a mental health evaluation based on the suicidal and homicidal statements he had made to his ex-girlfriend. Goodwin was transferred to a juvenile detention center.

         On December 13, Goodwin Sr.'s best friend, Rodney Stevens, visited his house to check on him after he missed a church event and failed to answer phone calls. Stevens was concerned about Goodwin Sr.'s safety given his strained relationship with his son. Upon arriving at the Goodwin home, he smelled "death" and called law enforcement requesting a wellness check. Davis County Deputy Robert Murry found Goodwin Sr. dead in his reclining chair in the living room. The television was on, his cell phone was in his lap, and his drink was undisturbed on the table next to the recliner. The lead investigator, Chief Deputy Josh O'Dell, stated there was no sign of a struggle, and it appeared that Goodwin Sr. "was basically reclined in that chair like he'd been laying down watching TV."

         Investigators found the murder weapon, a Ruger 22/45 .22-caliber pistol, in the basement rafters of the grandfather's home. They concluded Goodwin had killed his father and had acted alone. They found no evidence of peer pressure to commit this crime. They were unable to determine a motive but believed Goodwin violently overreacted to his father's refusal to allow him to attend that Saturday's school dance.

         On January 25, 2016, Goodwin was charged with first-degree murder. This was not his first contact with law enforcement or the judicial system. Since April 2012, Goodwin had been referred to juvenile court services three times for the offenses of simple assault, disorderly conduct (fighting in public), and two counts of carrying weapons. He successfully completed the terms of informal adjustment agreements for the simple assault and disorderly conduct offenses. The weapons charges stemmed from the events on December 12, 2015, and were pending at the time of his arrest for his father's murder.

         On April 28, 2017, Goodwin pled guilty pursuant to a plea agreement under which the parties agreed to jointly recommend a sentence with a mandatory minimum of twenty years before parole eligibility and a fifty-year maximum. At the plea hearing, Goodwin admitted that before the murder he argued with his father and went outside to blow off steam by shooting a handgun. When he came back inside, the argument continued, and he impulsively shot his father in the head twice from six to eight feet away.

         The court accepted his guilty plea. The court conducted his sentencing hearing on July 19. Goodwin was then age seventeen. The prosecutor began the sentencing hearing by stating,

Your Honor, based on the recent case that came down from the Iowa Supreme Court, State v. Christopher Roby, R-o-b-y -- it was filed on June 16, 2017 -- the Supreme Court of Iowa went through the additional five factors that were identified in Lyle and explained what we should do to establish a record. The defense is going to be calling an expert, and the State is using that expert as well to establish why we're having a 20-year minimum in this case.

         The State called two witnesses: Chief Deputy O'Dell and Stevens. O'Dell testified about the murder scene, including the absence of evidence of a struggle, and Goodwin's activities.

         Stevens testified about Goodwin's childhood, family circumstances, and behavior preceding the patricide. Stevens noted that Goodwin's parents had divorced five or six years earlier and that Goodwin initially lived with his mother. He wanted to live with his father, and he acted out and caused problems for his mother to get his way. After a few months, his mother consented to his move and terminated her parental rights. Goodwin moved in with his father. Neither parent provided much discipline, and the father had only begun to establish ground rules shortly before the murder. The grandfather spoiled Goodwin and gave him two firearms without the father's knowledge, texting, "Bubba, whatever you do, don't let your dad know I gave you those two guns." Stevens witnessed Goodwin threaten his father.

         Stevens additionally observed that the son's attitude was frequently "belligerent" towards his father and others, with a "you don't tell me what to do" attitude. Stevens was concerned enough that he told Goodwin Sr. that he was worried his son would get access to a firearm and shoot him, but the father replied that his son had no such access.

         The defense called an expert witness, Dr. Stephen Hart, at the sentencing hearing. Dr. Hart, a professor of clinical and forensic psychology, relied on transcripts of depositions and his personal interview of Goodwin. Dr. Hart described Goodwin's childhood:

Michael's childhood was rather disturbed or disrupted. Early on, from his description and the description of others, there were times when the family was relatively normal or that he had a relatively normal childhood. He was described as being happy but also being able to go out and play outside the home and play with friends and so forth.
But later on, there was some serious problems due to his father's alcohol abuse and anger and his general abusiveness, psychological and physical abusiveness -- and this led to some very serious marital discord between the parents over a long period of time, many years, and that included frequent arguments in the house, yelling and screaming or shouting, and also physical abusiveness between the parents, some of which was witnessed by --directly by Michael.
His mother was quite fearful, in part, because Mr. Goodwin, Sr. was a large man, and eventually she separated and moved away, essentially just leaving Michael Jr. in the custody of Michael Sr. -- and I'm going to use the term advisedly -- abandoning him or leaving him there and basically cutting off contact with him.

         Dr. Hart then described the situation between Goodwin and his father after his mother relinquished her parental rights:

The situation was bettered in some ways in a sense that Michael Sr.'s alcohol problems, which had been bad and then had improved. He'd gone through a period of sobriety. He restarted drinking again around the time of the final separation, but then did regain his sobriety. So that was a positive thing. And there was also indication that he began to attend church more frequently and establish some stronger friendships.
However, he also seemed to become, in some ways, more angry and also somewhat more extreme or entrenched in his attitudes. And, in particular, there's very extensive descriptions of his prepper beliefs and behavior. He was one of the people that believed there was a strong need to prepare for an imminent catastrophe, and he stockpiled food and weapons and other supplies and met regularly with people who shared his prepper beliefs, withdrew from many other members of society or restricted his social contact. He put cameras around the family home.
He restricted Michael Jr. from having contact with people outside the home. For example, he wasn't allowed to socialize with friends outside of school or go out in the evenings.
He spoke a lot about his prepper beliefs and also more general suspicious or cynical and antiauthority attitudes, including antigovernment and antipolice attitudes. He was focused on firearms use and taught Michael Jr. to use firearms and made him responsible as far as part of their care and maintenance in the family home.
But he also, towards Michael Jr., became angry and abusive directly, often yelling at him, or frequently yelling at him, and occasionally hitting him. And on a few occasions was described by Michael Jr. as beating him and even pointing handguns at him. And Michael Jr. also became concerned that this abusive behavior was increasing in severity over time. He actually mentioned this to some other people, but did not report it to police.

         Dr. Hart elaborated about Goodwin's cognitive and intellectual functions and opined he was "a relatively normal or grossly normal adolescent male" with "average intelligence and no major cognitive deficits." Dr. Hart diagnosed Goodwin with attention deficit disorder for which he never received treatment. Dr. Hart noted that he did not consider that diagnosis to be serious since it is fairly common among children, especially young males. He explained,

His personality functions appeared to be grossly normal. In particular, I didn't notice any kind of marked personality traits that were of the type or of the severity that might indicate a serious personality disturbance or a burgeoning personality disorder.
He clearly has had some problems over the years with anger and impulsive or reactive aggression. However, again, most of that, aside from the current offense, was not serious in nature or frequent. I would say relatively normal, perhaps above average, but not extreme for an adolescent male. His social or personal relationships are grossly normal. He had some good social skills. He is a relatively polite or pleasant young man, and he's had some positive peer relationships over the years, and even some intimate relationships, all of this despite the fact that he's had a restricted social life through the problems with his father.
He also has started to re-establish a relationship with his mother over the years.
Finally, his social attitudes or orientation were, again, grossly normal. He acknowledges that he's, kind of, mildly suspicious of others at times. He's a little bit anxious around other people, in part because of being restricted in terms of his ability to have interaction with other people and maybe being a little bit suspicious of others on account of his father's beliefs.
But he's, again, primarily prosocial in nature and a polite, respectful young man. By no means perfect, and never presented himself as such, but I would have said pretty normal for an adolescent male. He had no serious problems with alcohol use. He did use alcohol, but there was no evidence of significant or serious problems. He did not use drugs. He did not have serious or frequent antisocial conduct in the community prior to the current offense. He had no serious behavioral problems with school or institutional infractions while in custody in relation to this current offense.
But even in terms of thoughts or plans for the future, these were primarily prosocial in nature. His, kind of, long-term dream was to maybe join the Army and then seek a career in law enforcement or something similar, which is somewhat unusual for the people I have evaluated.

         Regarding Goodwin's maturity and responsibility, Dr. Hart found him to be "a, kind of, normal adolescent male" with "occasional problems with anger and what [he] would call impulsive or reactive aggression, but [he] would have characterized that as being related to his adverse child-rearing experiences or other situational factors as opposed to some kind of developmental problem."

         Dr. Hart characterized Goodwin's home environment and family relationships as being "seriously disturbed" and "quite poisonous in a sense -- or toxic in a sense of being something that [he] would have expected to have an adverse impact on any young person." He elaborated,

Certainly being stuck alone with his father, he was, in some ways, almost a captive in an environment that was extremely negative and focused on anger and aggression and violence and guns. And he was directly exposed to this to the point where he was physically abused by his father and had guns pointed at him. This was just, I think by anybody's definition, a bad home environment.

         When he was asked to give an opinion on Goodwin's legal competency, Dr. Hart stated,

I believe that he was, again, a pretty normal adolescent male and did not have any significant problems with legal competency. So, in particular, what I paid attention to was whether he seemed to ever have failed to appreciate the nature or object of potential consequences of the offense for which he was arrested and charged.
I considered whether he appeared to have been subjected to any intense investigative procedures by the police or whether he was -- he appeared to have problems communicating with or instructing counsel, and from the information I reviewed and my conversations with him, I didn't see any potential problems in these areas.

         Dr. Hart described Goodwin's prospects for rehabilitation as "very good or excellent" due to his identification of a number of strengths in Goodwin's development and psychological and social functioning, and Dr. Hart did not see many areas of weakness except his childhood experiences and his relationship with his father. He concluded that Goodwin can likely "understand and abide by institutional rules and regulations" such that it is unlikely that he will be unable to adjust to incarceration. Dr. Hart found that Goodwin's level of functioning and social skills suggested that he would be able to participate in and benefit from rehabilitative activities such as counseling and vocational programs. He concluded that he did not see anything that suggested Goodwin posed an elevated risk for violence.

         Finally, while still under direct examination by defense counsel, when asked about the sentence length in the plea agreement, Dr. Hart testified that he thought the minimum period of incarceration was appropriate and that it would adequately protect public safety. On cross-examination, the prosecutor questioned Dr. Hart regarding some details in his report, his consideration of the Miller/Lyle/Roby factors, and the conclusions he reached for each factor:

Q. The final thing I want to ask you, Dr. Hart, is in your report you indicated you followed the five factors, and you talked about the recent Iowa Supreme Court State v. Roby.
A. That's correct.
Q. You had a chance to read that as well?
A. I was able to review part of it, yes. I haven't reviewed it in detail --or, sorry, completely -- but I reviewed the sections that had to do with the description of the criteria that ought to be considered.
Q. Sure. And I think Mr. Addington went through at least four of those factors with you on direct examination, and I just want to cover one that wasn't covered. In the Roby case, they talk about a third factor called "the circumstances of the crime." And what the Court was concerned about is, within these circumstances, attention must be given to the juvenile offender's actual role and the role of various types of external pressure in the crime.
So I just want -- so it's clear for the record, Dr. Hart, you didn't find any type of group pressure being placed on the defendant involving the shooting in this case? In other words, he wasn't hanging around with friends and they talked about committing this crime or anything; is that correct? A. That's correct. In fact, the only things that I noted in this respect were that -- relevant to this particular criteria was that the actual offense itself occurred in the midst of a serious conflict between the two Michaels, Junior and Senior.
Q. Well, that's according to Michael Jr.; correct?
A. That's correct. But the other element of that particular criteria did not appear to be applicable to me in this case.

         The prosecutor concluded his cross-examination by asking for Dr. Hart's opinion about the twenty-year mandatory minimum sentence:

Q. Okay. So the bottom line is you considered those five factors set out in State v. Roby, and after considering those factors, reviewing documents in this case, talking to the defendant, it's your opinion that the 20-year mandatory minimum is appropriate for a minimum sentence in this case?
A. Yes. And just to follow up on your question, not only did I do my best to consider what was explicitly included as criteria in the Roby case and prior cases, I've always tried to go beyond that to look at related kinds of issues. So I tried to use that as a starting point, but I tried to be more broad or individualized or contextualized in the assessment and found nothing else that appeared to be relevant.

(Emphasis added.)

         Goodwin testified on his own behalf. He detailed his family relationships, his parents' divorce when he was age ten or eleven, and how he thought the best thing for him was to live with his father after the divorce. He noted things slowly changed for the worse because he was limited to mostly staying at home with his father and Stevens. Goodwin described how he was unable to invite friends to his home or date because their church opposed teens dating. He said he faced increasing verbal abuse from his father. Goodwin explained that they argued over "little stuff," and he would seek refuge with his grandfather, which escalated tensions with his father.

         Goodwin testified at times they "got physical and [would] fight." He noted that there were handguns and rifles in the home that he knew how to use. He described his father's prepper behaviors and distrust of government and the police, attitudes he shared. He stated that he could not tell anyone other than close friends about his unhappiness, and the only thing that relieved his stress was going to his grandfather's, which he was unable to do in December while his grandfather was hospitalized. On cross-examination, Goodwin testified that he was able to communicate with and form friendships with girls ...


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