Davis v. Bennett

Decision Date28 August 1968
Docket NumberNo. 19081.,19081.
Citation400 F.2d 279
PartiesWilliam I. DAVIS, Appellant, v. John E. BENNETT, Warden, Iowa State Penitentiary, Appellee.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Eighth Circuit

Frank D. Anderson, of Abramson, Myers, Myers & Anderson, Des Moines, Iowa, for appellant.

Richard C. Turner, Atty. Gen. of Iowa, and David A. Elderkin, Asst. Atty. Gen., Des Moines, Iowa, for appellee.

Before MEHAFFY, GIBSON and LAY, Circuit Judges.


In January 1966 petitioner was charged with the crime of "robbery with aggravation" in the Pottawattamie County District Court in Iowa. Pursuant to the Iowa multiple-offender statute, he was charged with the commission of three other felonies under Iowa law, and thereby subject to a greater sentence under the provisions of § 747.1 of the Code of Iowa, 1962. The jury found the petitioner guilty of a lesser degree of "robbery," which carried a maximum penalty of ten years. The jury returned blank verdict forms as to the charges of "robbery with aggravation" and of being an "habitual criminal." Thereafter the petitioner moved for a new trial based upon errors occurring at trial which are immaterial to our discussion here, and the state trial judge granted the same.

On the second trial, the indictment was amended and alleged only "robbery without aggravation" under § 711.3 of the Code of Iowa, 1962, along with the previous charge that the defendant had been convicted of felonies on three previous occasions, and was therefore an habitual criminal under Iowa Code § 747.1. The jury returned a conviction as to the robbery count and answered in the affirmative three interrogatories1 as to whether this defendant had been previously convicted of felonies. Pursuant to § 747.1, petitioner was sentenced by the court to a forty-year prison term. Upon appeal to the Iowa Supreme Court the defendant contended that he had been subjected to "double jeopardy" in contravention of the Iowa Constitution. He likewise contended that he had been prejudiced by the combined trial of the habitual criminal charge along with the robbery charge. Although two justices dissented as to the unitary trial procedure, the court was unanimous in rejecting the contention of "double jeopardy" under the Iowa Constitution. State v. Davis, 258 Iowa 1192, 140 N.W.2d 925 (1966).

On the assumption that the issue of double jeopardy had been fully passed upon by the state court, petitioner sought relief by habeas corpus in the federal district court and was denied the same. This court granted a certificate of probable cause and specified that the "constitutional implications, if any" of the "Forms of Verdict" in the first trial were to be briefed on appeal.

Petitioner's present appeal renews his claim of due process violations by reason of the combined trial. We feel this point was fully disposed of in Spencer v. State of Texas, 385 U.S. 554, 87 S.Ct. 648, 17 L.Ed.2d 606 (1967), and no further discussion regarding this contention is warranted.

Petitioner's appointed counsel limits his brief, as understandably does the State of Iowa in response thereto, to the question of "double jeopardy" under the Iowa Constitution. The claim is made that the Iowa Supreme Court's ruling that the habitual criminal statute does not create a separate offense misinterprets the Iowa laws of criminal procedure and denies petitioner's rights under the Iowa Constitution, Art. I, § 12. Jurisdiction of the federal courts is presumably urged on the argument that a federal constitutional violation is therefore involved by reason of the denial of "appellant's right under the laws * * * of Iowa."

The difficulty here is that petitioner works under the false assumption that a federal court may independently construe state law contrary to the interpretations of the highest court of a state in a habeas corpus proceeding. The exact opposite is true. Federal courts are bound by the interpretation placed upon the constitution and statutes of a state by its highest court. Spencer v. Texas, supra; State of Minnesota ex rel. Pearson v. Probate Court of Ramsey County, 309 U.S. 270, 60 S.Ct. 523, 84 L.Ed. 744, 126 A.L.R. 530 (1940); Supreme Lodge, Knights of Pythias v. Meyer, 265 U.S. 30, 44 S.Ct. 432, 68 L. Ed. 885 (1924); Olson v. Tahash, 344 F.2d 139 (8 Cir. 1965); Chavez v. Dickson, 280 F.2d 727 (9 Cir. 1960).

The Iowa Supreme Court has repeatedly held that the habitual offender statute does not create a separate and distinct crime, but is merely relevant in determining the penalty to be imposed should a conviction be obtained on the "primary" charge. State v. Eichler, 248 Iowa 1267, 83 N.W.2d 576 (1957); State v. Biggins, 245 Iowa 903, 63 N.W. 2d 292 (1954); State v. Gardner, 245 Iowa 249, 61 N.W.2d 458, 465 (1953); State v. Barlow, 242 Iowa 714, 46 N.W. 2d 725, 729 (1951); State v. Smith, 129 Iowa 709, 106 N.W. 187 (1906). As the Iowa court early explained:

"The fact of the prior conviction is to be taken as part of the offense instantly charged, at least to the extent of aggravating it and authorizing an increased punishment. * * * `Every fact essential to the infliction of legal punishment upon a human being must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. * * * The matter for the jury to determine is the historical fact involved in the charge, and this they must determine as any other fact in the case.\' State v. Smith, 129 Iowa, 709, 106 N.W. 187." State v. Parsons, 206 Iowa 390, 220 N.W. 328, 329-30 (1928).

There is nothing in the due process clause which prevents the State of Iowa from making this construction.

The same thinking has been uniformly applied by other state courts. See, e.g., Ex parte McVickers, 29 Cal.2d 264, 176 P.2d 40, 45 (1946); State ex rel. Hansen v. Rigg, 258 Minn. 388, 104 N.W.2d 553 (1960); State v. Hefflin, 338 Mo. 236, 89 S.W.2d 938, 940, 103 A.L.R. 1301 (1935); Kennedy v. State, 171 Neb. 160, 105 N.W.2d 710, 715 (1960); Gamron v. Jones, 148 Neb. 645, 28 N.W.2d 403 (1947); State v. Ruffing, 78 S.D. 556, 105 N.W.2d 541 (1960); and the Supreme Court of the United States has consistently recognized the principle that state recidivist statutes go only to punishment and do not themselves constitute a distinct crime. See Chandler v. Fretag, 348 U.S. 3, 75 S.Ct. 1, 99 L.Ed. 4 (1954); Graham v. State of West Virginia, 224 U.S. 616, 32 S.Ct. 583, 56 L.Ed. 917 (1912); McDonald v. Massachusetts, 180 U.S. 311, 21 S.Ct. 389, 45 L.Ed. 542 (1901).

The United States Supreme Court has found nothing offensive to the Fourteenth Amendment in the great variety of procedures existing under state recidivist statutes. See Spencer v. Texas, supra. Some states provide that only the judge shall hear evidence regarding prior convictions in order to determine a defendant's punishment under an habitual criminal charge. Ann. Mo. Stat. § 556.280(2) (Vernon 1967). Cf. Williams v. People of State of New York, 337 U.S. 241, 69 S.Ct. 1079, 93 L.Ed. 1337 (1949). Most states follow Iowa's procedure of submitting the convictions to a jury.2 See 1 Wigmore, Evidence § 196 (Pocket Supp. 1964). It has therefore uniformly been held that since habitual criminal statutes do not constitute separate offenses, they do not violate double jeopardy as to prior convictions. Graham v. West Virginia, supra; McDonald v. Massachusetts, supra; Moore v. State of Missouri, 159 U.S. 673, 16 S. Ct. 179, 40 L.Ed. 301 (1895). And a verdict of "acquittal" as to the prior convictions in one case would not constitute double jeopardy if they are charged again in relation to another new offense. Cf. State v. Collins, 266 Mo. 93, 180 S. W. 866 (1915).3

Under these circumstances, even if this court were possessed of the power to disagree with the Iowa law, we would not. Although the habitual criminal statutes are statutes subject to procedures consistent with due process,4 they nevertheless do not constitute a basis for a jury verdict of "acquittal" of any crime, since, in and of themselves, they do not constitute a crime, but only an aggravation of the primary offense charged.5

Judgment affirmed.

LAY, Circuit Judge (concurring):

I find it impossible to dismiss petitioner's claim on the sole basis of our per curiam opinion without saying more. The court file includes a pro se memorandum to the district court and a letter written by the petitioner to his counsel1 that his claim be considered under Green v. United States, 355 U.S. 184, 78 S.Ct. 221, 2 L.Ed.2d 199, 61 A.L.R.2d 1119 (1957) and Cichos v. State of Indiana, 385 U.S. 76, 87 S.Ct. 271, 17 L.Ed.2d 175 (1966) (see dissenting opinion). Petitioner claims he is being deprived of due process of law under the Fourteenth Amendment, by reason of its incorporation of the Fifth Amendment double jeopardy provision which reads:

"Nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb." U. S. Const., Amend. V.

Petitioner contends in view of the jury's verdict in the first trial, the court at that time could not assess a greater punishment against him under § 747.1 as an habitual criminal. See State v. Smith, supra.2 Petitioner's basic contention under Green, supra, is that the state in utilizing the habitual criminal statute to increase his sentence upon retrial has penalized him because he sought a new trial from his previous conviction, which had been in this case judicially determined to rest upon prejudicial error.3 Petitioner's contention is that this raises questions of double punishment as double jeopardy on the instant charge, rather than on the prior convictions, also issues of fundamental fairness under the due process clause and denial of equal protection of the laws. Compare United States v. White, 382 F.2d 445 (7 Cir. 1967) with Patton v. State of North Carolina, 381 F.2d 636 (4 Cir. 1967); Whaley v. State of North Carolina, 379 F.2d 221 (4 Cir. 1967); People v. Henderson, 60 Cal.2d 482, 35 Cal.Rptr. 77, 386 P.2d 677 (Cal. 1963). See this court's discussion in Beardslee v....

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    ...[habitual offender] proceeding he was not held to answer for an offense; the information did not allege crime"]; Davis v. Bennett (8th Cir.1968) 400 F.2d 279, 281 [Iowa] ["the habitual offender statute does not create a separate and distinct crime, but is merely relevant in determining the ......
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