Goodwin v. Iowa Dist. Court, No. 18-0737

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Iowa
Writing for the CourtWATERMAN, Justice.
Decision Date20 December 2019
Docket NumberNo. 18-0737


No. 18-0737


December 20, 2019

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.

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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