Saadiq v. State

Decision Date21 May 1986
Docket NumberNos. 84-1424,84-1688,s. 84-1424
Citation387 N.W.2d 315
PartiesKalonji SAADIQ, Appellant, v. STATE of Iowa, Appellee.
CourtIowa Supreme Court

Alfredo G. Parrish, Des Moines, for appellant.

Thomas J. Miller, Atty. Gen., Pamela Greenman Dahl, Asst. Atty. Gen., and James A. Smith, Co. Atty., for appellee.



This proceeding presents legal issues growing out of a conviction of possessing a firearm in violation of section 724.26 of the Iowa Code of 1983.

On May 11, 1983, defendant Kalonji Saadiq entered a counseled guilty plea to a charge of third-degree theft in violation of section 714.2(3) of the Iowa Code of 1983:

The theft of property exceeding one hundred dollars but not exceeding five hundred dollars in value, or the theft of any property not exceeding one hundred dollars in value by one who has before been twice convicted of theft, is theft in the third degree. Theft in the third degree is an aggravated misdemeanor.

Saadiq was sentenced to two-years imprisonment, with the sentence suspended on one year of probation.

On May 30, 1984, the county attorney charged Saadiq with possession of a firearm by a felon in violation of section 724.26.

On June 11, 1984, Saadiq filed an application for postconviction relief from his prior theft conviction. His application was denied August 8, 1984.

On September 18, 1984, Saadiq was convicted on jury trial of the firearm charge. He received a two-year sentence, suspended on probation and community service.

Saadiq appealed from both denial of postconviction relief and conviction of the firearm charge, and we consolidated the appeals.

I. Scope of section 724.26. The firearm charge was under section 724.26 of the 1983 Code:

Any person who is convicted of a felony in any state or federal court and who subsequently possesses, receives, or transports or causes to be transported a firearm or offensive weapon is guilty of an aggravated misdemeanor.

(Emphasis added.) The "felony" on which the firearm conviction rests was the conviction on the prior theft charge. The question is, what is the meaning of "felony" in section 724.26?

The question involves the familiar rule of statutory construction relating to general vis-a-vis specific statutes. 73 Am.Jur.2d Statutes § 257 (1974); 82 C.J.S. Statutes § 369 (1953).

Sections 701.7 and .8 of the 1983 Code provide generally:

A public offense is a felony of a particular class when the statute defining the crime declares it to be a felony. Felonies are class "A" felonies, class "B" felonies, class "C" felonies, and class "D" felonies. Where the statute defining the offense declares it to be a felony but does not state what class of felony it is or provide for a specific penalty, that felony shall be a class "D" felony.

All public offenses which are not felonies are misdemeanors. Misdemeanors are aggravated misdemeanors, serious misdemeanors, or simple misdemeanors. Where an act is declared to be a public offense, crime or misdemeanor, but no other designation is given, such act shall be a simple misdemeanor.

Sections 902.9 and 903.1 of the 1983 Code provide generally:

902.9. The maximum sentence for any person convicted of a felony shall be that prescribed by statute or, if not prescribed by statute, if other than a class "A" felony shall be determined as follows:

1. A class "B" felon shall be confined for no more than twenty-five years.

2. An habitual offender shall be confined for no more than fifteen years.

3. A class "C" felon, not an habitual offender, shall be confined for no more than ten years, and in addition may be sentenced to a fine of not more than five thousand dollars.

4. A class "D" felon, not an habitual offender, shall be confined for no more than five years, and in addition may be sentenced to a fine of not more than one thousand dollars.

903.1. When a person is convicted of a misdemeanor and a specific penalty is not provided for, the court shall determine the sentence and shall fix the period of confinement or the amount of fine, if such be the sentence, within the following limits:

1. For an aggravated misdemeanor, imprisonment not to exceed two years, or a fine not to exceed five thousand dollars, or both.

2. For a serious misdemeanor, imprisonment not to exceed one year, or a fine not to exceed one thousand dollars, or both.

3. For a simple misdemeanor, imprisonment not to exceed thirty days, or a fine not to exceed one hundred dollars.

Section 724.25(1) of the 1983 Code, however, immediately preceding section 724.26 involved here, provides specifically:

As used in [section] 724.26, the word "felony" means any offense punishable in the jurisdiction where it occurred by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year.

As the latter section relates specifically to section 724.26, it controls here, and because Saadiq's third-degree theft conviction subjected him to maximum penalty of two-years imprisonment, it is within the definition of felony for purposes of section 724.26. The legislature chose to define "felony" differently for purposes of section 724.26 than in sections 701.7 and 902.9. That is its prerogative. Hawkeye Bancorporation v. Iowa College Aid Commission, 360 N.W.2d 798, 802 (Iowa 1985).

In exercising its power to define crimes "the legislature may be its own lexicographer and write its own definitions of words and terms." State v. Durgin, 328 N.W.2d 507, 509 (Iowa 1983). We have stated that the expansive revision of the criminal code has occasionally necessitated our harmonizing apparently conflicting sections. Id. "In so doing, our ultimate goal is to ascertain, and, if possible, give effect to legislative intent." Id. When a statute is plain and its meaning clear, however, we are not permitted to search for meaning beyond the express terms of the statute. State v. Sunclades, 305 N.W.2d 491, 494 (Iowa 1981). If the language is unambiguous, we must "look to what the legislature said rather than what it should or might have said." Iowa R.App.P. 14(f)(13); Le Mars Mutual Insurance Co. v. Bonnecroy, 304 N.W.2d 422, 424 (Iowa 1981).

The language of sections 724.25 and 724.26 is unambiguous. K. Dunahoo, The New Iowa Criminal Code: Part II, 29 Drake L.Rev. 491, 572 (1979-"80). The legislature added these sections to the criminal code in 1978. The new section 724.26 was patterned after the federal law. Id. at 571. See 18 U.S.C. §§ 922-"25; 18 U.S.C.App. § 1202 (1982). Both the Iowa and federal statutes uniformly define felony for purposes of felony-firearm laws in terms of the maximum sentence for the predicate conviction.

Saadiq's argument that the legislature intended only to prohibit possession of firearms by violent offenders convicted of felonies under section 701.7 is not supported by the language of section 724.25. We previously rejected defendant's argument that section 724.26 is overbroad because it prohibits those convicted of non-violent as well as violent crimes from possessing firearms. State v. Rupp, 282 N.W.2d 125, 130 (Iowa 1979). We quoted the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit: " 'There is a legitimate interest in minimizing the felonious use of firearms, and the legislature reasonably may decide that persons with criminal convictions have more of a tendency to commit a crime of violence than persons without criminal records.' " Id. (quoting Marchese v. California, 545 F.2d 645, 647 (9th Cir.1976)). See also K. Dunahoo, supra, at 572 ("The apparent rationale for this definition [in section 724.25] is a legislative decision that uniform criteria should be applied to persons convicted of a crime serious enough to warrant potential imprisonment in excess of one year, notwithstanding the felony-misdemeanor classification of the crime."). As the predicate crime may have occurred in a jurisdiction having a different definition of felony, the employment of a definitive "exceeding one year" in section 724.26 is particularly useful.

We also reject Saadiq's assertion that the primary difference between the classification of a crime as a misdemeanor or a felony is whether the convict loses his constitutional right to bear arms. While the felony classification in section 724.26 relates to this right, the classification made in other sections of the criminal code is primarily for the purpose of imposing punishment. See Iowa Code §§ 902.1, 902.9, 903.1. See also State v. Robbins, 257 N.W.2d 63, 67 (Iowa 1977) ("while it is true crimes in this State are ordinarily classified as felonies or misdemeanors by the punishment imposed ... that does not preclude the legislature from providing exceptions to such designations").

In light of the definition provided in section 724.25, section 724.26 prohibits any person convicted of an offense punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year from possessing, receiving, or transporting or causing to be transported a firearm or offensive weapon. Saadiq was therefore prohibited from possessing a firearm, and he violated section 724.26 by doing so.

II. Constitutional challenges. Saadiq next contends that if section 724.26 applies to him, it is (a) unconstitutionally vague in not providing adequate notice of its applicability to persons convicted of aggravated misdemeanors, and (b) unconstitutional as applied because he was convicted without proof of knowledge by him that his aggravated misdemeanor conviction triggered a prohibition of firearm possession.

A. Saadiq argues that section 724.26 is unconstitutionally vague because the definition of "felony" in section 724.25 differs from the definition provided in section 701.7. He contends that he and others convicted of crimes classified as aggravated misdemeanors in the statutes defining them (e.g. § 714.2(3)) are without notice that their conviction is a "felony" for purposes of section 724.26. He further argues that persons of ordinary intelligence would be required to guess at the...

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