State v. Lyle, 11–1339.

Citation854 N.W.2d 378
Decision Date18 July 2014
Docket NumberNo. 11–1339.,11–1339.
PartiesSTATE of Iowa, Appellee, v. Andre Jerome LYLE Jr., Appellant.
CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Iowa

854 N.W.2d 378

STATE of Iowa, Appellee
Andre Jerome LYLE Jr., Appellant.

No. 11–1339.

Supreme Court of Iowa.

July 18, 2014.
Amended Sept. 30, 2014.

Rehearing Denied Sept. 30, 2014.

854 N.W.2d 380

Mark C. Smith, State Appellate Defender, David A. Adams (until withdrawal), Vidhya K. Reddy (until withdrawal), and Rachel C. Regenold, Assistant State Appellate Defenders, for appellant.

Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, Elisabeth S. Reynoldson (until withdrawal), Benjamin M. Parrott (until withdrawal), and Darrel L. Mullins, Assistant Attorneys General, John P. Sarcone, County Attorney, Frank Severino Jr. and Jeffrey K. Noble, Assistant County Attorneys, for appellee.


CADY, Chief Justice.

In this appeal, a prison inmate who committed the crime of robbery in the second degree as a juvenile and was prosecuted as an adult challenges the constitutionality of a sentencing statute that required the imposition of a mandatory seven-year minimum sentence of imprisonment. The inmate was in high school at the time of the crime, which involved a brief altercation outside the high school with another student that ended when the inmate took a small plastic bag containing marijuana from the student. He claims the sentencing statute constitutes cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the State and Federal Constitutions when applied to all juveniles prosecuted as adults because the mandatory sentence failed to permit the court to consider any circumstances based on his attributes of youth or the circumstances of his conduct in mitigation of punishment. For the reasons expressed below, we hold a statute mandating a sentence of incarceration in a prison for juvenile offenders with no opportunity for parole until a minimum period of time has been served is unconstitutional under article I, section 17 of the Iowa Constitution.1 Accordingly, we vacate the sentence and remand the case to the district court for resentencing. Importantly, we do not hold that juvenile offenders cannot be sentenced to imprisonment for their criminal acts. We do not hold juvenile offenders cannot be

854 N.W.2d 381

sentenced to a minimum term of imprisonment. We only hold juvenile offenders cannot be mandatorily sentenced under a mandatory minimum sentencing scheme.

I. Background Facts and Prior Proceedings.

Andre Lyle Jr. was convicted following a jury trial of the crime of robbery in the second degree on June 29, 2011. See Iowa Code §§ 711.1 –.3 (2011). He was a seventeen-year-old high school student when he committed the crime. The conviction resulted from an incident in October 2010 when Lyle and a companion punched another young man and took a small bag of marijuana from him. The altercation between the boys occurred outside the high school they attended after the victim failed to deliver marijuana to Lyle and his companion in exchange for $5 they had given the victim the previous day. Lyle videoed the confrontation on his cell phone. Prior to trial, Lyle unsuccessfully sought to transfer jurisdiction of the matter to the juvenile court.

Lyle grew up in Des Moines with little family support and few advantages. His father was in prison, and he was raised by his grandmother after his mother threatened him with a knife. His grandmother permitted him to smoke marijuana, and he was frequently tardy or absent from school. Lyle had frequent contact with law enforcement and first entered the juvenile justice system at twelve years of age. He was involved in many criminal acts as a teenager, including assaults and robberies. Lyle was known to record his criminal behavior with his cell phone and post videos on the Internet.

Lyle appeared before the district court for sentencing on his eighteenth birthday. The district court sentenced him to a term of incarceration in the state corrections system not to exceed ten years. See id. § 711.3 (“Robbery in the second degree is a class ‘C’ felony.”); id. § 902.9(4) (“A class ‘C’ felon, not a habitual offender, shall be confined no more than ten years....”). Pursuant to Iowa statute, the sentence was mandatory, and he was required to serve seventy percent of the prison term before he could be eligible for parole. See id. § 902.12(5) (“A person serving a sentence for conviction of [robbery in the second degree in violation of section 711.3 ] shall be denied parole or work release unless the person has served at least seven-tenths of the maximum term of the person's sentence....”).

Lyle objected to the seventy percent mandatory minimum sentence. He claimed it was unconstitutional as applied to juvenile offenders. The district court overruled Lyle's objection.

Lyle appealed. In his initial appellate brief, Lyle disclaimed a categorical challenge to mandatory minimums and instead argued the mandatory minimum was unconstitutional as applied to him. We transferred the case to the court of appeals.

During the pendency of the appeal, the United States decided Miller v. Alabama, 567 U.S. ––––, 132 S.Ct. 2455, 183 L.Ed.2d 407 (2012). In Miller, the Court held a statutory schema that mandates life imprisonment without the possibility of parole cannot constitutionally be applied to a juvenile. 567 U.S. at ––––, 132 S.Ct. at 2469, 183 L.Ed.2d at 424. Subsequently, we held the rule contemplated by Miller was retroactive. State v. Ragland, 836 N.W.2d 107, 117 (Iowa 2013). We then applied the reasoning in Miller to sentences that effectively deprived a juvenile offender of a meaningful opportunity for early release on parole during the offender's lifetime based on demonstrated maturity and rehabilitation. State v. Null, 836 N.W.2d 41, 72 (2013). In a trilogy of

854 N.W.2d 382

cases, our reasoning applied not just to a de facto life sentence or one “that is the practical equivalent of a life sentence without parole,” see Ragland, 836 N.W.2d at 121, but also to a “lengthy term-of-years sentence,” Null, 836 N.W.2d at 72 ; see also State v. Pearson, 836 N.W.2d 88, 96–97 (Iowa 2013).

The court of appeals affirmed the sentence. Lyle sought further review and asserted the decision of the court of appeals was contrary to Miller. We granted his application for further review and ordered Lyle and the State to submit additional briefing regarding whether the seventy percent mandatory minimum of his ten-year sentence for second-degree robbery was constitutional in light of our recent trilogy of cases. See generally Ragland, 836 N.W.2d 107 ; Pearson, 836 N.W.2d 88 ; Null, 836 N.W.2d 41.

II. Scope and Standard of Review.

An unconstitutional sentence is an illegal sentence. See State v. Bruegger, 773 N.W.2d 862, 872 (Iowa 2009). Consequently, an unconstitutional sentence may be corrected at any time. Id.; see also Iowa R.Crim. P. 2.24(5)(a ). Although challenges to illegal sentences are ordinarily reviewed for correction of legal errors, we review an allegedly unconstitutional sentence de novo. Ragland, 836 N.W.2d at 113.

III. Issue Before the Court.

As a threshold matter, the State argues Lyle waived a categorical challenge by failing to raise it in his initial brief. We have consistently held an issue “may be deemed” waived if a litigant fails to identify the issue, assign error, and make an argument supported by citation to authority in their initial brief.See Bennett v. MC No. 619, Inc., 586 N.W.2d 512, 521 (Iowa 1998) ; Mueller v. St. Ansgar State Bank, 465 N.W.2d 659, 659 (Iowa 1991) ; McCleeary v. Wirtz, 222 N.W.2d 409, 415 (Iowa 1974). This rule, however, like most other rules, is not without exceptions. See, e.g., State v. Carroll, 767 N.W.2d 638, 644–45 (Iowa 2009) (addressing an issue raised for the first time in the State's appellee brief, which the defendant would have been unlikely to be able to address). But see Sun Valley Iowa Lake Ass'n v. Anderson, 551 N.W.2d 621, 642 (Iowa 1996) (holding a civil litigant may not raise an issue for the first time in its reply brief).

Our decision in Bruegger —a case in which the defendant challenged his sentence as unconstitutional for the first time on appeal—reveals one exception. 773 N.W.2d at 872 (“[A] claim [that the sentence itself is inherently illegal] may be brought at any time.”); see also Iowa R.Crim. P. 2.24(5)(a ) (“The court may correct an illegal sentence at any time.”). Bruegger recognized that a categorical challenge to the constitutionality of a sentence under the Eighth Amendment or article I, section 17 targets “the inherent power of the court to impose a particular sentence.” Bruegger, 773 N.W.2d at 871. As such, “the ordinary rules of issue preservation do not apply.” Veal v. State, 779 N.W.2d 63, 65 (Iowa 2010). Accordingly, a constitutional challenge to an illegal sentence, even one brought after the initial brief has been filed, could fit within our holding in Bruegger. See 773 N.W.2d at 871–72.

On the other hand, we recently recognized the value of a “ ‘procedurally conservative approach’ ” to error preservation involving novel issues raised for the first time on appeal for which there is an inadequate factual record. See State v. Hoeck, 843 N.W.2d 67, 71 (Iowa 2014) (quoting Barry A. Miller, Sua Sponte Appellate Rulings: When Courts Deprive Litigants


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