State v. Mitchell, No. 07-0438.

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Iowa
Writing for the CourtBaker
Citation757 N.W.2d 431
PartiesSTATE of Iowa, Appellee, v. Holly Marie MITCHELL, Appellant.
Docket NumberNo. 07-0438.
Decision Date14 November 2008
757 N.W.2d 431
STATE of Iowa, Appellee,
v.
Holly Marie MITCHELL, Appellant.
No. 07-0438.
Supreme Court of Iowa.
November 14, 2008.

[757 N.W.2d 433]

Daniel J. Vondra, Iowa City, for appellant.

Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, Jean C. Pettinger, Assistant Attorney General, Janet M. Lyness, County Attorney, and Michael D. Brennan and Anne M. Lahey, Assistant County Attorneys, for appellee.

BAKER, Justice.


A mother appeals from the judgment and sentence entered upon her conviction for child endangerment. We are asked to decide whether Iowa's child endangerment statute, which defines child endangerment to include a parent with custody or control over a child cohabiting with a known sex offender, violates the Due Process Clauses and the Equal Protection Clauses of the United States and Iowa Constitutions. We conclude error was not preserved on the due process claim. As for the equal protection claim, under a rational-basis standard, there is a reasonable fit between protecting children from sex crimes and limiting contact between children and sex offenders by prohibiting an unmarried parent from living with a person the parent knows to be a sex offender. The disparate treatment of married and cohabiting individuals is neither unreasonable nor arbitrary. We therefore affirm the district court's denial of the mother's motion to declare the statute unconstitutional.

757 N.W.2d 434

I. Background Facts and Proceedings.

Holly Mitchell is the mother and Nicholas Mitchell is the father of two children, a daughter born in November 1999, and a son born in January 2003. Holly and Nicholas were married in December 1999 and separated in March 2005. Holly moved to Coralville and moved in with her boyfriend, Kelly Wade, in approximately July 2006. Wade is a registered sex offender, convicted in 2000 for an out-of-state incident involving indecent exposure to a seventeen-year-old female victim.

In October 2006, Nicholas and Holly made arrangements for the children to spend a weekend with Holly because Nicholas had National Guard duty. Holly was scheduled to work that weekend, and Nicholas told her he did not want the children left alone with Wade. Holly assured him that they would not be alone with Wade.

The daughter testified that she, her brother, and "Kelly" were at Holly's apartment during parts of the weekend that Holly was not there and that her aunt and grandmother were there "when Mommy came." Holly's mother testified that, although Wade was there when the children were present, at no point was Wade left alone with the children. Holly's younger sister also testified that Wade was never left alone with the children. Following the visitation, Nicholas contacted the Coralville Police Department and the Iowa Department of Human Services.

On November 16, Holly was charged by trial information with child endangerment in violation of Iowa Code sections 726.6(1)(h) and 726.6(7) (Supp.2005). Holly entered a plea of not guilty and filed a motion challenging the constitutionality of section 726.6(1)(h), which was denied. The case proceeded to jury trial, and the jury found Holly guilty of child endangerment. The district court imposed a sixty-day term of incarceration and a $625 fine, which were suspended. Holly was placed on supervised probation for one year. She appeals.

II. Scope of Review.

Our review of constitutional challenges to a statute is well established:

We review challenges to the constitutionality of a statute de novo. Statutes are presumed to be constitutional, and a challenger must prove unconstitutionality beyond a reasonable doubt. The challenger must refute every reasonable basis upon which the statute could be found constitutional, and if the statute may be construed in more than one way, we adopt the construction that does not violate the constitution.

State v. Carter, 733 N.W.2d 333, 335 (Iowa 2007) (citing State v. Seering, 701 N.W.2d 655, 661 (Iowa 2005)) (other citations omitted).

III. Constitutional Claims.

Mitchell contends that Iowa Code section 726.6(1)(h) violates the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the United States and Iowa Constitutions. In 2005, Iowa's child endangerment statute was amended to include knowingly cohabiting with a sex offender as a violation. Pursuant to the statute:

A person who is the parent, guardian, or person having custody or control over a child or a minor under the age of eighteen with a mental or physical disability, or a person who is a member of the household in which a child or such a minor resides, commits child endangerment when the person....

h. Cohabits with a person after knowing the person is required to register or is on the sex offender registry as

757 N.W.2d 435

a sex offender under chapter 692A. However, this paragraph does not apply to a person who is a parent, guardian, or a person having custody or control over a child or a minor who is required to register as a sex offender, or to a person who is married to and living with a person required to register as a sex offender.

Iowa Code § 726.6(1)(h).

A. Due Process. The State contends Mitchell failed to preserve error on her substantive due process claim. "Issues not raised before the district court, including constitutional issues, cannot be raised for the first time on appeal." State v. McCright, 569 N.W.2d 605, 607 (Iowa 1997) (citing State v. Wages, 483 N.W.2d 325, 326 (Iowa 1992)).

[A] mere assertion that a statute is "unconstitutional" does not encompass every conceivable constitutional violation.... [A] party challenging the constitutionality of a statute must alert the court to what specific constitutional provisions are allegedly compromised by the statute.

State v. Hernandez-Lopez, 639 N.W.2d 226, 234 (Iowa 2002).

Mitchell filed a pretrial motion to declare section 726.6(1)(h) unconstitutional. In the motion, Mitchell contended the statute violates her right to free association and equal protection and stated she will submit a brief in support of the motion.1 In her brief, Mitchell raised and discussed at length the issue of "[w]hether Iowa Code § 726.6(1)(h) is unconstitutional for violating Defendant's right to privacy, freedom of association, or intruding on a fundamental right." Mitchell's supplemental brief in support of the motion clearly included her due process arguments. At trial, she renewed the motion to dismiss based on various constitutional grounds. In the order denying the motion, however, the district court limited its conclusions to an equal protection analysis.

Generally, we will only review an issue raised on appeal if it was first presented to and ruled on by the district court. McCright, 569 N.W.2d at 607. The district court and opposing counsel received notice of the due process claim. The district court did not, however, discuss or rule on that claim. The defendant failed to file a motion to enlarge the trial court's findings or in any other manner have the district court address this issue. See Meier v. Senecaut, 641 N.W.2d 532, 539 (Iowa 2002) (finding that a party must request a ruling from the district court to preserve error for appeal on an issue presented but not decided). Accordingly, we determine that error was not preserved on Holly's due process claim, and we will only address the equal protection claim.

B. Equal Protection. Mitchell contends Iowa Code section 726.6(1)(h) violates the Equal Protection Clauses of the United States and Iowa Constitutions because there is no rational reason to treat persons who are married to and cohabiting with a sex offender differently from persons who are unmarried and cohabiting with a sex offender. This is the sole classification challenged and, therefore, the only one we address.

"The Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution and article I, section 6 of the Iowa Constitution provide individuals equal protection under the law. This principle requires that `similarly situated persons be treated alike under the

757 N.W.2d 436

law.'" Wright v. Iowa Dep't of Corr., 747 N.W.2d 213, 216 (Iowa 2008) (quoting In re Det. of Williams, 628 N.W.2d 447, 452 (Iowa 2001)).

The framers of the Constitution knew, and we should not forget today, that there is no more effective practical guaranty against arbitrary and unreasonable government than to require that the principles of law which officials would impose upon a minority must be imposed generally. Conversely, nothing opens the door to arbitrary action so effectively as to allow those officials to pick and choose only a few to whom they will apply legislation and thus to escape the political retribution that might be visited upon them if larger numbers were affected. Courts can take no better measure to assure that laws will be just than to require that laws be equal in operation.

Ry. Express Agency v. New York, 336 U.S. 106, 112-13, 69 S.Ct. 463, 466-67, 93 L.Ed. 533, 540 (1949) (Jackson, J., concurring).

The Equal Protection Clause does not deny states the power to treat different classes of people differently. It does, however, deny states

the power to legislate that different treatment be accorded to persons placed by a statute into different classes on the basis of criteria wholly unrelated to the objective of that statute. A classification "must be reasonable, not arbitrary, and must rest upon some ground of difference having a fair and substantial relation to the object of the legislation. ..."

Reed v. Reed, 404 U.S. 71, 75-76, 92 S.Ct. 251, 253-54, 30 L.Ed.2d 225, 229 (1971) (quoting Royster Guano Co. v. Virginia, 253 U.S. 412, 415, 40 S.Ct. 560, 561, 64 L.Ed. 989, 990 (1920)) (other citations omitted).

To determine whether a statute violates equal protection, we first determine whether the statute makes a distinction between similarly situated individuals. Wright, 747 N.W.2d at 216. Pursuant to section 726.6(1)(h), a parent commits child endangerment when she cohabits with a person she knows to be a sex offender,...

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81 practice notes
  • State v. Childs, No. 15-1578
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • June 30, 2017
    ...of constitutional claims."). State v. Mitchell does not support the conclusion that Childs waived his statutory 898 N.W.2d 182argument. 757 N.W.2d 431, 435 (Iowa 2008). Holly Mitchell was charged with child endangerment because she and her children lived with a registered sex offender. Id. ......
  • Behm v. City of Cedar Rapids & Gatso United States, Inc., No. 16-1031
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • August 31, 2018
    ...within the mileage radius. The use of state residency provides a less complex approach than a mileage approach. See State v. Mitchell, 757 N.W.2d 431, 436 (Iowa 2008) (noting that under rational basis review, a classification need not be narrowly tailored). It is rational to assume that veh......
  • State v. Tucker, No. 19-2082
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • May 7, 2021
    ...distinction between those convicted after trial and those convicted after a guilty plea. Our review is de novo. See State v. Mitchell , 757 N.W.2d 431, 434 (Iowa 2008) (applying de novo review to equal protection claims). The United States and Iowa Constitutions guarantee the equal protecti......
  • State v. Treptow, No. 19-1276
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • May 28, 2021
    ...guilty and those who were not provided effective assistance of counsel in pleading guilty. Our review is de novo. See State v. Mitchell , 757 N.W.2d 431, 434 (Iowa 2008) (applying de novo review to equal protection claims). The United States and Iowa Constitutions guarantee the equal protec......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
81 cases
  • State v. Childs, No. 15-1578
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • June 30, 2017
    ...of constitutional claims."). State v. Mitchell does not support the conclusion that Childs waived his statutory 898 N.W.2d 182argument. 757 N.W.2d 431, 435 (Iowa 2008). Holly Mitchell was charged with child endangerment because she and her children lived with a registered sex offender. Id. ......
  • Behm v. City of Cedar Rapids & Gatso United States, Inc., No. 16-1031
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • August 31, 2018
    ...within the mileage radius. The use of state residency provides a less complex approach than a mileage approach. See State v. Mitchell, 757 N.W.2d 431, 436 (Iowa 2008) (noting that under rational basis review, a classification need not be narrowly tailored). It is rational to assume that veh......
  • State v. Tucker, No. 19-2082
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • May 7, 2021
    ...distinction between those convicted after trial and those convicted after a guilty plea. Our review is de novo. See State v. Mitchell , 757 N.W.2d 431, 434 (Iowa 2008) (applying de novo review to equal protection claims). The United States and Iowa Constitutions guarantee the equal protecti......
  • State v. Treptow, No. 19-1276
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • May 28, 2021
    ...guilty and those who were not provided effective assistance of counsel in pleading guilty. Our review is de novo. See State v. Mitchell , 757 N.W.2d 431, 434 (Iowa 2008) (applying de novo review to equal protection claims). The United States and Iowa Constitutions guarantee the equal protec......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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