State v. Ragland, No. 12–1758.

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Iowa
Writing for the CourtCADY
Citation836 N.W.2d 107
PartiesSTATE of Iowa, Appellant, v. Jeffrey K. RAGLAND, Appellee.
Docket NumberNo. 12–1758.
Decision Date16 August 2013

836 N.W.2d 107

STATE of Iowa, Appellant,
v.
Jeffrey K. RAGLAND, Appellee.

No. 12–1758.

Supreme Court of Iowa.

Aug. 16, 2013.






Recognized as Unconstitutional


§ 902.1(1) (2013)

[836 N.W.2d 109]

Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, Thomas S. Tauber, Assistant Attorney General, Matthew D. Wilber, County Attorney, and Margaret J. Popp–Reyes, Assistant County Attorney, for appellant.


Jon M. Kinnamon of Kinnamon, Kinnamon, Russo, Meyer & Keegan, Cedar Rapids, for appellee.

CADY, Chief Justice.

In this appeal, we must decide if the district court erred in resentencing a defendant who was convicted as a juvenile of first-degree murder and mandatorily sentenced to life without parole after he claimed his sentence violated the constitutional prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment and after the Governor of Iowa commuted the sentence to sixty

[836 N.W.2d 110]

years without parole. We conclude the district court properly resentenced the defendant. We affirm the sentence imposed by the district court.

I. Background Facts and Proceedings.

Jeffrey Ragland was seventeen years old in 1986 when he and two friends attacked another group of boys in a grocery store parking lot in Council Bluffs. Ragland instigated the fight by making aggressive comments, while the boys in the other group attempted to avoid a conflict. Moments before the confrontation turned tragic, Ragland yelled either “Let's do it” or “We're gonna fight.” One of the boys with Ragland then promptly swung a tire iron he was carrying and struck one of the boys in the other group, Timothy Sieff, in the head. Sieff fell to the ground and subsequently died from the blow.

Ragland was charged with first-degree murder for Sieff's death and was prosecuted as an adult. Following a jury trial, he was found guilty of first-degree murder under the felony-murder doctrine. The district court then sentenced Ragland to a term of life in prison without parole. The sentence was mandatory under Iowa law. SeeIowa Code § 902.1 (2013).1

Ragland has been incarcerated in the state penal system since his conviction. Now forty-four years old, he has pursued numerous postconviction relief actions in state and federal court during his imprisonment, including an application to correct his sentence. In 2012, we responded to this application by directing the district court to consider whether the mandatory life sentence without parole Ragland was serving constituted cruel and unusual punishment under the State and Federal Constitutions. We remanded the case to the district court to conduct a hearing on the question.2State v. Ragland, 812 N.W.2d 654, 659 (Iowa 2012).

On June 25, 2012, shortly after our directive for the district court to consider the constitutionality of Ragland's sentence, but prior to the hearing, the United States Supreme Court decided Miller v. Alabama, 567 U.S. ––––, 132 S.Ct. 2455, 183 L.Ed.2d 407 (2012). The Court held the Eighth Amendment prohibited “a sentencing scheme that mandates life in prison without possibility of parole for juvenile offenders.” Id. at ––––, 132 S.Ct. at 2469, 183 L.Ed.2d at 424. The Court found that defendants who committed homicide crimes as juveniles and faced a sentence of life without parole were entitled to a sentencing hearing that would permit the sentencing court to consider the individual characteristics of the defendant and the individual circumstances of the crime as mitigating factors for a lesser sentence. See id. at ––––, 132 S.Ct. at 2475, 183 L.Ed.2d at 418.

The district court scheduled a hearing on the application for resentencing filed by Ragland for August 28. On July 26, however, the Governor of Iowa commuted Ragland's sentence, as well as the sentences of thirty-seven other inmates in Iowa's prison system who, like Ragland,

[836 N.W.2d 111]

had received statutorily mandated sentences of life without parole for crimes committed as juveniles. For all thirty-eight defendants, the Governor commuted the sentences to life with no possibility for parole for sixty years and directed that no credit be given for earned time. The full text of the commutation provides:

WHEREAS, in the recent case of Miller v. Alabama the United States Supreme Court ruled that states cannot mandate life sentences without the possibility of parole for murderers who committed their crimes before the age of eighteen; and

WHEREAS, now after the Court's ruling, up to 38 dangerous juvenile murderers will seek resentencing and more lenient sentences; and

WHEREAS, it is a serious violation of federalism for the federal supreme court to throw out long-standing Iowa sentences; and

WHEREAS, the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibits “cruel and unusual punishments,” which allows the Court to ensure the method of punishment does not violate constitutional rights, but does not allow them to substitute their own judgment for that of the duly-elected legislature on issues of proportionality and public safety; and

WHEREAS, in the Miller v. Alabama opinion the Court used “evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society” to justify their decision, but ignored the fact that first degree murder itself violates the most fundamental right of a free society—the right to live; and

WHEREAS, unlike elected and accountable Iowa legislators, the Supreme Court has not had the opportunity to hear from the friends and family members of the victims of first degree murderers, nor do they live in the Iowa communities affected by their ruling; and

WHEREAS, first degree murder is an intentional and premeditated crime and those who are found guilty are dangerous and should be kept off the streets and out of our communities; and

WHEREAS, the penalty for second degree murder, a lesser offense, is fifty years in prison; and

WHEREAS, an appropriate sentence for first degree murder is life in prison, evidenced by the fact that when the General Assembly changed criminal penalties for other crimes committed before the age of eighteen the sentence for first degree murder was not changed; and

WHEREAS, after the decision in Miller v. Alabama, the decision about whether a juvenile first degree murderer will be released, or remain in prison, is taken away from the legislature, and given to judges, it is imperative that action is taken to ensure our public safety.

KNOW YE, that by virtue of the authority vested in me by the laws of the Constitution of the State of Iowa, I, Terry E. Branstad, Governor of the State of Iowa, do hereby COMMUTE the sentence of Jeffrey K. Ragland # 0803013, who after being found guilty of the crime of Murder in the First Degree in violation of Iowa Code section 707.2 from events occurring on or about August 16, 1986 was transferred by order of the Pottawattamie County Court to the custody of the Iowa Department of Corrections for a term of imprisonment of life without opportunity for parole, to a term of life with no possibility for parole or

[836 N.W.2d 112]

work release for sixty (60) actual years, with no credit for earned time.

At the hearing before the district court on August 28, Ragland argued he should still be resentenced under Miller. He claimed the commutation of his sentence by the Governor was unconstitutional because it failed to follow the individualized considerations mandated by Miller.

Several persons testified at the resentencing hearing that they believed Ragland's sentence should be lessened. John Nelson Sr., owner of a business called SilverStone Group, testified he had hired one of Ragland's codefendants, Robert Lamkins, following the incident. Lamkins worked in Nelson's office, and Nelson helped Lamkins pay for college. Nelson considered Lamkins a successful rehabilitation. Nelson testified he would gladly hire Ragland upon release from prison. Patrick Hanafan, Mayor of Council Bluffs, also voiced testimony supportive of Ragland's release from prison.

Ragland's brother, Ronald Ragland Jr., testified that a support network would be in place for Ragland upon Ragland's release, as well as living arrangements and a vehicle. Additionally, he testified that he has developed a friendship with the victim's older brother, Ben.

Ragland's companions during the fateful fight in 1986, Matt Gill and Robert Lamkins, sent letters to County Attorney Matt Wilber. Gill's letter is particularly poignant. Gill wrote that he was “solely responsible for the death of Timothy Sieff.” He expressed remorse for causing Sieff's death and stated that he pled guilty to second-degree murder and served just three years in prison. He continued:

As I understand it, part of the rationale for [charging Ragland with first-degree murder] from the prosecutor at the time is that Jeff Ragland was painted as the “Ring Leader” and the prosecutor believed that the fight would not have happened if it were not for Jeff being there. At times they made it sound like the rest of us that were there that night were somehow victims of being in the wrong place at the wrong time and had the bad luck of being with Jeff Ragland who was just out looking for a fight. This is just absolutely not true. Jeff was not a “Ring Leader” who somehow caused us to be willing and ready to get into a fight that we would have otherwise never engaged in. The time and place in which we grew up coupled with the fact that we were young, impulsive 17 year olds with poor judgment are the reasons we were willing to engage in a fight, not because we were unlucky enough to be with Jeff Ragland. In fact, looking back on it now it is glaringly obvious that it was Jeff who was unlucky to be with me that night, not the other way around. Jeff had only been with us for less than 30 minutes that night, yet he is still in prison 26 years later because of the terrible decisions I made.

Gill closed by conveying gratitude for the second chance he received. He also expressed hope that Ragland would receive a similar opportunity for rehabilitation. “Keeping Jeff Ragland in prison will ......

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127 practice notes
  • Williams v. State, CR–12–1862.
    • United States
    • Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals
    • April 4, 2014
    ...either a substantive rule of law or one that implicates fundamental fairness and accuracy of the criminal proceeding."State v. Ragland, 836 N.W.2d 107, 114 (Iowa 2013). As the Ragland court recognized, the issue here begins with the question of whether the "new" rule announced in Miller is ......
  • Willbanks v. Mo. Dep't of Corr., No. SC 95395
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Missouri
    • July 11, 2017
    ...Supreme Court released a trio of opinions applying Graham and Miller : State v. Pearson, 836 N.W.2d 88 (Iowa 2013) , State v. Ragland, 836 N.W.2d 107( Iowa 2013) , 522 S.W.3d 255and State v. Null, 836 N.W.2d 41(Iowa 2013). Pearson is the most factually similar.7 The defendant was convicted ......
  • State v. Taylor G., No. 19222.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • March 17, 2015
    ...Lyle then synthesized Roper, Graham , and Miller, as well as its own jurisprudence interpreting those three cases. See State v. Ragland, 836 N.W.2d 107, 109–10 (Iowa 2013) (unconstitutional sixty year sentence); State v. Pearson, 836 N.W.2d 88, 96 (Iowa 2013) (unconstitutional thirty-five y......
  • Casiano v. Comm'r of Corr., No. 19345.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • May 26, 2015
    ...the mandatory imposition of a sentence 317 Conn. 67of life without parole on a class of offenders. See, e.g., State v. Ragland, 836 N.W.2d 107, 117 (Iowa 2013) ; State v. Mantich, supra, 287 Neb. at 340–41, 842 N.W.2d 716 ; State v. Mares, supra, 335 P.3d at 508. Notably, these courts have ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
124 cases
  • Williams v. State, CR–12–1862.
    • United States
    • Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals
    • April 4, 2014
    ...either a substantive rule of law or one that implicates fundamental fairness and accuracy of the criminal proceeding."State v. Ragland, 836 N.W.2d 107, 114 (Iowa 2013). As the Ragland court recognized, the issue here begins with the question of whether the "new" rule announced in Miller is ......
  • Willbanks v. Mo. Dep't of Corr., No. SC 95395
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Missouri
    • July 11, 2017
    ...Supreme Court released a trio of opinions applying Graham and Miller : State v. Pearson, 836 N.W.2d 88 (Iowa 2013) , State v. Ragland, 836 N.W.2d 107( Iowa 2013) , 522 S.W.3d 255and State v. Null, 836 N.W.2d 41(Iowa 2013). Pearson is the most factually similar.7 The defendant was convicted ......
  • State v. Taylor G., No. 19222.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • March 17, 2015
    ...Lyle then synthesized Roper, Graham , and Miller, as well as its own jurisprudence interpreting those three cases. See State v. Ragland, 836 N.W.2d 107, 109–10 (Iowa 2013) (unconstitutional sixty year sentence); State v. Pearson, 836 N.W.2d 88, 96 (Iowa 2013) (unconstitutional thirty-five y......
  • Casiano v. Comm'r of Corr., No. 19345.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • May 26, 2015
    ...the mandatory imposition of a sentence 317 Conn. 67of life without parole on a class of offenders. See, e.g., State v. Ragland, 836 N.W.2d 107, 117 (Iowa 2013) ; State v. Mantich, supra, 287 Neb. at 340–41, 842 N.W.2d 716 ; State v. Mares, supra, 335 P.3d at 508. Notably, these courts have ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
3 books & journal articles
  • Juvenile life without parole post-Miller: the long, treacherous road towards a categorical rule.
    • United States
    • Washington University Law Review Vol. 91 Nbr. 2, February - February 2014
    • February 1, 2014
    ...2013) (not retroactive); Jones v. State, No. 2009-CT-02033-SCT, 2013 WL 3756564 (Miss. July 18, 2013) (retroactive); State v. Ragland, 836 N.W.2d 107 (Iowa 2013) (retroactive); People v. Williams, 982 N.E.2d 181 (Ill. App. Ct. 2012) (retroactive); People v. Carp, 828 N.W.2d 685 (Mich. Ct. A......
  • THE TRILOGY AND BEYOND.
    • United States
    • South Dakota Law Review Vol. 62 Nbr. 3, September 2017
    • September 22, 2017
    ...nom. Illinois v. Davis, 135 S.Ct. 710 (mem.) (2014). (88.) State v. Null, 836 N.W.2d 41, 72-76 (Iowa 2013). See also State v. Ragland, 836 N.W.2d 107, 122 (Iowa (89.) Diatchenko v. Dist. Attorney, 1 N.E.3d 270, 286-87 (Mass. 2013). (90.) Jones v. State, 122 So. 3d 698, 703 (Miss. 2013). (91......
  • Reasonable Minds May Differ: The Application of Miller and Graham to Consecutive Sentences for Juvenile Offenders in Missouri.
    • United States
    • Missouri Law Review Vol. 83 Nbr. 3, June 2018
    • June 22, 2018
    ...was entitled to a Miller hearing, which he received), cert. denied, 138 S. Ct. 467 (2017) (mem.). (185.) See e.g., State v. Ragland, 836 N.W.2d 107, 121 (Iowa 2013) ("The rationale of Miller, as well as Graham, reveals that the unconstitutional imposition of a mandatory life-without-parole ......

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