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STATE OF IOWA vs. JONATHON SMYLES,
Smyles Sentenced to 10 Years for Role in Kidnapping
Case Number: 17-0738
Judge: Christopher Lee McDonald
Court: COURT OF APPEALS OF IOWA
Plaintiff's Attorney: Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, and Timothy M. Hau, Assistant Attorney
Defendant's Attorney: Mark C. Smith, State Appellate Defender, and Melinda J. Nye, Assistant
Description: We review sentencing decisions for correction of errors at law. See State
v. Witham, 583 N.W.2d 677, 678 (Iowa 1998). A sentencing decision will not be
reversed absent a showing of an abuse of discretion or some defect in the
sentencing proceeding. See State v. Formaro, 638 N.W.2d 720, 724 (Iowa 2002).
“Discretion expresses the notion of latitude.” State v. McNeal, 897 N.W.2d 697,
710 (Iowa 2017) (Cady, C.J., concurring specially). This court will find an abuse
of discretion only when a sentencing court acts on grounds clearly untenable or to
an extent clearly unreasonable. See Formaro, 638 N.W.2d at 724. This standard
is deferential to the sentencing court:
Judicial discretion imparts the power to act within legal parameters according to the dictates of a judge’s own conscience, uncontrolled by the judgment of others. It is essential to judging because judicial decisions frequently are not colored in black and white. Instead, they deal in differing shades of gray, and discretion is needed to give the necessary latitude to the decision-making process. This inherent latitude in the process properly limits our review. Thus, our task on appeal is not to second guess the decision made by the district court, but to determine if it was unreasonable or based on untenable grounds.
See State v. Seats, 865 N.W.2d 545, 553 (Iowa 2015).
As a general rule, the sentencing court should consider all pertinent matters,
including, but not limited to, “the nature of the offense, the attending
circumstances, defendant’s age, character and propensities and chances of his
reform.” State v. Laffey, 600 N.W.2d 57, 62 (Iowa 1999). “The court must exercise
its discretion without application of a personal, inflexible policy relating only to one
consideration.” State v. Jackson, No. 14-1778, 2015 WL 3625243, at *1 (Iowa Ct.
App. June 10, 2015) (citing State v. Hildebrand, 280 N.W.2d 393, 397 (Iowa 1979)
and State v. Kelley, 357 N.W.2d 638, 640 (Iowa Ct. App. 1984)).
Smyles contends the district court abused its discretion in imposing
sentence. Specifically, Smyles seems to argue the district court abused its
discretion by applying a fixed policy of requiring incarceration for this type of crime.
In support of his claim, Smyles notes the district court stated during sentencing,
“[I]t’s my conclusion that a term of incarceration is necessary and mandated
because of the type of crime.” Smyles takes the district court’s statement out of
When the entire proceeding is reviewed, it is clear the district court
understood it had the discretion to suspend the sentence and exercised that
discretion in a reasonable matter. The district court stated, “I am cognizant of the
fact that you have pled guilty to a nonforcible felony, you do not have to go to
prison.” Importantly, and contrary to the defendant’s apparent contention, the
district court did not consider the nature of the offense, generally, in concluding
incarceration was an appropriate sentence. Instead, the district court considered
the specific facts and circumstances of this offense. For example, the district court
stated, “I took your guilty plea, so I heard what you admitted to and what you did
in this case. And that’s what I’m sentencing you on today and that’s what I’m taking
into consideration when I decide what is the right sentence.” The district court
made similar statements evincing consideration of the unique facts and
circumstances of this case rather than enforcing a personal policy that
incarceration is always appropriate for this offense, generally. It is also clear the
district court considered other factors in addition to the nature of the crime. The
district court considered Smyles’ relatively young age, education, substance abuse
history (or lack thereof), strong employment history, and lack of criminal record.
In sum, the core of the defendant’s argument is he simply disagrees with
the district court’s exercise of discretion. This is not a ground for relief. See, e.g.,
State v. McDowell, No. 17-0679, 2017 WL 6034123, at *1 (Iowa Ct. App. Dec. 6,
2017) (noting that mere disagreement with sentencing decision is not a ground for