Trish Mehaffey, CR Gazette –
CEDAR RAPIDS — The 39 people in Iowa prisons, who were convicted as juveniles and are serving life sentence, can now argue parole following a Supreme Court ruling on Monday.
In Iowa, anybody can argue for a different sentence at any time, Assistant Attorney General Kevin Cmelik said Tuesday. The next issue is what is the appropriate sentence for the convicted juveniles?
That will be an argument taken up before the Iowa Supreme Court.
Of the 39 offenders, 30 were convicted of first-degree murder, four of first-degree kidnapping and one of first-degree sexual abuse, according to the Iowa Department of Corrections. There are 35 men and four women, and the offenders ranged in age from 14 to 17 when they committed the offense.
Cmelik said the Attorney General’s Office will advise the state legislators at the next session about the high court’s ruling and how it affects the state constitution and they will decide how to proceed regarding future sentencing for juveniles.
Juveniles who are convicted as adults in Iowa of first-degree murder, first-degree kidnapping and first-degree sexual abuse are sentenced to life in prison without parole, according to current Iowa law.
The Supreme Court justices reached a 5-4 decision. The two cases at issue involved a 14-year-old in Arkansas whose plan to rob a video store ended in murder and another 14-year-old in Alabama who, along with another youth, beat a neighbor and set fire to his trailer, resulting in his death.
Drake Law School professor Robert Rigg said the ruling reinforced the notion that juveniles are different and that state law can’t automatically impose life sentences for juveniles. A 2010 decision by the top court had previously ruled juveniles couldn’t be sentenced to life without parole for non-homicide offenses.
“Iowa will have to rethink its sentencing mandates and make adjustments according to age,” Rigg said.
University Iowa Law School professor Emily Hughes said the justices recognize that juveniles are still evolving and not fully mature, and they “aren’t willing to give up hope that a juvenile can be rehabilitated.”
Hughes, a former Johnson County assistant public defender, said this ruling doesn’t completely end life terms for juveniles convicted of murder. It says a judge must consider the defendant’s age and circumstances before sentencing to life without parole.
After the 2010 decision, there were six offenders, three 16-year-olds and three 17-year-olds, who were convicted of first-degree rape and were resentenced to life with parole, according to the Iowa Department of Corrections.
Justice Elena Kagan, in the ruling said life without parole “precludes consideration of his chronological age and its hallmark features – among them, immaturity, impetuosity and failure to appreciate risks and consequences.