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June 9, 2014

Two years after Miller, Iowa still muddling through juve sentencing

As highlighted by this local article, headlined "Iowa juvenile sentencing rules in legal limbo," the Hawkeye state is still struggling with how to revamp its juvenile sentencing rules to comply with modern Eighth Amendment restrictions. Here are the details:

Iowa prosecutors want clarification on the state’s sentencing laws for juveniles convicted of murder. The U.S. Supreme Court in 2012 struck down the use of mandatory life terms in prison for defendants who committed murder when they were under 18. The court ruled that judges have to take a person's age and the severity of crime into consideration.

Iowa legislators have been working since then to determine whether to change state sentencing rules. Rep. Chip Baltimore, R-Boone, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said lawmakers are struggling to decide the best approach given the “hodgepodge of judicial rulings” that have left in question what is the minimum number of years a juvenile who commits first-degree murder should be required to serve in prison before being eligible for parole.

“It’s a situation that we’re trying to deal with the amorphous concept of cruel and unusual punishment not only as it’s interpreted through the federal constitution but the Iowa Supreme Court has decided that the cruel and unusual punishment provision in the Iowa Constitution means something different that what it means at the federal level,” he said.

Iowa Assistant Attorney General Kevin Cmelik said prosecutors want clear guidelines. “There is no clear answer as to what is required by the law right now because we don’t have a statute that’s applicable anymore," he said.

Prosecutors like Black Hawk County Attorney Tom Ferguson tried to get lawmakers to set a mandatory minimum of at least 35 years for juveniles convicted of first-degree murder, but it failed to gain traction last legislative session....

Prosecutors say judges should have discretion to re-impose a life sentence with or without parole but they worry that lesser penalties potentially could create a situation where someone sentenced for second-degree murder could be facing more prison time that an offender found guilty of a Class A crime.

Forty-eight youth in Iowa who have been sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole since 1964, state data shows.

June 9, 2014 at 10:47 AM | Permalink

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Comments

"Sentencing" is a poor model for making correction plans. Correction plans are complex and highly variable. "Prescribing" is a much better model. Decision-makers should prescribe the components for a correction plan. For example, punishment might be one component and be prescribed by a judge. Others might include domicile, oversight, education, rehabilitation and so on, which are prescribed by other decision-makers. In other words, correction plans are modular and are built by several different decision-makers, each with expertise in a particular aspect of that plan.

The components of a correction plan can then be matched with the components of a correction program, aided by computer technology. These components can be configured in many different ways. Without a standardized way of to construct a correction plan and match that plan with a program, it is virtually impossible to operate a cost-effective correction system.

Posted by: Tom McGee | Jun 9, 2014 2:12:47 PM

Here is a suggestion for some enterprising student of sentencing. Select one hundred cases at random that were sentenced say three years ago. Identify the correctional objectives in those cases, the strategies actually used to accomplish those objectives and the tactics used to carry out those strategies.

How would you rate the performance of the system? I think you would conclude that the sentencing model is antiquated and just too simplistic.

Posted by: Tom McGee | Jun 9, 2014 2:40:42 PM

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