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October 2, 2009

Iowa Supreme Court finds 25-year sentence for statutory rape questionable under state constitution

A helpful reader alerted me to a fascinating new opinion from the Supreme Court of Iowa in State v. Bruegger, No. 07–0352 (Iowa Oct. 2, 2009) (available here). Here is how today's must-read starts:

In this case, we are confronted with a claim by a defendant convicted of statutory rape that a twenty-five-year prison sentence amounts to cruel and unusual punishment.  His term of incarceration was substantially lengthened based upon a prior incident of sexual misconduct committed by the defendant as a juvenile.  For the reasons expressed below, we vacate the sentencing order of the district court and remand for further proceedings.

The majority opinion provides a terrific review of a whole array of constitutional issues and closes this way:

[W]e note that Bruegger has committed a serious crime for which the legislature may impose a serious penalty. We do not view statutory rape as a victimless crime in light of the risk of disease, pregnancy, and serious psychological harm that can result from even apparently consensual sexual activity involving adults and adolescents. Nor do we believe that Bruegger’s conduct as a juvenile is irrelevant to sentencing. Our sole concern here is whether, under the facts and circumstances, a mandatory sentence of 21.25 years is “off the charts.” We, therefore, vacate the sentencing order of the district court and remand the case for a new sentencing hearing to allow Bruegger and the State to present evidence as to the constitutionality of section 901A.2(3) as applied to the defendant.

The dissenters believe that the majority has gone to far, as evidenced by this opening paragraph of the dissenting opinion authored by one judge:

While the majority opinion is thoughtful and compelling, I refrain from joining in it because sentencing parameters is an area of the law for which courts are required to give great deference to the policies of the legislature as written into sentencing statutes.  The individual-assessment approach introduced by the majority in this case will only permit the courts to substitute their judgment for that of the legislature in cases to follow.  This approach is contrary to the principles of judicial restraint and separation of powers.

October 2, 2009 at 09:55 AM | Permalink


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The dissenter calls into question the need for the Supreme Court of Iowa and the existence of his job.
Was that judge ever 17 years old and maybe had sex with a 16 year old? This criminalization of adolescent sex is off the charts. Maybe we should make the female gender wear veils and lock them away from the male population until they are about 25.

Posted by: mpb | Oct 3, 2009 3:26:27 AM

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