Articles Posted in Iowa Supreme Court

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Iowa Const. art. I, section 17 does not categorically prohibit a district court form sentencing a juvenile offender to a minimum term of incarceration without the possibility of parole, provided that the court only imposes the sentence after a complete and careful consideration of the relevant mitigating factors of youth. Defendant, who was a juvenile at the time of his offense, was resentenced to a minimum term of incarceration of seventeen and one-half years for sexual abuse in the second degree. Defendant appealed, arguing that any minimum term of incarceration without the possibility of parole is unconstitutional. The court of appeals affirmed the sentence. The Supreme Court remanded for resentencing, holding that, while the Iowa Constitution does not require abandonment of the practice at issue, the district court abused its discretion in this case by imposing a sentence of incarceration without parole eligibility. View "State v. Roby" on Justia Law

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Defendant, a juvenile, pleaded guilty to four counts of willful injury causing serious injury. Pursuant to the plea agreement, the district court sentenced Defendant to indeterminate sentences not to exceed ten years on each of the four counts to run consecutively for a maximum sentence of forty years. No mandatory minimum sentence was imposed, but because Defendant’s crime was a forcible felony, the sentencing judge was unable to consider a deferred judgment or probation as a sentencing option. Defendant filed a motion to correct an illegal sentence, which the district court denied. The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court, holding (1) the forcible felony sentencing statute, Iowa Code 907.3, is not unconstitutional as applied to juvenile offenders; and (2) in considering a motion to correct an illegal sentence, the district court is not required to conduct an individualized sentencing hearing as to all juveniles regardless of whether the sentence has a mandatory term of years. View "State v. Propps" on Justia Law

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Defendant pleaded guilty to attempted murder. Defendant was sixteen years old at the time of the offense. Defendant was sentenced to twenty-five years in prison, including a mandatory minimum term of incarceration. Defendant was also ordered to pay $150,000 in mandatory restitution to the victim’s estate. Defendant was later resentenced and received immediate parole eligibility because the mandatory minimum period of incarceration had been deemed unconstitutional. The restitution was left in place. Defendant appealed, challenging the $150,000 in restitution to the victim’s estate. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the $150,000 mandatory restitution for juvenile homicide offenders is not facially unconstitutional; and (2) the $150,000 mandatory restitution was not unconstitutional as applied to Defendant. View "State v. Breeden" on Justia Law

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Defendant pleaded guilty to second-degree murder. Defendant was fifteen years old at the time of the offense. The district court sentenced Defendant to an indeterminate term of incarceration and ordered Defendant to pay $150,000 in mandatory restitution to the victim’s estate. Defendant appealed, challenging the $150,000 restitution award. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) Iowa Code 901.5(14) does not authorize the district court to modify a restitution award otherwise required by Iowa Code 910.3B(1), and restitution under chapter 910 is mandatory; and (2) section 910.3B is not unconstitutional either as applied to all juvenile homicide offenders or as applied to Defendant. View "State v. Richardson" on Justia Law

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The Iowa District Court for Story County issued an order appointing the local public defender of Nevada, Iowa to represent a juvenile, who had been detained. The public defender filed a motion to withdraw, citing conflicts of interest between the juvenile and other clients. After a detention hearing, the court ordered the juvenile’s transfer from detention to shelter care and then withdrew the local defender’s appointment and appointed new conflict-free counsel for the juvenile. The court subsequently taxed to the state public defender the court and travel costs related to the hearing for withdrawing from the representation of the juvenile prior to the hearing without first taking steps to secure alternative representation for the juvenile. The state public defender filed a petition for writ of certiorari in the Supreme Court, claiming that the district court acted illegally when it taxed the court and travel costs against the state public defender. The Supreme Court sustained the writ, holding that the district court exceeded its authority and made an error of law in determining that the state public defender or the local public defender violated either statutory or ethical duties under the circumstances of this case. View "State Public Defender v. Iowa District Court" on Justia Law

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In 2012, seventeen-year-old appellant Isaiah Sweet shot and killed Richard and Janet Sweet. Richard and Janet had cared for Sweet since he was four years old, as his biological mother was unable to do. Richard was Sweet’s biological grandfather. Richard and Janet had been married for thirty years. Sweet was arrested three days after the murder. After being given Miranda warnings, Sweet described events leading to the murders, the details of the murders themselves, and his activities in the days after the murders. Sweet was charged and convicted on first-degree murder charges. While his maturity was debatable, the district court stressed that the crimes were premeditated. The district court felt that Sweet's proffered expert's characterization of Sweet’s possibility of rehabilitation as "mixed" was overly optimistic. Further, the district court found Sweet’s case was the rare case in which a sentence of life without the possibility of parole was warranted, as the murders were horrific and showed utter lack of humanity. The district court concluded that Sweet was currently, and will continue to be, a threat to society and that the interests of justice and community safety outweighed mitigating factors. Sweet was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded for resentencing, finding that a sentence of life without the possibility of parole for a juvenile offender violated article I, section 17 of the Iowa Constitution. View "Iowa v. Sweet" on Justia Law

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Pursuant to a plea agreement, Defendant pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and first-degree robbery. Defendant was sixteen years old at the time he committed the offenses. The district court imposed a seventy-five-year aggregate sentence, of which Defendant was required to serve 52.5 years. Defendant's alleged actions took place before the Supreme Court's decision in Miller v. Alabama. On appeal, the Supreme Court affirmed Defendant's convictions but vacated his sentence, holding (1) Defendant's 52.5-year minimum prison term triggered the protections to be afforded under Miller - namely, an individualized sentencing hearing to determine the issue of parole eligibility; and (2) a district court must recognize and apply the core teachings of Roper v. Simmons, Graham v. Florida, and Miller in making sentencing decisions for long prison terms involving juveniles. Remanded. View "State v. Null" on Justia Law

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The State filed a petition alleging that fifteen-year-old J.W.R. committed delinquent acts of incest. J.W.R. entered an Alford plea to the incest allegation. A juvenile court officer recommended J.W.R. be adjudicated a delinquent and placed in a residential treatment facility for sex offenders. The juvenile court issued a consent decree withholding adjudication that J.W.R. had committed a delinquent act. Over the State's objection, the court placed J.W.R. in the legal custody of juvenile court services, with the Department of Human Services as payment agent, for purposes of placement in a residential facility. The court of appeals sustained the State's writ of certiorari. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the legislature did not grant this authority to juvenile courts in Iowa Code 232.46. View "State v. Dist. Court" on Justia Law

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Two petitions were filed alleging that fifteen-year-old A.K. was a delinquent child for committing three counts of sexual abuse in the second degree and four counts of assault with intent to commit sexual abuse involving three different children. After a hearing, the juvenile court adjudicated A.K. a delinquent on all seven counts. The Supreme Court affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded, holding (1) the State proved beyond a reasonable doubt that A.K. committed three acts of sexual abuse in the second degree and three acts that would constitute assaults with intent to commit sexual abuse; but (2) the State did not meet its burden to prove A.K. committed one count of assault with intent to commit sexual abuse. View "In re A.K." on Justia Law

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Defendant Jesse Pearson, a seventeen-year-old, robbed and beat an elderly man. After he was apprehended, Pearson refused to waive his Miranda rights. The next morning, however, he confessed to his social worker, Marie Mahler, without his attorney present. The district court denied Pearson's motion to suppress his confession, concluding that Mahler's interview was not a custodial interrogation implicating Miranda safeguards. A jury convicted Pearson of first-degree robbery, willful injury, and going armed with intent. The court of appeals reversed Pearson's conviction on the going armed charge and otherwise affirmed. At issue on appeal was whether Pearson's confession to Mahler was admissible. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that Mahler's interview of Pearson was not a custodial interrogation for Miranda purposes and that his confession to her was voluntary and admissible. View "State v. Pearson" on Justia Law