Tags: iowa | top court | rules | teens | life | parole

Iowa Court Rules Teens Cannot Be Sentenced to Life Without Parole

Image: Iowa Court Rules Teens Cannot Be Sentenced to Life Without Parole
Isaiah Sweet (Telegraph Herald)

Friday, 27 May 2016 07:30 PM

The Iowa Supreme Court on Friday barred judges from imposing a life sentence without parole for juveniles convicted of first-degree murder.

The court ruled in a 4-3 decision that such a sentence for offenders who are under 18 when they commit murders amounts to cruel and unusual punishment under the state's constitution.

Justice Brent Appel wrote for the majority in an opinion that a person's possibility of parole should be made by the Iowa Board of Parole and not sentencing judges even if parole is not guaranteed to juvenile offenders.

U.S. states have been grappling with punishments for teens convicted of serious crimes in the past few years. Friday's decision in Iowa follows a 2012 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court that concluded juvenile murderers cannot be handed mandatory sentences of life in prison without parole. Judges and juries must weigh mitigating circumstances, which could include the circumstances of the crime, the youth's role, and his or her family background.

At issue in Iowa was the case against Isaiah Sweet, who pleaded guilty to two counts of first-degree murder for shooting and killing his grandparents at their home in 2012, according to the ruling posted on the Iowa Supreme Court's website.

A lower-court judge in 2014 sentenced Sweet, who was 17 at the time of the shooting, to life in prison without parole, saying the crimes were premeditated and horrific, and showed a lack of concern for human life.

The Iowa Supreme Court's decision orders a new sentence for Sweet.

"The U.S. Supreme Court and the Iowa Supreme Court have equated life in prison without parole as being a death sentence," said Shellie Knipfer, an assistant appellate defender who represented Sweet and considered the decision a victory for juveniles.

Dissenting Justice Edward Mansfield said the reasons offered by the majority were "insufficient" and the court was wrong to slash a sentencing option that was largely supported and reauthorized by Iowa lawmakers last year.

© 2017 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.

   
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The Iowa Supreme Court on Friday barred judges from imposing a life sentence without parole for juveniles convicted of first-degree murder.
iowa, top court, rules, teens, life, parole
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2016-30-27
Friday, 27 May 2016 07:30 PM
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