Iowa Senate Mulls Juvenile Sentencing

Feb 24, 2015

A subcommittee in the Iowa Senate chose not to pass the current version of a juvenile sentencing bill, but instead are looking for suggestions on how to improve the legislation. 

The bill allows for judges to sentence juveniles guilty of first-degree murder to life without parole, life with the possibility of parole, and life with the possibility of parole only after 35 years.  

Last year in State v. Lyle, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled it was unconstitutional to impose mandatory minimums on those under 18. Now the Iowa legislature must provide new guidance to sentencing judges.

Muscatine County Attorney Alan Ostergren is president-elect of the Iowa County Attorneys Association, which supports the bill.

"There are going to be juveniles where a court thinks life without parole is too much, and life with immediate eligibility for parole is too little," Ostergren says. "This gives the court an additional option."

Opponents of the bill say the suggested guidelines are unconstitutional and don’t allow judges enough discretion when assessing the rehabilitation potential and background of a juvenile offender.

"Lyle clearly says you can’t impose a mandatory sentence,” attorney Gordon Allen says. “What this bill does is replace one mandatory sentence, with three mandatory sentences.”

Allen represents Yvette Louisell, who 1988 was given the mandatory life sentence for first-degree murder, which she committed at age 17. As a result of the Lyle ruling, the Iowa Supreme Court is considering how Louisell should be resentenced. 

Subcommittee Chair Rob Hogg, a Democrat from Iowa City, says he wants input from interested parties before moving forward with legislation. The ACLU of Iowa, the Iowa Association of Justice and the Iowa Catholic Conference are all against the bill, while the Iowa Attorney General's office supports the bill.