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Supreme Court Considers Juvenile Sentencing, Rental Security Deposits

John Pemble/IPR file

On Mother’s Day 2012, 17-year-old Isaiah Sweet of Manchester put on earmuffs, loaded ten bullets into an assault rifle, and shot his grandparents in the head. He was later sentenced to life without the possibility of parole.

Thursday, the Iowa Supreme Court was asked if that’s ever an appropriate sentence for a juvenile in Iowa.

In the U.S., minors can’t automatically be sentenced to life without parole, because compared to adults they’re considered to have a greater capacity for rehabilitation. The State of Iowa says there’s no evidence that Sweet is capable of rehabilitation.

Sweet’s attorney argues the district court failed to take her client’s immaturity into consideration when he was sentenced to life without parole, which she calls illegal and tantamount to a death sentence.

After the murders, Sweet bragged about killing his grandparents and attempted to sell their TV. Sweet’s attorney says this shows his immaturity, the state argues these actions how the murders were “cold,” “calculated”, and “deliberate.”

If Sweet is successful, all juvenile convicted of first-degree murder in Iowa may automatically be eligible for parole. A win could also create a heavier burden of proof for prosecutors seeking stiff penalties for juvenile offenders.

The state’s high court also heard a case that may greatly alter the power dynamic between landlords and tenants.

When former University of Iowa student Elyse De Stefano was renting an Iowa City house, a burglar kicked in her side door. The lease with the landlord, Apartments Downtown, stated that tenants are responsible for vandalism damages. So De Stefano and her roommates were charged nearly $600 for repairs.

De Stefano’s attorney told the court since landlords are responsible for maintaining a property; they are also responsible for costs. Apartments Downtown argues Iowa code does allow landlords shift costs of repairs to tenants and that if De Stefano didn’t like the terms, she shouldn’t have signed the lease.

Also at issue in this case was whether it’s legal to have the costs of carpet cleaning automatically deducted from a security deposit.

If De Stefano is successful, the case may greatly lessen a landlord’s ability to charge tenants for repairs.

The court also heard cases that dealt with intoxication while boating, a first-degree murder appeal on the grounds of ineffective counsel and the issues of currency forfeiture, when the money was found at the time of an arrest for the possession of marijuana.