The Iowa Supreme Court has ruled an eastern Iowa woman can challenge her life prison sentence because she was only a teen at the time of the crime. Ruthann Veal was convicted of first-degree murder in the June 1993 death of Catherine Haynes of Waterloo.

Veal was 14-years-old at the time and was sentenced to life in prison without parole. Veal appealed, arguing because she was a juvenile, the sentence amounted to cruel and unusual punishment under the Iowa and U.S. Constitutions.

The Black Hawk County District court ruled Veal’s appeal was not made in a timely manner, as appeals to criminal convictions are required within three years. The Iowa Court of Appeals agreed with the district court, but the Iowa Supreme Court has ruled Veal’s claim that life without parole is a challenge to what may be an illegal sentence.

The court says challenges to an illegal sentence do not fall under time limits for normal post-conviction appeals. The high court has sent the case back to the district court to rule on the question of whether the sentence of life without parole can legally be imposed on a juvenile.