The Iowa Supreme Court has made a key ruling in a case involving life sentences for those who were juveniles when they committed their crimes.
The case involved Jeffery Ragland who was found guilty of first-degree murder after he instigated a fight in the parking lot of a Council Bluffs grocery store in 1986. A person with Ragland struck and killed another boy with a tire iron during the fight.
Ragland, who was 17, was given a mandatory life sentence without parole. He appealed the mandatory sentence after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled such sentences for crimes committed by juveniles were cruel and unusual punishment. Before the district court could rule on Ragland’s appeal, Governor Branstad commuted Ragland’s sentence and those of 37 others to “life with a chance for parole after 60 years.”
The district court said Branstad’s commutation circumvented the U.S. Supreme Court ruling and did not allow Ragland a chance to show he had matured and been rehabilitated. The district court judge sentenced him to life with a chance for parole after 25 years.
The Iowa Supreme Court upheld the district court’s sentencing. The Supreme Court ruling said the governor’s commuted sentence still amounted to a life sentence for Ragland, as he would be 77 when he became eligible for parole and near the end of the average life expectancy for a man.
See the complete ruling here: Ragland ruling PDF