The Iowa Supreme Court rules all mandatory sentences for crimes committed by juveniles are unconstitutional. The case involved Andrew Lyle of Des Moines who was found guilty of second-degree burglary in 2011 for punching another kid at school and taking a bag of marijuana from him. Lyle, who was 17 at the time, recorded the incident on his phone. He was sentenced on his 18th birthday to 25 years in jail, with a mandatory minimum of 7 years to be served.
The Iowa Supreme Court ruled the mandatory sentence was unconstitutional. The ruling says the law does not draw any distinction between the diminished capacity of a young person and cold and calculated conduct of an adult. The high court says the constitutional analysis is not about excusing juvenile behavior, but imposing punishment in a way that is consistent with our understanding of humanity today.
Justice Bruce Zager wrote one dissent where he says courts across the country have concluded that mandatory life sentences without parole are cruel and unusual punishments for juveniles, but he says no other court in the country had gone this far to include all mandatory sentences for juvenile crimes. He says it creates a new constitutional category under our Iowa Constitution, but there is no judicial authority for creating this new constitutional category.
Justice Thomas Waterman also wrote a dissent. He says he has no reason to go against the district court judge’s finding that Lyle “poses a serious danger to the community at present.” He says “even if we accept Lyle as a merely misguided, immature schoolyard bully, the mandatory sentence he received falls well short of being unconstitutionally cruel and unusual punishment.” Justice Edward Mansfield joined Waterman’s dissent.
The ruling sends Lyle’s case back to the district court for resentencing. The Supreme Court also sent two other cases involving juveniles in Plymouth and Lynn County back for resentencing based on their ruling in the Lyle case.
See the full ruling here: Lyle ruling PDF
Iowa House Judiciary Chairman Chip Baltimore, a Republican from Boone, released the following statement today in response to the Iowa Supreme Court’s ruling:
“I am extremely disappointed by today’s decision that eliminates all mandatory minimum sentences for even the most violent and dangerous juvenile criminals. Iowans rely upon the Legislature to set criminal sentences that are uniform and consistent in their protection of the public, and this ruling plainly subverts the Legislature’s role in doing so. If the members of the Supreme Court who support this opinion wish to set public policy, they should run for the Legislature. This ruling perverts the constitution, puts Iowans in danger, and makes our state less safe. The sad result of today’s decision is that the Iowa Legislature can protect Iowans from dangerous juvenile criminals, but we cannot protect them from the Iowa Supreme Court.”