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Advances in Juvenile Justice Reform | IA

Iowa: 2013 | 2011


  • Adjudication and Sentencing — Iowa Supreme Court Eliminates Mandatory Life without Parole Sentences for Youth: Coming into compliance with the ruling of the U.S. Supreme Court in Miller v. Alabama, the Iowa Supreme Court abolished mandatory sentences of life without the possibility of parole for youth. The court issued opinions in three separate cases, all citing the unique rehabilitative qualities of youth and stating that adolescence should be a mitigating factor in sentencing. Notably, in Iowa v. Null, the court invalidated a mandatory minimum sentence of 52.5 years, and in Iowa v. Pearson, the court rejected a 35-year sentence, finding that although neither were sentences of life without parole, the length of the sentences still “violate the core teachings of Miller.” In Iowa v. Ragland, the court held that the Miller decision must be applied retroactively to youth who have already been convicted, allowing hundreds of youth to seek resentencing. State of Iowa v. Null, No. 11–1080 (2013), State of Iowa v. Pearson, No. 11–1214 (2013), State of Iowa v. Ragland, No. 12–1758 (2013).
  • Youth in the Adult System — Youth in Adult Court Gain Deferred Sentencing Option: Iowa passed legislation allowing deferred sentences for youth in adult court. The court may suspend the sentence in whole or in part, including any mandatory minimum sentences, pending successful completion of probation. Youth who are charged with the most serious felonies are not eligible for deferred sentences. Such deferred sentences are an option for youth even in situations where they are not available for adults convicted of the same offenses. S.F. 288/Act No. 42, signed into law April 24, 2013; effective July 1, 2013.

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  • Mental Health and Substance Abuse — Juvenile Court Proceedings Must Be Suspended Until Youth’s Release from Mental Health Facility: If, prior to the adjudicatory or dispositional hearing in a delinquency case, a youth in Iowa is committed to a residential facility, institution, or hospital based on mental illness or mental retardation, the delinquency proceeding must be suspended until the commitment order is terminated or the youth is released from the mental health facility or hospital. The time limits for adjudicatory hearings and continuances must be temporarily put on hold during the time of commitment for mental health issues. The suspension of the proceedings allows the youth to receive mental health treatment prior to facing delinquency charges or a dispositional hearing in court. S.F. 327, signed into law March 30, 2011; effective July 1, 2011.

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Photo: Jason Mrachina, under Creative Commons License.