Important changes may be ahead for juvenile offenders convicted of murder in the state of Iowa. The Iowa Supreme Court will decide whether sentences of life in prison, without the possibility of parole, for juvenile offenders falls under the category of cruel and unusual punishment under the state’s constitution, thus prohibiting such practices. The case centers around the case of Isaiah Sweet, convicted of murdering his grandparents at age 17.  While the circumstances being considered obviously particular to this case, it could have wide-reaching effects in terms of precedent.

The case is poised to fall in line with the 2012 Supreme Court findings in Miller v. Alabama, which found that the lack of psychological maturity of young offenders to be a mitigating factor when considering sentencing. As such, it determined that automatic life sentences for juveniles violated the 8th Amendment, tantamount to announcing a ban on the practice. This follows the more general understanding that juveniles offenders, unlike adult counterparts, stand a better chance at being rehabilitated and thus should at least be afforded the option of parole at some point.

The 2012 case will also be re-visited this fall to determine whether its ban on mandatory life sentences for juveniles applies retroactively, allowing for mitigation of sentences for those currently serving life.

About Christopher Zoukis, MBA

Christopher Zoukis, MBA, is the Managing Director of the Zoukis Consulting Group, a federal prison consultancy that assists attorneys, federal criminal defendants, and federal prisoners with prison preparation, in-prison matters, and reentry. His books include Directory of Federal Prisons (Middle Street Publishing, 2020), Federal Prison Handbook (Middle Street Publishing, 2017), Prison Education Guide (PLN Publishing, 2016), and College for Convicts: The Case for Higher Education in American Prisons (McFarland & Company, 2014).

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