Top Stories

Open letter to readers: Today and tomorrow

By Lynda Waddington | 11.17.11

Wednesday was a difficult day for The American Independent News Network, which is the larger entity that operates The Iowa Independent. Our chief executive and founder announced two of our sister sites would close and their content would be moved to The American Independent.

ACS lockout continues; plan emerges to repeal sugar protections

By Virginia Chamlee | 11.15.11

A recently introduced bill could have far-reaching impact on the U.S. sugar industry, including American Crystal Sugar, a farmer-owned cooperative that locked out 1,300 Midwest workers on Aug. 1.

Cain campaign: Farmers know more about regulations than EPA

By Andrew Duffelmeyer | 11.15.11

The chairman for Herman Cain’s Iowa effort says the campaign “relied more on the word of farmers than Washington regulators” in deciding to run an ad containing claims the Environmental Protection Agency says are false.

Mathis wins, Democrats maintain Senate control

Liz Mathis
By Lynda Waddington | 11.08.11

The Iowa Senate will remain under the control of a slim 26-25 Democratic majority when it reconvenes in January 2012.

Press Release

PR: Nation should work to address veterans’ challenges

By Press Release Reprints | 11.11.11

BRUCE BRALEY RELEASE — As US involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan ends, it’s more important than ever that our nation works to address the challenges faced by the men and women who fought there.

PR: Honoring veterans, help in hiring

By Press Release Reprints | 11.11.11

CHUCK GRASSLEY RELEASE — A difficult job market is challenging the soldiers, sailors and airmen who have protected America’s interests by serving in the Armed Forces.

PR: In honor of America’s veterans

By Press Release Reprints | 11.11.11

TOM LATHAM RELEASE — No one has done more to secure the freedom enjoyed by every single American than our veterans and those currently serving in the armed services.

PR: Honoring and supporting our nation’s veterans

By Press Release Reprints | 11.11.11

DAVE LOEBSACK RELEASE — Veterans Day is an opportunity to reflect on the service of generations of veterans and to honor the sacrifices they and their families have made so that we may live in peace and freedom here at home.


Bill changes Iowa’s sentencing laws for some juvenile felons

Legislation would put state in compliance with a 2010 U.S. Supreme Court ruling
By Lynda Waddington | 01.26.11 | 1:00 pm

Some juvenile offenders who were convicted of felonies and sentenced to life without parole would be eligible for release hearings after serving 25 years if a study bill now before the Iowa Senate Judiciary Committee becomes law.

The proposed legislation, reproduced in full below, comes in response to a 2010 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, Graham v. Florida. The high court ruled that sentencing juveniles who did not commit murder to terms of life without the possibility of parole constituted cruel and unusual punishment and was a violation of Eighth Amendment rights.

The decision has sparked appellate cases throughout the nation, and posed a significant problem in Iowa because current sentencing law does not provide minimum prison terms used to establish a timeline for parole. Absent such mandatory minimum sentences, state judges have set aside state laws that conflict with the federal ruling and found at least one such offender to be immediately eligible for release review.

In December 2010, the Iowa Supreme Court reviewed the case of Julio Bonilla, convicted of first degree kidnapping, and mandated that his life without parole sentence be vacated and that a sentence of life with the possibility of parole be applied. In doing so, however, the court noted the conflict between federal and state laws:

“[State law] prohibits parole review until inmates have served the mandatory minimum sentence for their crime as established by statute. Because kidnapping in the first degree carries a life sentence without parole, there is no mandatory minimum sentence established by statute. … We leave it to the legislature whether and how to correct this apparent inconsistency.”

Without such statutory guidelines in place, the court struck the unconstitutional provisions that prevented Bonilla from ever receiving parole consideration, and pronounced him immediately eligible for a release hearing. As noted in the ruling, the method used by the court — established by an earlier legal precedent — actually resulted in Bonilla potentially serving less time than an individual convicted of second degree kidnapping, which carries as 25-year sentence and mandatory minimum of 17-and-a-half years before parole review becomes available.

“When a portion of a statute is unconstitutional, we sever the offending portions from the enactment and leave the remainder intact.”

The study bill now before Iowa lawmakers sets a mandatory minimum of sentence of 25-years for offenders who commit class A felonies (excluding homicide) while under the age of 18. Using that guideline, Bonilla, who was convicted in 2005, wouldn’t become eligible for a parole hearing until roughly 2030.

State Sens. Wally Horn (D-Cedar Rapids), Pam Jochum (D-Dubuque) and Bill Dix (R-Shell Rock) are sponsors of the study bill, which was introduced Wednesday. Currently there does not appear to be a companion bill introduced in the Iowa House.

It has been estimated that there are seven Iowa cases similar to Bonilla’s that will be appealed. Many have already begun to weave their way through the court system.

Iowa Senate Study Bill 1058, Introduced

Follow Lynda Waddington on Twitter


Switch to our mobile site