On Teen Killers: “We’re Walking a Legislative Tightrope”

Mar 6, 2015

How to sentence teenagers who’ve committed heinous crimes continues to elude state lawmakers.

A bill to rewrite sentencing guidelines for underage offenders met the deadline for action on bills this week. But it was kept alive on a technicality, as senators are far from agreement on how tough the penalty should be for a serious crime, even though the perpetrator was underage.  

Both the U.S. and the Iowa Supreme Court have thrown out Iowa’s law mandating life in prison without parole for underage offenders. They say it’s unconstitutional to require a sentence of life in prison without parole.

As a result, more than 40 inmates have been re-sentenced to life with parole, but none have been set free.   

Cedar Rapids Democrat Rob Hogg says so far lawmakers have not been able to agree on other options.

“We're walking a legislative tightrope,” says Hogg, “because obviously these are the most serious crimes.”

Hogg says some lawmakers think teen offenders should serve at least 35 years. Others say in some cases parole should be available right away. The bill would allow life sentences without parole as one option and immediate parole as another.

“I think what we've done is we've come up with the only legislative solution that can pass and is constitutional,” Hogg says.

In the meantime, courts may rule without a new law to guide them. The Iowa Supreme Court has heard oral arguments in the juvenile murder case of Yvette Louisell. A lower court ruled that Louisell should be set free.