Crime, Justice and Public Safety

John Pemble/IPR file

On Mother’s Day 2012, 17-year-old Isaiah Sweet of Manchester put on earmuffs, loaded ten bullets into an assault rifle, and shot his grandparents in the head. He was later sentenced to life without the possibility of parole.

Thursday, the Iowa Supreme Court was asked if that’s ever an appropriate sentence for a juvenile in Iowa.

Iowa Public Radio / John Pemble

Wednesday is the first day of the Iowa Supreme Court's 2015-2016 session. The high court will hear five cases, including one questioning when someone should be given the Miranda Warning, which is the right to remain silent when in police custody and the right to legal counsel. 

Zyriah Schlitter was found guilty in 2012 of involuntary manslaughter and child endangerment resulting in the death of his 17-month-old daughter Kamryn. During his trial, Schlitter made statements that conflicted with a taped interview conducted by the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation. 

Flickr / David Wade Couch

The Iowa bicycling community will be closely watching a court trial in Benton County tomorrow. Cyclist Matt Phippen was biking on a country road back in March. He says the driver of a white Dodge pickup truck passed him in an aggressively close manner.

Steven Payne, the driver of the pickup, was fined for the incident. He refuses to pay the $270 in fees and therefore is headed to court. 

Joyce Russell/IPR

The NAACP held a day-long symposium Friday on the overrepresentation of African-Americans in Iowa prisons.   

The symposium addressed a wide range of issues, from racial profiling to the underrepresentation of minorities on Iowa juries.  

The NAACP cites statistics showing the overrepresentation of minorities in corrections is worse in Iowa than in any other state, in particular for drug offenses.  

Arnold Woods with the Des Moines NAACP says it’s not an abstract topic for blacks.

Boston Police Department

Two Iowa men are being held without bail in Boston, pending a dangerousness hearing on September 1. Boston Police say 18-year-old Kevin Norton of Ames and 27-year-old James Stumbo of Boone drove more than 20 hours to the Pokémon World Championships in Boston.

The two were arrested late Friday night after a search of the men’s vehicle turned up guns, several hundred rounds of ammunition, and a hunting knife.

United States Geological Survey

After a closed session meeting, the Iowa Public Information Board voted to wait until at least September to decide whether to release material related to the police shooting death of a Burlington woman.

In early January, Burlington police officer Jesse Hill accidentally killed 34-year-old Autumn Steele when answering a domestic violence call.

Steele’s dog attacked Hill. He fired his weapon attempting to hit the animal. But instead Officer Hill fatally shot Steele in the chest.

Iowa Public Radio / Sarah Boden

The Des Moines and Waterloo offices of U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley are now in possession of roughly 600 toy, candy, and corn cob pipes.

Joyce Russell/IPR

The NAACP announced today it will host a two-day summit next month to take a comprehensive look at racial disparities in Iowa’s criminal justice system.  

Law enforcement, judges, corrections officials and others will examine why African-Americans make up a bigger percentage in Iowa prisons than they do in the population as a whole.   

It’s a bigger event than the group has sponsored in the past.   

Governor Branstad will attend and the national NAACP will be on hand for the Iowa Summit on Justice and Disparities.

The Iowa Board of Regents is continuing its court fight in the case of Bubu Palo, the former Iowa State University basketball player who was accused of sexual assault back in May of 2012.  

The Regents want a new ruling in the case, even though Palo has left the university and now plays in the National Basketball Association Development League. 

Palo was charged in Story County District Court with sexual abuse, but prosecutors later dropped the charge. 

Iowa State argued that Palo had violated university disciplinary code and should be kept off the team.     

Photo coutesy of PACER

A Remsen, Iowa man will spend six weekends in prison for violating the Clean Water Act. Michael J. Wolf pleaded guilty last year to one count of knowingly discharging a pollutant into the west branch of the Floyd River. 

Wolf was employed as the maintenance manager at Sioux-Preme Packing Co., a pork processor based in Sioux City. On October 23 and 24, for about 11 hours, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources says Wolf intentionally discharged blood, fecal material, animal guts and cleaning chemicals from the company's Sioux Center plant into the Floyd.

Howard Jefferson / Flickr

At an evening camp event in 2010, two teenage boys drowned at the Pella Aquatics Center. Their families filed a claim for negligence against the City of Pella, arguing that the deaths could have been prevented by adequate underwater lighting.

"The lights in the swimming pool apparently were not on that night," says Todd Pettys, of the University of Iowa College of Law. "You couldn't see down to the bottom of the pool."

Nearly five years after the incident, the Iowa Supreme Court considered the question: Are cities liable when employees of city-inspected pools are careless?

Flickr / Ellen Macdonald

Iowa is the first state nationwide to move all of its document filings for the district court system online. The process will likely be completed later this year for Iowa’s appellate courts.  

Up until now, many Iowans had go to their country courthouse during business hours to deal with legal matters. People can now file and view legal documents using the internet, and see the court docket online. 

John Pemble/IPR

Governor Branstad is hearing from county attorneys around the state, as he debates whether to sign a last-minute item in a catch-all spending bill.  

The provision would privatize the collection of court fines and fees to bring in an estimated $12 million more next year.    

The Judicial Branch has pushed to improve the collection of delinquent fines.  The bill would bypass the state’s Central Collection Unit and assign the work to a private debt collector.   

U.S. National Archieves

In one of its last rulings of the 2014-2015 term, the Iowa Supreme Court says a locked safe in the car of an arrested driver cannot be searched without a warrant.

During a December 2012 traffic stop, a Davenport police officer found a partially smoked blunt. The driver Jesse Gaskins was arrested, handcuffed and placed in a police cruiser.

The officer then searched the vehicle, which police can do if there is probable cause of criminal activity. During the search the officer found a small, portable safe in the passenger compartment.

Joyce Russell/IPR

Governor Branstad says last week’s momentous U.S. Supreme Court ruling will not have a big impact in Iowa, since same-sex marriage has been well-established in the state since 2009.  

The governor today commented on the fact that county officials in other states may try to deny licenses to same-sex couples in protest.   

Branstad says he’s not aware of any way that could happen here.

Photo by John Pemble

It appears that Governor Branstad is not ruling out an appeal of Friday’s Iowa Supreme Court ruling clearing the way for continued use of so-called telemed abortions.  

The court ruled that the Iowa Board of Medicine placed an unconstitutional burden on women when it banned the administration of abortion-inducing drugs without a doctor in the room. 

Under the procedure, a doctor uses two-way telecommunication to oversee a patient taking an abortion-inducing drug. Governor Branstad disagrees with the ruling.

Flickr / sharyn morrow

The Iowa Supreme Court says the front steps of a single-family home are not public space and therefore a woman in northeast Iowa cannot be charged with public intoxication.

In June 2013, Waterloo police answered a domestic disturbance 911 call. Patience Paye was in her home when officers arrived, but stepped onto her front porch to speak with police.

Though it was Paye who called 911, officers determined that she was an aggressor. A breath sample showed Paye’s blood-alcohol level to be 0.267.

Flickr / Jeff Kubina

The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case next term involving a $5.8 million class-action lawsuit arising from a pork processing plant in northwest Iowa. Tyson Foods Inc. say that employees at its Storm Lake facility don't have enough in common to join in a single class-action lawsuit.

Wikipedia / Ser Amantio di Nicolao

The Iowa Supreme Court says it can’t grant post-conviction relief to an immigrant trying to avoid deportation.

In 2011, Victor Hernandez-Galarza pleaded guilty to using a false social security number to title vehicles. Because of his "willingness to surrender" Hernandez-Galarza was offered a deferred judgment for lesser charges.

Hernandez-Galarza successfully completed probation and his record was expunged. 

A jury in northern Iowa has found a former state representative "not guilty" of sexually assaulting his late wife. Prosecutors alleged that Henry Rayhons of Garner had sex with his wife Donna, who wasn’t capable of consent due to her advanced Alzheimer’s disease. 

The jury took nearly two days to deliberate. This verdict ends a trial that has attracted international attention and raised complicated questions about the nature of consent for cognitively impaired adults.

J. Stephen Conn

An unusual question is being asked this week in an Iowa courtroom in Garner. When is a previously consenting spouse who is suffering from dementia no longer able to say yes to sex?

After a four year battle with Alzheimer's, Donna Rayhons died in a nursing home last August. She was just a few days away from her 79th birthday. A week later her husband, Henry Rayhons, was arrested. He was charged with sexual abuse. State prosecutors accuse him of having sex with his wife while she was incapacitated by dementia.

Sarah Boden/Iowa Public Radio

Does the Iowa Constitution protect the right to a so-called telemed abortion? That’s a question currently before the Iowa Supreme Court.

On this edition of River to River, Ben Kieffer talks with Todd Pettys, Associate Dean for Faculty and H. Blair and Joan V. White Chair in Civil Litigation at the University of Iowa College of Law, and Ryan Koopmans, attorney at Nyemaster Goode law firm in Des Moines.

Penn State / flickr

NPR legal affairs correspondent, Nina Totenberg, has covered the U.S. Supreme Court for many years, translating court cases and generating interest in the judicial system with audiences all over the country.

Flickr / bfi Business Furniture Inc.

The Iowa Supreme Court says anyone claiming damages for wage discrimination that occurred before 2009 is out of luck.

Three female employees of Muscatine-based Allsteel are suing the office furniture manufacturer, alleging male employees were paid more for similar work.  While the lawsuit is pending, the high court's ruling greatly limits the amount of damages the plaintiffs may eventually claim.

Flickr / Doug Kerr

A bill raising Iowa’s interstate speed limit from 70 to 75 miles per hour didn’t get voted on in the Senate Transportation Committee Tuesday. Since the deadline for bills to reach the senate or house floor for a vote approaches, it is highly unlikely the legislation will advance.

Sen. Wally Horn, a Democrat from Cedar Rapids, supports the bill. He says bumping the speed limit up could cut down on traffic.

Flickr / Lord Jim

A bill that aims to curtail distracted driving passed out of the Iowa Senate Transportation Committee Tuesday.

The legislation would make the use of a smartphone or similar device a "primary offense," which would allow police officers to pull someone over  just for emailing or texting while driving. The police currently can not do that.

The Transportation Committee’s ranking member, Republican Sen. Tim Kapucian of Keystone, says the greater number of drivers using smartphones and similar devices makes roads increasingly dangerous.

Joyce Russell/IPR

A wide-ranging firearms bill cleared a bipartisan panel in the Republican-controlled Iowa House.

Flickr / Hibr

A bill in the Iowa Senate aims to expand the legal protections of domestic violence victims.

Under Iowa criminal law victims of domestic violence in dating relationships only have access to heightened protections if they are living with their abuser. A bill that gives victims access to certain protections, even if they aren't cohabitating, passed unanimously in the Senate Judiciary Committee today and will soon come before the entire chamber for a vote.

Sen. Janet Petersen, a Des Moines Democrat, says violence in dating relations can be just as deadly as marital violence.

A subcommittee in the Iowa Senate chose not to pass the current version of a juvenile sentencing bill, but instead are looking for suggestions on how to improve the legislation. 

The bill allows for judges to sentence juveniles guilty of first-degree murder to life without parole, life with the possibility of parole, and life with the possibility of parole only after 35 years.  

Flickr / Dr. Warner

The Iowa Supreme Court says it’s legal for cities to issue tickets to vehicle owners using traffic cameras. Attorney Michael Jacobsma, who represented himself, says the city of Sioux City denied him due process when he was mailed a citation, after his vehicle was spotted by a traffic camera going 67 miles per hour in a 55-mile-per-hour speed zone.