February 28, 2016
Everyone’s Talking Sentencing Reform?
It seems as though a lot of talk has been focused on sentencing reform this year. Iowa’s senior senator in Congress has bragged about a bill that will reform a federal sentencing statute. Iowa’s governor has boasted about his Working Group to address specific issues related to disparate sentencing of African-Americans. In his Condition of the Judiciary speech, Chief Justice Cady also called for sensible solutions to Iowa’s prison population. So, we should expect a reduction in prison population numbers any day now, right? Don’t hold your breath.
We have reviewed the bills that survived the Iowa Legislature’s first funnel deadline and have observed that not everyone received the public’s message that it wants true sentencing reform. Some of the legislative bills that enhance penalties this year are somewhat sensible. Yes, you should not mistreat animals, and the resulting penalties in SF 2289 seem to fit the crime. On the other hand, House File 2064 classifies child endangerment resulting in death of a child as a forcible felony (defendant must serve 70% of the sentence before being considered for parole), based upon the idea that one legislator didn’t think the punishment fit the crime. But as it seems in matters of getting tough of crime, there’s more to the story.
There are two instances that come to mind when thinking about the death of child and an adult charged with child endangerment resulting in death; shaken baby syndrome and Christian Science Religion. In these cases, if the parent is the one charged, the child’s death is an eternity of punishment. Losing a child is not normal – under any circumstances.
There is a difference between 1st degree robbery, kidnapping, other forcible felonies, and the charge of child endangerment resulting in death. Perhaps a violation of child endangerment resulting in death is not an oversight. There are going to be instances in which the person charged does not have the criminal intent similar to someone committing the act of 1)murder in the second degree; 2) attempted murder; 3) sexual abuse; 4) kidnapping in the 2nd degree; 5) robbery in the 1st or 2nd degree; or 6) vehicular homicide when driving drunk.
Praying over a sick child should not result in serving 35 years in prison without an opportunity to be heard. And a minute of frustration should not be worth 35 years of sitting in regret. “[C]ases of shaken babies, crying is the most frequent trigger mechanism that causes good people to make a really poor decision and shake them just to try to get them to stop crying.” Observing that shaking is commonly precipitated by frustration over fussiness is not the same as suggesting that fussiness often leads to shaking.” Seymour v. City of Des Moines, 519 F. 3d 790, 798 8th Cir. 2008). These instances should be weighed on a case-by-case basis, and the judgment of a parole board panel should be the proper venue for determining when a regretful parent should re-enter society, not a one-size-fits-all statute that cannot determine between mean and sorrowful.
Enhancing penalties should come with a pretty darn good explanation. In the past, Iowa legislators have failed to do that. Today, they’re much better in seeking all the answers before jumping to conclusions that may haunt families forever.
RC’s Legislative Agenda for 2016
The following bills have already seen a vote in one chamber or the other:
Senate File 2289 – A bill that criminalizes the mistreatment of animals that are not livestock or game, and enhances penalties under certain circumstances. JRC is registered as “UNDECIDED” on the bill because it is estimated that animal abuse crimes “will result in an estimated increase of 26 convictions annually.” The estimated result of convictions is not significant enough for JRC to justify working against this issue. The bill passed the Senate 32-16 on February 25.
SF 2185 – This bill extends the scope of criminal trespass to include trespass that violates a “person’s expectation of privacy”. JRC is “UNDECIDED” on this bill. Lacking a Fiscal Note, which would provide estimates on the number of convictions expected, we believe that the number of person charged and convicted of this crime to be very minimal. It passed the Senate 50-0 on Feb. 24.
SF 2183 – A bill extending the statute of limitations from 3 to 10 years in child endangerment cases. Although JRC is “UNDECIDED” on this bill, we have grave concerns about extending the statute of limitations beyond 3 years, except in cases involving murder. It passed the Senate 50-0 on Feb. 23.
F 2116 – This is a synthetic drugs bill. We’re going to see one of these bills every session as long as chemists can determine which molecule to alter/delete/add so that the ban on one specific combination of molecules provides the same unrealistic adventure as its grandfather, without being specifically banned. JRC is “UNDECIDED” on this bill. SF 2116 passed the Senate on Feb. 22 by a vote of 49-0.
SF 2115 – JRC wrote about this bill last Jan. 31st. At the time, we referred to the bill as Senate Study Bill 3007. We also mentioned this bill in the most recent newsletter, also. The legislation will add “jailers” to the list of professions that may be the subject of a charge of “interference with official acts”. We “OPPOSE” this measure. It has no purpose but to punish the mentally ill and intoxicated. Despite our opposition, the bill passed out of the Senate 49-0 on the 22nd.
SF 2061 – This bill is a response to the Iowa Supreme Court case State v. Young, 863 N.W.2d 249 (2015)(Amended July 17, 2015.) In Young, the Court held that “a misdemeanor defendant has a right to the assistance of counsel when the defendant faces the possibility of imprisonment.” Like everyone else, JRC is “UNDECIDED” on the bill.
SF 2059 – This is the Department of Corrections’ bill for 2015. JRC is “UNDECIDED” on this bill, also. We should be opposed because a “Violators’ Program” is required by law. SF 2059 passed the Senate 48-0 on Feb. 22.
House File 2271 – This is a bill that pertains to identity theft. JRC is “UNDECIDED” on the bill. We sense there may be unintended consequences with this bill in the future, but since we can’t specifically identify those circumstances, we have to declare as being undecided. HF 2271 passed the House 96-0 on Feb. 24.
The following bills are ready for debate sometime in the next two weeks:
HF 2064 – Penalty enhancements. This bill enhances the penalty for child endangerment when the act results in the death of a child. JRC consistently opposes legislation that enhances penalties without empirical evidence, but this bill has more than just the “we oppose all enhanced penalties” argument. Here is what we said about it two weeks ago:
HF 2064 – A bill sponsored by a Democrat and Republican in the House, this supposedly non-controversial bill is “OPPOSED” by JRC. It would add the criminal offense of felonious child endangerment to the list of forcible felonies. Under the provisions of the bill, “an offender who commits the criminal offense of child endangerment that results in the death of a child or minor [must] serve 70 percent of a 50-year class “B” felony sentence. Under current law, such an offender is sentenced to confinement for 50 years but is eligible for parole upon entering prison.” Perhaps it seems logical to equate the sentence to the criminal act. However, there are some religions that experience the death of child when the parents rely upon means to treat the child outside the medical community. The tenets are deep and serious. To harshly punish these particular parents for what they believe to be the child’s best interest, according to their religion, is an overreach. JRC believes that just because a person is eligible for parole upon entering prison, the practice has never been as simple as the phrase suggests.
HF 2407 – A bill for an act relating to the confidentiality of juvenile court records. JRC is declared in “SUPPORT” of this bill.
HF 2401 – This bill would prohibit anyone from opening a credit card account, or using an account in the name of a minor without the consent of the minor’s parent, guardian, or legal custodian. JRC “OPPOSES” this bill. We might understand the penalty of a class “C” felony if the credit limit is above $10,000, but really, what minor is going to be able to acquire credit in the amount of five figures. What is egregious about this bill is that a class “D” felony is committed if the credit limit is below $10,000. Lumping $9,990 with $25 with the same penalty is not equity in sentencing.
HF 2399 – This bill is an attempt to solve problems of assault in relationships. The provisions of the bill go far beyond what is consistent with other Iowa law regarding criminal acts. The bill also combines criminal with civil remedies, a combination that should not get started in statutory law. JRC is “OPPOSED” to this bill.
HF 2385 – This bill makes illegal dumping a serious misdemeanor. Currently, the act of illegal dumping is subject to a civil fine of up to $1,000. Other provisions in this bill (determining which entity receives money from the fines) place this legislation is precarious position. JRC “OPPOSES” this legislation for a couple of reasons.
HF 2379 – A bill that requires the impoundment of a vehicle when the driver has been charged with operating while license is revoked, suspended, denied or canceled. JRC “OPPOSES” this bill.
HF 2367 – Establishes a prearrest diversion program. The overall concept is okay, but JRC has some problems with this bill. JRC is declared as “UNDECIDED” on this bill.
HF 2334 – This bill would allow certain psychologists to prescribe particular medicines under special conditions. JRC is “UNDECIDED” on this bill.
HF 2333 – This measure would change the process of how consent decrees in juvenile delinquency cases are created. JRC is “UNDECIDED” on this bill.
HF 2323 – A bill that would enhance the penalty for the commission of sexual misconduct with offenders and juveniles. This is one of those rare occasions in which JRC believes that the current penalty does not coincide with the crime that has been committed and “SUPPORTS” this legislation.
HF 2309 – A bill for an act relating to controlled substances, including by modifying the penalties for controlled substances containing cocaine base, enhancing the penalties for imitation controlled substances, modifying the controlled substances listed in schedules I, III, and IV, and temporarily designating substances as controlled substances, and providing penalties. Equalizing the disparity between crack cocaine and powder cocaine is a priority of JRC. This bill makes an attempt to bring the threshold amount of each closer to each other, but fails in equalizing the penalties for possessing similar amounts of these two pharmacologically identical substances. JRC “OPPOSES” this bill for several different reasons.
The second legislative funnel arrives on March 11. On that date, bills that have passed out of a committee in one house by the Feb. 19 deadline must pass out of a committee in the chamber across the rotunda in order to be eligible for debate during the remainder of the session.
The following petition is a noble effort at trying to get the attention of legislators to get rid of mandatory minimums. JRC does not endorse nor sponsor the petition, but if you would like to sign it, please do. It is our belief that the legislators to whom this petition is directed are not necessarily the best recipients. To that end, we suggest that if you do sign this petition, take the time to inform YOUR legislators about your disappointment with mandatory minimums.
Find out who your legislators are here.