Oral argument recap: Justices hear the case for and against prosecuting a child as an adult

By: Rox Laird on November 16th, 2017

Justices of the Iowa Supreme Court grappled in an oral argument Tuesday with the question of prosecuting a 13-year-old as an adult under Iowa’s youthful offender statute.

Noah Crooks, who was convicted of killing his mother when he was 13, was waived by a Mitchell County District judge to be tried in adult court as a youthful offender. Crooks was held at the State Training School until he was 18, at which point he returned to District Court where he was sentenced to up to 50 years in prison. (Read our preview of State v. Noah Crooks here.)

Crooks’ appellate counsel, Assistant State Appellate Defender Martha Lucey, argued that the youthful offender statute does not allow for prosecution of an offender as young as 13. And if it does, it would violate the Iowa Constitution’s equivalent of the Eighth Amendment prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment.

Justice Brent Appel questioned Lucey’s reading of the statute. “You interpret that to mean there is a 14-year-old floor, but the statute doesn’t say that.”

Lucey: “It doesn’t set a ceiling, either. We know it is 18 because you don’t have to waive at age 18. Does it mean birth to 18? Would we allow a small child to be punished as an adult?”

Justice Thomas Waterman wondered how youthful offenders are treated differently than juveniles who are sent directly to be tried in adult court.

Lucey explained that youthful offenders are treated as juvenile offenders until they reach age 18, at which point they return to adult court for sentencing, which could range from discharge or a deferred sentence to prison.

Justice Bruce Zager: “It seems to me that is a logical and reasonable way to handle it. A child gets the benefit of the juvenile system, and then is looked at again at age 18.”

Justice Edward Mansfield echoed Zager’s opinion: “This case is consistent with our juvenile jurisprudence. What is wrong with that?”

Lucey: The question is how much a child of 13 benefits from the delay. In this case, she said, Crooks “did really well” while at the Training School.

Zager said that was not a unanimous opinion, however, noting that Crooks’ father testified that Noah hadn’t come to grips with murdering his mother. “That would give me some pause,” Zager said. “That’s what the District Court indicated at sentencing.”

Arguing the case for the State, Assistant Attorney General Bridget Chambers disagreed with the appellant’s premise: Waiver of a youthful offender into adult court is not punishment, she said, and if it were, it surely is not cruel and unusual.

Appel again questioned the under-age-15 Iowa Code language: Is there no floor? Can a child of any age be prosecuted in adult court?

Chambers: “I struggle to see how it is ambiguous,” she said. The floor is provided by other things, including mens rea (that is, the “guilty mind”), and the prosecutor’s discretion not to prosecute below a certain age.

Waterman asked if the sentencing factors required for juveniles under the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Miller v. Alabama were applied in the Crooks sentencing.

Chambers: The Miller factors were not applied because no minimum sentence was contemplated.

Waterman: “It was still a very individualized hearing, right?”

Chambers: “It was very individualized.”

Appel observed that the sentencing judge thought prison would be beneficial and that Crooks would benefit from services provided in prison. And, there is the potential for early release if he showed maturity. On the other hand, Appel noted that research on juvenile sentencing suggests that it could be cruel and unusual punishment if an offender is sentenced to prison as a juvenile and does not get services.

In her rebuttal argument, Lucey weighed the option of sending youthful offenders to prison or to some alternative where they may receive help transitioning to society: “Are we looking at rehabilitation or retribution?”

Share and Enjoy:
  • LinkedIn
  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • Reddit
  • del.icio.us
  • Yahoo! Buzz
  • NewsVine
  • Tipd
  • email
  • Print

Tags: , , , ,

On Brief

About Us

On Brief is devoted to appellate litigation, with a focus on the Iowa Supreme Court, the Iowa Court of Appeals, and the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit.
Share and Enjoy:
  • LinkedIn
  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • Reddit
  • del.icio.us
  • Yahoo! Buzz
  • NewsVine
  • Tipd
  • email
  • Print



Links