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Iowa Supreme Court: Brain Science Experts Required to Impose Mandatory Minimums in Juvenile Cases

The Iowa Supreme Court this autumn reversed and remanded the district court criminal sentence of one Khasif Rasheed White, holding that its recent decision in State v. Roby, 897 N.W.2d 127, 137–38 (Iowa 2017) required expert “brain science” testimony for individualized hearings in cases where district court judges impose mandatory minimum prison sentences that would otherwise be without parole for adult offenders.

Mr. White was convicted three times for robberies committed during a ten-month period of his seventeenth year and sentenced to 10 years with a mandatory minimum seven-year prison sentence. Iowa Code 902.12(5). He argued that mandatory minimums were unconstitutional under Article I § 17 as applied to minors. He lost that argument. But he won a resentencing hearing to consider whether a mandatory minimum prison sentence should apply.

Writing for the Court, Justice Cady reiterated its holding in State v. Lyle, 854 N.W.2d 378, 403 (Iowa 2014), that the Iowa Constitution requires consideration of a sentencing option for adult offenses committed as a juvenile other than mandatory minimum imprisonment otherwise applicable to adults—but doesn’t prohibit a mandatory minimum without parole itself as long as the sentencing judge methodically goes through the Lyle factors and explores the defendants’ individualized circumstances.

Justice Cady wrote that expert testimony can illuminate the brain science in cases where defendants commit adult crimes as juveniles and reiterated the factors announced in Lyle require expert testimony. State v. White, No. 15-0829, 2017 Iowa Sup. LEXIS 91, at *5 (Oct. 27, 2017).

Justice Hecht concurred specially with the decision because he found that Article I § 17 “prohbits a mandatory term of incarceration for any offense committed by a juvenile offender." Id.

Justice Appel and Wiggins concurred specially, finding that a different analysis should occur to “categorically eliminate the application of adult mandatory minimum sentences to juvenile offenders.”

Justice Mansfield, Waterman, and Zager dissented. Justice Mansfield, he wrote, would not have found that the sentencing judge abused its “broad discretion.” Id. He suggested that the decision was sending district courts on a “fool’s errand” to hear expert testimony on whether an individual defendant’s brain was developed at the time of the commission of the offense—really just a back door to ending mandatory minimums for those who commit adult offenses as minors, he noted. Id.

If you or a loved one has been arrested for OWI (DUI) in Cedar Rapids, Iowa City, Anamosa, Vinton, Waterloo, or anywhere else in Linn, Johnson, Jones, Benton, Black Hawk, or other Iowa counties, please contact David A. Cmelik Law PLC, 319-389-1889,, for a free ½ hour initial consultation today. Remember that a blog is not legal advice and no attorney-client relationship is established by reading a blog or sending unsolicited information to an attorney over the Internet.

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