The Iowa Senate has approved a bill that would prevent judges from ordering criminal defendants to make charitable contributions as part of their sentence.
Last month, the Iowa Supreme Court and the Iowa County Attorneys Association called on lawmakers to repeal a law that allows for such donations. The court said the law appears to be “widely misunderstood, and at worst, subject to systematic abuse by some local officials.”
The Des Moines Register recently detailed cases in which speeding tickets and drunken driving arrests were dismissed or downgraded as part of deals in which defendants paid hundreds of dollars to police agencies, social clubs or civic groups.
The court said that even the legitimate application of the law “suggests favoritism and, therefore, creates an appearance of impropriety” that can undermine public confidence in the justice system.
A Senate bill eliminating court-ordered donations passed 46-2 and now moves to the House.
State Court Administrator David Boyd has told legislators that court-ordered donations were intended to function as alternatives to community service – not as a way for defendants to buy their way out of a stiffer penalty.