Two law professors say Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad's commutation of life sentences for 38 offenders who committed their crimes as minors conflicts with last month's U.S. Supreme Court ruling on the issue, reports the Cedar Rapids Gazette. Branstad ordered the offenders to serve a mandatory 60 years before being considered for parole. “During this process, the victims are all too often forgotten by our justice system, and are forced to relive the pain of the tragedies,” Branstad said. “These victims have had their loves ones violently taken away from them. I take this action today to protect these victims, their loved ones' memories, and to protect the safety of all Iowans.”
The 38 inmates all were tried as adults and convicted of first-degree murder for crimes committed when they were younger than 18. The state's mandatory sentence for such a conviction is life without parole. The Supreme Court ruled that imposing mandatory life sentences without the possibility of parole for minors violated the Eighth Amendment, which protects against excessive sanctions by the government. Justices said the sentencing court must consider all pertinent factors, including age and home environment. Drake University law Prof. Gordon Allen said, “The ruling said the sentencings should be individualized,” and applying a blanket 60-year term to the entire group doesn't meet that standard. Colleague Robert Rigg said the move seems to be “a political reaction to a legal problem” that will likely complicate the offenders' appeals for resentencings.