On July 18, 2014, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled that juveniles cannot be given mandatory minimum sentences. Iowa is the first state to find that mandatory minimum sentences are unconstitutional when applied to children.
The case involved Andrew Lyle Jr., who took a small plastic bag containing $5 worth of marijuana from a fellow student in October, 2010. Mr. Lyle was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment, and required to serve 7 years before becoming eligible for parole.
The Iowa Supreme Court’s logic was straightforward. Kids are different. Teenagers are more impulsive. Their brains aren’t fully formed. They are more susceptible to peer pressure, less culpable, and more capable of rehabilitation than adults. “Mandatory minimum sentences for juveniles are simply too punitive for what we know about juveniles,” the Court said. The Court ruled that context, including the child’s life, circumstances, and the nature of the offense must be considered when sentencing a child.
The Iowa Supreme Court’s ruling was rooted in federal jurisprudence and behavioral science. The same rationale could lead Oregon courts to do the same thing. In Oregon, 15, 16 and 17 year olds are subject to mandatory minimum sentences — from 70 months to life, depending on the offense. All Oregon criminal defense lawyers should argue for the unconstitutionality of sentencing children to mandatory minimum prison terms without considering mitigating factors. Hopefully, Oregon courts will give children the same rights as kids have in Iowa.