Iowa Supreme Court: The Constitution does not require special treatment for juveniles on restitution orders

by Rox Laird | February 20, 2017

The Iowa Supreme Court has declined to add another criminal-sentencing exception for juvenile offenders in a pair of rulings regarding Iowa’s mandatory $150,000 restitution in murder cases.

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled in a series of cases over the last decade that because juvenile criminal offenders are not fully developed mentally and emotionally, they should be held to a different standard than adults with respect to the Constitution’s Cruel and Unusual Punishment Clause. The Iowa Supreme Court has subsequently expanded those federal precedents to juvenile sentencing cases in Iowa.

In a decision handed down Friday, however, the Court stopped short of applying the juveniles-are-different principle to mandatory restitution payments. The four justices in the majority held that restitution is different from a criminal sentence. Thus, whereas juvenile offenders may be treated differently than adults in prison sentences, that is not the case for restitution ordered to compensate victims.

That question was presented to the Court by Daimonay Richardson, who pleaded guilty in 2014 to aiding and abetting in a murder committed when she was 15. She was sentenced to 50 years in prison with 25 years suspended. And she was ordered to pay $150,000 restitution to the estate of the victim.

Richardson argued that the district court should have exercised its statutory authority to reduce the size of the restitution given her diminished culpability as a juvenile with a troubled childhood. And, in the alternative, she argued the restitution order violated the Iowa Constitution.

In its decision written by Justice Edward Mansfield, and joined by Chief Justice Mark Cady and Justices Bruce Zager and Thomas Waterman, the Court rejected both arguments. Three justices – Brent Appel, Daryl Hecht and David Wiggins – dissented, saying the district court should have considered reducing the restitution in light of Richardson’s age. (A second ruling, in State v. Breeden, raising the same issues was also handed down Friday.)

On the statutory question, the majority concluded that the Legislature did not intend to authorize district courts to modify the size of a mandatory restitution order.

On the constitutional question – which the Court had not before addressed – Richardson urged the justices to extend to restitution it’s 2014 ruling in State v. Lyle that mandatory minimum prison sentences for juveniles offenders are unconstitutional under the Iowa Constitution’s prohibition of “cruel and unusual punishment” as well as “excessive fines.”

The Court said the two clauses “are not interchangeable,” however, and “we believe that a mandatory period of incarceration is fundamentally different from the $150,000 restitution award at issue here. Thus, being incarcerated and owing a restitution debt are simply not comparable. One is a matter of liberty, the other a financial obligation.”

Nor, Mansfield wrote, is $150,000 “extraordinary or even generous compensation for the death of a person.”

The majority decision did, however, leave the door open to the restitution issue coming before the Court in the future. That’s because the Court did not consider whether Iowa’s mandatory minimum restitution could be unconstitutional as applied to a juvenile homicide offender under a specific payment plan. “We have previously held that ability-to-pay challenges to restitution are premature until the defendant has exhausted the modification remedy afforded” by the Iowa Code, Mansfield wrote.

Court also did not address the “possibility that a juvenile homicide offender could show a restitution payment plan so deprives her of the opportunity for rehabilitation as to undermine” rights guaranteed under criminal sentencing decisions of the Iowa and the U.S. Supreme Courts.

As a result, the collection of juvenile-sentencing decisions is likely to continue growing.




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