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Iowa felony sentencing patterns might be changing

Advocates for criminal reform in Iowa and across the country might raise the issue of economics: the growing number of convicted individuals serving life sentences has increased steadily in the past 30 years. The current count might be six times as high as it was in 1980.

Of course, there are also various policy arguments associated with life sentencing, in addition to the economics. Some might argue that such penalties should be reserved only for violent criminals. Under the current system, white collar or other non-violent crimes might receive life imprisonment due to mandatory federal sentencing guidelines. Others might argue that the criminal justice system should exhaust rehabilitation options before ordering a life sentence.

Yet even proponents of life imprisonment might be taking note of the financial strain such penalties impose on Iowa’s state and municipal budgets. According to local incarceration data from the Iowa Department of Corrections, the upward trend of life sentences may have leveled off. In fact, DOC officials expect the numbers to even decrease in future years.

One state DOC official attributes the change to several recent decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court. Those precedents may have made parole a possibility for several inmates serving life sentences, or changed the sentencing structure for other crimes. In addition, convicted criminals who were juveniles at the time of their criminal activity may also be eligible for parole.

As sentencing law evolves, an experienced Iowa City criminal defense lawyer might see opportunities for strategic plea bargaining with prosecutors, perhaps for a lesser sentence or a reduced charge.

Source: thegazette.com, “‘Lifers’ in Iowa prisons leveling off,” June 4, 2013

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