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Iowa top court rules juveniles cannot be given life without parole

[JURIST] The Iowa Supreme Court [official website] on Friday ruled [opinion, PDF] that juvenile convicted of first-degree murder may not be sentenced to life without parole. The court reasoned that sentencing a juvenile to life without parole was cruel and unusual punishment and emphasized that "sentencing courts should not be required to make speculative up-front decisions on juvenile offenders' prospects for rehabilitation." The court noted that it may be determined that an individual is beyond rehabilitation after time has passed, "after a record of success or failure in the rehabilitative process is available." The court also emphasized that parole was not guaranteed to juveniles, but rather only needs to be left available.

The decision reflects a growing consensus that children should, in some ways, be treated differently than adults, especially in regards to being sentenced for life. This understanding was elucidated in the recent Supreme Court decision, Montgomery v. Louisiana [SCOTUSblog backgrounder], in which the Supreme Court ruled that its previous decisions banning mandatory sentences of life without parole for juveniles be applied retroactively [JURIST report]. Until that decision, only some states were choosing to retroactively apply the ban.

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