The Iowa Supreme Court today reversed a lower court judgment which had barred a challenge to the constitutionality of life imprisonment without parole imposed on a child of 14. The court granted review of EJI client Ruthann Veal’s case and today ruled that she is entitled to merits review.
Ruthann Veal was sentenced to life in prison with no possibility of parole for an offense when she was 14 years old. Her sentence was mandatory; the sentencing judge could not consider her young age or any of the facts about her abusive, dysfunctional family in determining the appropriate sentence.
EJI attorneys filed a petition to challenge Ruthann’s sentence as unconstitutional under both the Iowa Constitution and the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution. EJI argued that it is cruel and unusual punishment to condemn a young child to die in prison.
The trial court dismissed the petition, ruling that it was filed too late. The Iowa Court of Appeals agreed.
EJI appealed and argued the case at the Iowa Supreme Court in January. Today, that court relied on its own recent precedent to hold that Ms. Veal’s claim challenging her life-without-parole sentence as unconstitutional is the type of claim that can be raised at any time.
The case has been remanded to the trial court for further proceedings.