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Across the Region: Court shortens prison terms for many juvenile felons

Court shortens prison terms for many juvenile felons

As many as 150 Iowa juveniles imprisoned for felony convictions including kidnapping and attempted murder will get their sentences shortened by years as a result of an Iowa Supreme Court decision released Friday.

The court ruled that juveniles convicted of forcible felonies who had been resentenced from mandatory minimum terms to sentences with a set period of years should be given credit for good behavior at a much faster pace.

The decision is tied to the 2014 court ruling in the case of Andre Lyle Jr. in which the Supreme Court struck down as unconstitutional mandatory minimum sentences for juveniles, following a similar ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2012. The Iowa court’s decision required juveniles to be resentenced to a specific period of time and made eligible for parole.

Prison officials continued to credit these juveniles for good behavior at the rate Iowa law specifies for forcible felonies with required minimum sentences. The law says people convicted of these crimes, which include attempted murder, second-degree kidnapping, robbery and vehicular homicide must serve at least 85 percent of their sentences after credited time for good behavior.

The court, however, said since they’ve struck down mandatory minimum sentences for juveniles they cannot be held to the same good behavior credit, instead they must be given an accelerate time off credit used for non-mandatory sentences which requires inmates to serve 45 percent of their sentence.

The result is a juvenile sentenced to 10 years for robbery, for example, will get out after 4 ½ years instead of 8 ½ years under the previous rules.

The court’s decision came in the case of two women, Shannon Breeden and Laura Hochmuth, who challenged their sentences.

Breeden was 16 when she was accused of helping her boyfriend kill a woman at a transient camp on the banks of Mississippi River near Davenport in 2002. She pleaded guilty to second-degree murder, was sentenced to 25 years in prison and eligible for release in 2023. The court’s ruling makes her eligible immediately.

Hochmuth was 16 when she and three other juveniles kidnapped, robbed and beat a Davenport pizza delivery man in 1997. She was convicted of second-degree kidnapping, first-degree robbery, and second-degree robbery, sentenced to 50 years and eligible for release in July 2040. The court’s ruling could make her eligible in about four years.

The unanimous opinion written by Justice Thomas Waterman said the court recognizes its interpretation of the law undermines the legislative intent to punish certain crimes more harshly.

“Inmates whose mandatory minimum sentences have been removed after Lyle will now accumulate good time faster, and thereby obtain earlier release,” he wrote. “Nevertheless, we cannot save the slower accumulation rate because it is contingent upon the mandatory minimum.”

Based on its conclusion the court also ruled Friday that two men convicted as juveniles are immediately eligible for release.

 

WISCONSIN

7th Circuit: No release for Dassey pending appeal

A Wisconsin prison inmate whose case was featured in the Netflix series “Making a Murderer” will remain behind bars while state attorneys appeal a decision overturning his conviction, a panel of federal appellate judges has ruled.

The 7th Circuit judges — Frank Easterbrook, Kenneth Ripple and David Hamilton — issued a two-page ruling Thursday saying only that the state’s emergency motion was granted, meaning Brandon Dassey will remain behind bars pending the outcome of the appeal.

It’s unclear when that might come. Briefs in the case aren’t due to the 7th Circuit until late December. A decision likely won’t come down for weeks or even months late

Dassey’s release from prison appeared imminent right up until the three-judge panel issued its decision. Television crews and reporters were staking out the prison in Portage where Dassey is being held, waiting for him to walk out at any minute, when the ruling came down around midday.

“We are disappointed more than words can say,” Dassey’s attorneys, Steve Drizin and Laura Nirider, said in a statement posted online shortly after the ruling was released. “The fight goes on.”

Dassey, now 27, was sentenced to life in prison in 2007 in the death of photographer Teresa Halbach two years earlier. He confessed to detectives that he helped his uncle, Steven Avery, rape and kill Halbach in the Avery family’s salvage yard in Manitowoc County. Avery was sentenced to life in prison in a separate proceeding.

Avery and Dassey contend they were framed by police angry with Avery for filing a lawsuit against the county over his wrongful imprisonment for a sexual assault he didn’t commit. He’s pursuing his own appeal in state court.

Their cases gained national attention last year after Netflix aired “Making a Murderer,” a multi-part documentary that spawned widespread conjecture about the pair’s innocence.

In August, U.S. Magistrate Judge William Duffin ruled that investigators coerced Dassey, who was 16 years old at the time and suffered from cognitive problems, into confessing and overturned his conviction. Duffin said in the decision that if state attorneys appealed the ruling Dassey would remain in prison pending a resolution.

The state Justice Department filed an appeal that is still working its way through the 7th Circuit. But this week Duffin ordered Dassey released from prison by 8 p.m. Friday.

The DOJ filed an emergency motion with the 7th Circuit on Wednesday seeking to block the release, arguing Duffin’s release order contradicts his original ruling in which he said Dassey would remain in prison pending the appeal’s resolution, Dassey’s interrogators used techniques that courts around the country have repeatedly approved and Dassey presents a danger to society.

Drizin and Nirider countered with a filing that argued Dassey has behaved in prison and the state hasn’t identified any harm that might come from his release.

 

Supreme Court rejects call for investigation into leaks

The Wisconsin Supreme Court has rejected calls to investigate the leak of evidence collected in a secret investigation into Gov. Scott Walker and conservative allies.

The court Monday declined calls from Attorney General Brad Schimel and attorneys who fought the probe to investigate the leaks of evidence and matters covered by court secrecy orders.

The court says it would be up to the executive branch to launch any such investigation, not the judicial branch. Schimel had asked for what is known as a “special master” to investigate the leaks.

A Schimel spokesman said the order was being reviewed and had no immediate comment.

The state Supreme Court last year ordered the John Doe investigation closed and the U.S. Supreme Court in September refused to hear an appeal of that decision.

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