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Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Graham v. Florida...LWOP for Juveniles is gone.

With all the hub-bub recently about Graham v. Florida, I thought I should blog it. Spoke with a client today that retained an attorney I work for. Her son is one of the few inmates (7 total per media reports) in Iowa that is affected by the case. It is a very positive outlook for kids that committed crimes before they could really experience life and make adult decisions based on those experiences.

Here is an excerpt from the case:

Petitioner Graham was 16 when he committed armed burglary and another crime. Under a plea agreement, the Florida trial court sen-tenced Graham to probation and withheld adjudication of guilt. Sub-sequently, the trial court found that Graham had violated the termsof his probation by committing additional crimes. The trial court ad-judicated Graham guilty of the earlier charges, revoked his proba-tion, and sentenced him to life in prison for the burglary. Because Florida has abolished its parole system, the life sentence left Graham no possibility of release except executive clemency. He challenged his sentence under the Eighth Amendment’s Cruel and Unusual Pun-ishments Clause, but the State First District Court of Appeal af-firmed.
Held: The Clause does not permit a juvenile offender to be sentenced to life in prison without parole for a nonhomicide crime.
(a) Embodied in the cruel and unusual punishments ban is the “precept . . . that punishment for crime should be graduated and pro-portioned to [the] offense.” Weems v. United States, 217 U. S. 349, 367. The Court’s cases implementing the proportionality standardfall within two general classifications. In cases of the first type, theCourt has considered all the circumstances to determine whether the length of a term-of-years sentence is unconstitutionally excessive fora particular defendant’s crime. The second classification comprisescases in which the Court has applied certain categorical rules againstthe death penalty. In a subset of such cases considering the nature of the offense, the Court has concluded that capital punishment is im-permissible for nonhomicide crimes against individuals. E.g., Ken-nedy v. Louisiana, 554 U. S. ___, ___. In a second subset, cases turn-ing on the offender’s characteristics, the Court has prohibited death for defendants who committed their crimes before age 18, Roper v. Simmons, 543 U. S. 551, or whose intellectual functioning is in a low range, Atkins v. Virginia, 536 U. S. 304. In cases involving categori-cal rules, the Court first considers “objective indicia of society’s stan-dards, as expressed in legislative enactments and state practice” to determine whether there is a national consensus against the sentenc-ing practice at issue. Roper, supra, at 563. Next, looking to “thestandards elaborated by controlling precedents and by the Court’sown understanding and interpretation of the Eighth Amendment’s text, history, meaning, and purpose,” Kennedy, supra, at ___, the Court determines in the exercise of its own independent judgment whether the punishment in question violates the Constitution, Roper, supra, at 564. Because this case implicates a particular type of sen-tence as it applies to an entire class of offenders who have committeda range of crimes, the appropriate analysis is the categorical ap-proach used in Atkins, Roper, and Kennedy.
(b) Application of the foregoing approach convinces the Court thatthe sentencing practice at issue is unconstitutional.

The basic tenet of this case is that if the defendant is under 18 years of age a sentence of more than fifty years (in most jurisdictions) cannot be applied. The sentence must also be paroleable in some fashion.

The nature of the issue is one of Cruel and Unusual punishment which is prohibited by the Eighth Amendment.

Good news for juvenile offenders. A thumbs up to the US S Ct for this one.

The bad part of this decision is that alot of families on both sides will be going through the same emotional breakdowns that came with the guilty pleas and trials that convicted their children. It is hard for those that lost loved ones to the crimes as well as those whose loved ones are incarcerated without hope of release. Now that the light of hope shines, those emotions will flare again.

To all of you who experience it, just take it one step at a time.

To those of you who may have a loved one affected by the decision, feel free to drop me an email for referral to a very good PCR attorney who can assist with motioning the court for relief.

C. Smith-LMC

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

What is Post-Conviction Relief (PCR)?

Post-Conviction Relief, or PCR for short, is all of the legal actions taken once a verdict (finding of guilt) and judgment (sentence) is entered. It can range from post-trial motions, a direct appeal, and habeas corpus.

Iowa law provides several avenues for relief. The predominant state is Iowa Code section 822. The relevant sections can be found by entering 822 at this link:

The basic provisions mandate that a convicted defendant has three years from the date his convictionis final (by judgment or direct appeal) to file a PCR application challening a sentence and conviction on the grounds it was illegally entered or is unconstitutional.

A standard form is available for preparing the application and is available from

However, preparing and litigating a proper PCR is not as easy as filling in the blanks and filing the form. Perhaps the most important aspect of a proper PCR action is identifying the issues at hand, gleaning the facts from the trial record and extrinsic sources, and putting them together with the right post-conviction cases in your arguments.

If you are intending on filing a PCR action your best bet is to retain an attorney. But don't just start calling lawyers from the phonebook. Look online at recent cases and call the names you see and read the most as PCR counsel. These are the attorneys that are going to get you the best relief possible. They are experienced at the work and will put your interests at heart.

If you need assistance in locating a good PCR attorney, I can refer you to some that I know will do the work and give you the best product for your dollars.

C. Smith-LMC

Iowa Post Conviction...the first steps

This is my first blog entry on Iowa Post Conviction law. I hope that all who visit this blog will find something useful.

I have written a comprehensive manual on Iowa Post-Conviction Relief that can be reviewed and purchased at I wrote the book for two reasons. First, I work for Iowa attorneys that handle post-conviction cases, and the law in Iowa can be a jumbled mess of confusion. No one has ever penned a good source for Iowa PCR law. Second, alot of the attorneys who handle Iowa PCR actions seem to take the wrong steps or simply lay on a case and let it fester. Those types of actions simply cannot endeavor to improve the criminal law system.

I needed a good source to share with Iowans on the ins and outs of Iowa PCR law. The result of my work is the book on my website.

I trust that those that need it will find it and help all of us work toward a better future in Iowa PCR law, and positive outcomes to the thousands of PCR actions filed each year in Iowa.

If you have any questions or comments my direct email is

Best of luck to all of you.

C. Smith-LMC