State v. Null, 836 N.W.2d 41 (Iowa 2013) – Juvenile defendant (age 16 at time of crimes) was convicted by guilty plea of second-degree murder and first-degree robbery. He was sentenced to a mandatory aggregate term of 75 years in prison (50 years for murder and 25 years for robbery), with a mandatory minimum sentence of 52.5 years before becoming eligible for parole. The Iowa Supreme Court remanded for resentencing, basing its decision under Article I, Section 17 of the Iowa Constitution. The Court reasoned that a lengthy prison term for a juvenile based on the aggregation of mandatory minimum sentences for multiple crimes triggers the protections to be afforded under Miller—namely, an individualized sentencing hearing to determine the issue of parole eligibility. The Court noted that a juvenile’s potential for geriatric release is not enough to comply with Graham and Miller:

[W]e do not regard the juvenile’s potential future release in his or her late sixties after a half century of incarceration sufficient to escape the rationales of Graham or Miller. The prospect of geriatric release, if one is to be afforded the opportunity for release at all, does not provide a “meaningful opportunity” to demonstrate the “maturity and rehabilitation” required to obtain release and reenter society as required by Graham . . . . [In addition,] we do not believe the determination of whether the principles of Miller or Graham apply in a given case should turn on the niceties of epidemiology, genetic analysis, or actuarial sciences in determining precise mortality dates. 

The Court thus concluded “that Miller’s principles are fully applicable to a lengthy term-of-years sentence as was imposed in this case because an offender sentenced to a lengthy term-of-years sentence.” With respect to aggregate sentences, the court concluded: “While we think the fact that the defendants were convicted of multiple crimes may well be relevant in the analysis of individual culpability under Miller, . . . an aggregate sentence does not remove the case from the ambit of Miller’s principles.” The Court concluded that Article I, section 17 of the Iowa Constitution “requires that a district court recognize and apply the core teachings of Roper, Graham, and Miller in making sentencing decisions for long prison terms involving juveniles.” The court instructed that sentencing courts must consider the following:

First, the district court must recognize that because “children are constitutionally different from adults,” they ordinarily cannot be held to the same standard of culpability as adults in criminal sentencing. . . . If a district court believes a case presents an exception to this generally applicable rule, the district court should make findings discussing why the general rule does not apply. In making such findings, the district court must go beyond a mere recitation of the nature of the crime, which the Supreme Court has cautioned cannot overwhelm the analysis in the context of juvenile sentencing. Further, the typical characteristics of youth, which include immaturity, impetuosity, and poor risk assessment, are to be regarded as mitigating, not aggravating factors.

Second, the district court must recognize that “[j]uveniles are more capable of change than are adults” and that as a result, “their actions are less likely to be evidence of irretrievably depraved character.” While some juvenile offenders may be irreparably lost, it is very difficult to identify juvenile offenders that fall into this category. As the Supreme Court noted, even expert psychologists have difficulty making this type of prediction.

Further, the district court must recognize that most juveniles who engage in criminal activity are not destined to become lifelong criminals. The “signature qualities” of youth are all “transient.” Because “incorrigibility is inconsistent with youth,” care should be taken to avoid “an irrevocable judgment about [an offender’s] value and place in society.”

Finally, . . . the district court should recognize that a lengthy prison sentence without the possibility of parole such as that involved in this case is appropriate, if at all, only in rare or uncommon cases.

(citations omitted; emphasis added). Sentencing, the court vacated the sentence and remanded to the district court for resentencing and additional presentation of evidence.