Sex Abuse Sentence Cruel and Unusual

Defendant's second offense sexual abuse conviction vacated and declared unconstitutionally cruel and unusual under Article 1 Section 17 of the Iowa Constitution.

Jordan Bruegger was sentenced to a mandatory minimum sentence of 25 years with a mandatory minimum of 85% of the sentence to be served before being eligible for parole after he was convicted of statutory rape for having sex with his 15 year old girlfriend when he was 21 years old. The sentence which normally requires 10 years in prison was enhanced to the 25 year 85% sentence because he had a prior juvenile sexual offense conviction. In what will likely be considered a landmark decision by the Iowa Supreme Court in State v. Bruegger, the Iowa Supreme Court elected to vary from the stricter and harsher interpretation of the Federal Constitution on the issue of Cruel and Unusual Punishment, and opted instead to use the federal approach as a guideline while adopting a much more equitable and individualized framework for courts to analyze a cruel and unusual punishment challenge under the Iowa Constitution. Justice Appel, writing for the majority, concluded 1) that a defendant may challenge a sentence as being cruel and unusual for the first time on appeal as a cruel and usual sentence is illegal and can be raised at any time; 2) that a defendant may challenge a sentence imposed as being cruel and unusual "as applied" as opposed to being required to challenge the validity of the underlying statute; and 3)an individualized, case by case approach is appropriate to determine whether or not a sentence is cruel and unusual under the Iowa Constitution.

The Court identified a number of factors that must be considered when determining whether or not a sentence is cruel and unusual. First, the breadth of the crime is important. For example, in the words of Justice Appel: "The crime of statutory rape covers a wide variety of circumstances, from Romeo and Juliet relationships to much more objectionable situations involving the luring of youngsters by older individuals using manipulative techniques, positions of authority, threats of violence, and other aggravating factors." Second, the age of the offender, and in Bruegger's case, the age of the offender at the time of the predicate offense. The Court cited scientific and sociological studies that show that juveniles tend to have immature judgment and act impulsively and without a full appreciation of the consequences of their actions. In Bruegger's case he was 12 years old at the time of his prior juvenile conviction and the Court placed considerable emphasis on that fact. Third, the geometric nature of the mandatory enhancement that drastically increased the amount of time the defendant would actually serve in prison upon a conviction.

While the majority of the Court concluded that the sentence imposed under the record provided was cruel and unusual, the case did not end there. The sentence was vacated or set aside but the case was remanded back to the district court for a determination, following an evidentiary hearing whether or not the statutorily mandated mandatory minimum sentence is actually cruel and unusual after a full development of the record at the district court level. According to the Court, "the State may wish to develop evidence regarding the impact of Bruegger's conduct on K.S. and her family, his lack of remorse, the nature of services provided in Minnesota and his inability to respond to such services, the need to incapacitate him through long-term incarceration, and any other potential factors that tend to aggravate the gravity of the offense and magnify the consequences on K.S."

The importance of this case is that it has opened the doors for defendants in special circumstance cases to present evidence and convince a sentencing judge that they should not be sentenced to the mandatory minimum sentence because it is disproportionate to the individual characteristics of the defendant and the circumstances surrounding the actual offense. A teenager being prosecuted by an overzealous prosecutor for Robbery 1st because he attempted to steal a bottle of liquor from a liquor store and ended up shoving a store clerk, will be able to legitimately argue and have a judge seriously consider that the mandatory sentence for "technically" committing the offense should not be imposed.