In 2010 the US Supreme Court disallowed sentences of life without parole for juveniles convicted of non-homicide crimes in Graham v. Florida, reported Jurist.
As a result, the Iowa Supreme court decided to resentence Julio Bonilla, who had been sentenced when he was 16 to life without parole for the kidnapping and sexual assault of a pregnant teenager, to life with the possibility of parole in 2011. Beginning in 2012, Bonilla began to receive annual parole hearings. In advance of his 2016 hearing, he filed nine motions with the Board of Parole, among them were motions for:
(i) appointment of counsel at state expense, (ii) provision of an independent psychological evaluation at state expense, (iii) an in-person parole review hearing and interview, (iv) an opportunity to present evidence at the parole hearing, (v) access to information related to his parole review and a right to challenge the information, (vi) exclusion of all nonverifiable evidence, (vii) proper consideration of mitigation factors of youth, (viii) access to rehabilitative treatment and programming, and (ix) establishment of procedures in the event of denial of parole.
The Parole Board refused to rule on the motions explaining that “there was no motion practice in connection with annual reviews,” but made some concessions. It agreed to allow Bonilla’s counsel to provide a written statement in support of his release, to allow counsel to appear at Bonilla’s 2016 parole review, and to disclose records relevant to Bonilla’s parole, including disciplinary records, notes related to his conduct in prison, and parole release plans.
In response to the Parole Board’s refusal to rule on the motions, Bonilla, supported by the ACLU of Iowa, filed a petition in district court for judicial review, claiming that the board’s review procedures violated the US Constitution’s protection against cruel and unusual punishment and guarantee of due process and the Iowa Constitution that additionally provides a right to counsel. In March 2018, the district court denied the petition and dismissed the case, explaining that:
there is no authority compelling the concluding that the matters requested in Bonilla’s nine motions to the Board are constitutionally mandated and there is no basis on this record to conclude that the current statutory and regulatory parole system in Iowa, on its face, denies juvenile offenders a meaningful opportunity for release.
The Supreme Court of Iowa affirmed the district court but held that the requirement of a realistic and meaningful opportunity for release for juvenile offenders applies to parole proceedings.
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