Case: Bonilla v. Iowa Board of Parole

No. CVCV052692 | Iowa state trial court

Filed Date: July 9, 2018

Closed Date: June 28, 2019

Clearinghouse coding complete

Case Summary

This is a lawsuit challenging the adequacy of Iowa's parole processes and procedures for a person serving a life sentence for a crime committed under the age of 18.  Petitioner in this lawsuit was convicted of kidnapping in the first degree in 2005 and sentenced to life in prison without parole.  After the U.S. Supreme Court eliminated life without parole sentences for non-homicide crimes committed under age 18, petitioner was resentenced, in 2011, to life with the possibility of parole.  In 20…

This is a lawsuit challenging the adequacy of Iowa's parole processes and procedures for a person serving a life sentence for a crime committed under the age of 18. 

Petitioner in this lawsuit was convicted of kidnapping in the first degree in 2005 and sentenced to life in prison without parole.  After the U.S. Supreme Court eliminated life without parole sentences for non-homicide crimes committed under age 18, petitioner was resentenced, in 2011, to life with the possibility of parole.  In 2012, petitioner began to receive annual parole review by the Iowa Board of Parole.  In 2016, as his annual review date neared, petitioner filed nine motions seeking various changes to the process, including: appointment of counsel at state expense; independent psychological evaluation at state expense; in-person parole review hearing and interview; an opportunity to present evidence at the hearing; access to information related to his review and a right to challenge that information; exclusion of non-verifiable evidence; consideration of the mitigating factors of youth; access to rehabilitative treatment and programming; and establishment of procedures in the event of parole denial.  The Board logged the filings as correspondence, produced copies of various records and documents that it would be considering in connection with the parole review and permitted petitioner's counsel to provide a written statement in support of parole consideration and to speak at the 2016 hearing.  Ultimately, after the hearing, the Board denied parole, issuing a formal written denial.  Thereafter, petitioner filed a motion for judicial review of the denial in Polk County District Court, case no. CVCV052692, and the case was assigned to Judge Douglas F. Staskal.  Petitioner sought review under the Iowa Administrative Procedures Act and sought a declaratory judgment that certain substantive and procedural rights were required for adequate parole consideration for juvenile offenders under the Iowa Constitution and the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution.  

The Board sought to dismiss the state court action, arguing that because petitioner had not alleged affect on any substantial rights, any error was harmless.  The district court denied the motion to dismiss on January 5, 2017.  While the state court action was pending, petitioner again received parole review, in July 2017, and was again denied. The Board explained: "[petitioner] has yet to demonstrate through his actions sufficient lasting rehabilitation and maturity to assure the Board there is a reasonable probability that he is willing and able to fulfill the obligation[s] for a law-abiding citizen."  Thereafter, on March 14, 2018, the district court denied the petition for judicial review on the merits and dismissed the action, reasoning that there was no reason to believe that the Board wouldn't follow applicable law in considering petitioner for parole. Petitioner appealed to the Iowa Supreme Court.  

In a decision issued on June 28, 2019, the Iowa Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court. 930 N.W.2d 751.  As to the substantive considerations underlying the parole decision, the Court reasoned that, in parole review of a person sentenced to life with parole for a crime committed as a child, parole authorities must render a decision based on an individualized determination of demonstrated maturity and rehabilitation, with recognition that children are different than adults. The Court further emphasized that the nature of the offense cannot be the focus of the parole decision. Finally, the Court made clear that the parole process must provide a realistic opportunity to present evidence of maturity and rehabilitation, and that the review must be meaningful and not "repeated incantations of ritualistic denials."  Ultimately, however, the Court concluded that the Board could, within the open-ended governing statutory and regulatory framework, meet the obligations of Graham, Miller, and the state constitution.   

As to the procedural components of the parole process, the Court first held that juvenile offenders have a liberty interest in a meaningful opportunity to demonstrate maturity and rehabilitation.  In support of that right, the Court reasoned that basic procedures must include right of access to the parole file and a right to provide information to the Board, in order to permit a prospective parolee to correct inaccuracies. Interpreting the Board's processes to permit such access and ability to provide information, the Court concluded that the processes passed constitutional muster.  As to the other requested procedures, the Court held that: the Board's discretionary approach to in-person presence at parole hearings did not violate the state or federal constitutions; that to the extent the Board considered "unverifiable" information in its parole review, the remedy was to challenge the parole decision directly; that the record did not establish that the Board failed to provide adequate notice of denial or the reasons for denial, and that detailed findings of fact and conclusions of law are not required; that to the extent the department of corrections denied access to programming necessary for parole, juvenile offenders could file claims against the department directly; and that there was no categorical right to appointed counsel or expert testimony at every annual parole review.  The Court therefore affirmed the decision of the district court.  The case is now closed. 

 

Summary Authors

Tessa Bialek (7/10/23)

Documents in the Clearinghouse

Document

18-0477

Opinion

Iowa state supreme court

June 28, 2019

June 28, 2019

Order/Opinion

930 N.W.2d 930

Docket

Last updated Aug. 30, 2023, 1:25 p.m.

Docket sheet not available via the Clearinghouse.

Case Details

State / Territory: Iowa

Case Type(s):

Criminal Justice (Other)

Special Collection(s):

Juvenile Parole

Key Dates

Filing Date: July 9, 2018

Closing Date: June 28, 2019

Case Ongoing: No

Plaintiffs

Plaintiff Description:

A person convicted of a nonhomicide offense committed under age 18 and serving a life with parole sentence.

Plaintiff Type(s):

Private Plaintiff

Attorney Organizations:

ACLU Affiliates (any)

Juvenile Law Center

Public Interest Lawyer: Yes

Filed Pro Se: No

Class Action Sought: No

Class Action Outcome: Not sought

Defendants

Iowa Board of Parole, State

Defendant Type(s):

Jurisdiction-wide

Case Details

Causes of Action:

42 U.S.C. § 1983

State law

Ex parte Young (federal or state officials)

Constitutional Clause(s):

Due Process

Due Process: Procedural Due Process

Due Process: Substantive Due Process

Cruel and Unusual Punishment

Available Documents:

Any published opinion

Outcome

Prevailing Party: Defendant

Nature of Relief:

None

Source of Relief:

None

Issues

General/Misc.:

Juveniles

Parole grant/revocation