In decisions issued Friday, the Iowa Supreme Court upheld existing parole procedures governing the release of juvenile offenders and a police officer’s actions leading to a traffic stop that the Iowa ACLU argued was constitutionally invalid.
Bonilla v. Iowa Board of Parole involved a juvenile offender who was convicted in a kidnapping and sexual assault case more than a decade ago. The Iowa ACLU filed the case on behalf of Julio Bonilla, arguing that he should have been given a greater opportunity to demonstrate rehabilitation during parole hearings, including access to counsel.
“We are disappointed that the court upheld existing parole procedures for juvenile offenders on a facial challenge,” Rita Bettis Austen, ACLU of Iowa’s legal director, said in a prepared statement. “But we are pleased that the court affirmed that children are entitled to more than adults in parole proceedings.”
Iowa’s high court decided that counsel need not be provided for Bonilla at every annual review of his parole status.
“There are certainly situations where annual reviews are relatively uncomplicated and no contested factual or legal issues are present,” the court’s ruling states.
But Bettis Austen noted that the court’s wording may allow for appointed attorneys for offenders to be required in certain instances.
“Today’s opinion provides important guidance to the parole board in meeting its obligations to afford a realistic and meaningful opportunity for release, and in it, we see a roadmap for future efforts at reforms,” she said. “The fight is not over.”
The Iowa ACLU filed an amicus brief in State v. Scottize Brown. The case involved a driver who was pulled over for routine traffic violations after the officer observed a nonworking license plate light and saw her accelerating through a yellow traffic light. She was found to have an open beer container and was subsequently convicted of drunken driving.
“The decision in the Brown case is incredibly disheartening,” Bettis Austen said. “Today’s opinion upheld the police use of pretext stops in Iowa, despite the fact that they are inherently dishonest and drive racial profiling.”
The ACLU defines a pretext stop as when an officer uses minor traffic violations as a reason, or pretext, to pull over a driver.
“As the dissent recognized, given the pervasiveness and sheer volume of traffic regulations, this decision gives police the ability to stop anyone,” she said. “At any given time, most drivers are committing some minor technical infraction.”
The court, however, rejected that argument and affirmed a district court’s conviction of Scottize Brown during a bench trial.
“Consistent with precedent in Iowa and the vast bulk of authority elsewhere, we affirm the district court judgment because the subjective motivations of an individual officer for making a traffic stop are irrelevant as long as the officer has objectively reasonable cause to believe the motorist violated a traffic law,” the court said in its decision.