Dialogue among State Supreme Courts: Advancing State Constitutionalism

Dialogue among State Supreme Courts: Advancing State Constitutionalism

Dialogue among State Supreme Courts: Advancing State Constitutionalism

Dialogue among State Supreme Courts: Advancing State Constitutionalism

Synopsis

State supreme courts use state constitutional provisions to afford their citizens state constitutional rights beyond the protections that the U.S. Supreme Court has interpreted the U.S. Constitution to require. As state supreme courts consider expanding state constitutional rights they engage in an ongoing dialogue with their sister state supreme courts. Results indicate this dialogue amongst state supreme courts influences decisions interpreting state constitutional rights. Denniston demonstrates through analysis of state supreme court decisions and interviews with state supreme court justices the impact of this dialogue on state supreme court decision making.

Excerpt

Denem Null was a sixteen year old juvenile when he stole a .22 caliber pistol from a friend and then went with his brother and cousin to a man’s apartment to steal a pound of marijuana. Null shot and killed the man during the robbery. Null had an array of family issues before this crime: his parents were separated, his father lived out of state, and he lived with his grandmother, in part because his mother had a history of drug and alcohol abuse, criminal convictions, violent behavior and diagnosed, but untreated, mental illness. Null had numerous encounters himself with the law. He had been expelled from school for violent behavior and had been through numerous shelters and treatment centers. He was initially charged with first-degree murder, but pled guilty to second-degree murder and first degree robbery. He was sentenced to 75 years in prison, but statistical tables showed he would likely die before becoming eligible for parole under Iowa law. Null therefore appealed to the Iowa Supreme Court claiming that his sentence was unconstitutionally long for an act committed while he was a juvenile.

By the time Null’s case reached the Iowa Supreme Court in 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court had ruled that defendants could not be sentenced to mandatory life imprisonment without parole for acts committed while a juvenile. Miller v. Alabama, 132 S. Ct. 2455; 183 L. Ed. 2d 407 (2012). Null was required to serve at least 52.5 years of his 75 year prison sentence under Iowa law and could not be released until he was at least 69 years old. Was Null’s sentence unconstitutionally long since it exceeded his natural life expectancy? In a mandatory life in prison sentence. The U.S. Supreme Court also did not answer whether the appropriate remedy for unconstitutional sentences was to require relief . . .

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