from the Iowa District Court for Mitchell County, Gregg R.
Rosenbladt and James M. Drew, Judges.
convicted of second-degree murder as a youthful offender for
offense he committed at age thirteen challenges his
fifty-year prison sentence imposed at age eighteen.
C. Smith, State Appellate Defender, and Martha J. Lucey,
Assistant Appellate Defender, for appellant.
J. Miller, Attorney General, and Bridget A. Chambers and
Denise A. Timmins, Assistant Attorneys General, for appellee.
appeal, we must decide challenges to Iowa's youthful
offender laws raised by a defendant who at age thirteen
fatally shot his mother. The State prosecuted him as a
youthful offender in district court, and a jury found him
guilty of second-degree murder. When he reached age eighteen,
the district court sentenced him to an indeterminate prison
term of up to fifty years (with no mandatory minimum). The
defendant raises statutory and constitutional challenges to
his prosecution and sentence, arguing that as a
thirteen-year-old offender, his case should have remained in
juvenile court and that at age eighteen he should have been
released on probation or placed in a transitional facility
rather than prison.
retained his appeal and, for the reasons explained below,
affirm his conviction as a youthful offender and his
fifty-year indeterminate sentence with immediate parole
eligibility. We conclude the district court properly
exercised its discretion based on an individualized
assessment of this defendant under a constitutional statutory
scheme. We acknowledge sentencing reform efforts nationwide
to raise the minimum age for prosecution in adult court. But
under our constitutional separation of powers, those efforts
should be directed to the legislature.
Background Facts and Proceedings.
evening of March 24, 2012, Noah Crooks was at home with his
mother, Gretchen Crooks. Noah was thirteen years old and an
eighth grader at Osage Middle School. He had no prior
criminal record. The Crooks lived in rural Osage, in Mitchell
County. Gretchen worked as a nurse at Mercy Hospital in Mason
City and was studying to get her master's degree at the
University of Iowa. Noah's father, William Crooks, worked
at Cargill Kitchen Solutions in Mason City. William and
Gretchen had been married for seventeen years.
was at a work-related party away from home that evening when
Noah loaded a .22 caliber rifle upstairs. Noah took the
loaded rifle downstairs and saw his mother in the kitchen
facing away from him. She was making dinner for him. Noah
later told a child psychiatrist that he could not shoot her
at that moment because it would not be honorable to shoot his
mother in the back. Noah returned upstairs until his mother
called up to say his dinner was ready. He returned downstairs
with the rifle and this time found his mother sitting on the
living room sofa studying her coursework. Noah shot her
twenty-two times, killing her.
sent his dad a text message at 7:30 p.m. The message stated,
"Dad, this is Noah. I killed Mom accidentally. I regret
it. Come home now please." William thought Noah was
joking and replied, "Okay. Just throw her in the grove.
We will take care of her later."
called 911 and told the Mitchell County dispatcher, Barbara
Michael, "I killed my mom with my twenty-two." He
admitted he "shot her . . . with twenty rounds
maybe." Noah also said, "I, I tried to rape her. .
. . I didn't do it. I tried to rape her, I couldn't
do it." Noah talked to the dispatcher about his concerns
over his own future, stating,
I'm never gonna be able to marry. . . . I'm never
gonna get, be able to get a good job now, 'cause
it'll be on my resume. . . . I mean, I'll barely be
able to get a job like McDonald's. I mean I had plans of
going to Michigan State University to get an engineering job,
making my own car company. That's all down the drain now.
Jeff Huftalin was dispatched to the Crooks's residence
and knocked on the front door. Noah answered the door while
he was still on the phone with the dispatcher. Deputy
Huftalin asked Noah where his mother was. Noah told him she
was in the living room and that the gun was on a chair.
Deputy Huftalin asked Noah to sit on the porch while he
entered the house. Deputy Huftalin found Gretchen slouched on
the couch; he could see bullet holes in her chest.
Gretchen's pajama top was unbuttoned, and she was naked
from the waist down. Deputy Huftalin confirmed that Gretchen
was dead. He handcuffed Noah and put him in the backseat of
the patrol car.
Huftalin called William to tell him there had been an
accident in his house and that he needed to come home. Upon
arrival, William was told that Gretchen was dead and that
Noah had shot her.
State filed a delinquency petition four days later, alleging
that Crooks, age thirteen, committed the delinquent acts of
first-degree murder and assault with the intent to commit
sexual abuse. The State requested that the juvenile court
waive jurisdiction so that Crooks could be tried as a
youthful offender in adult court, as provided in Iowa Code
section 232.45(7) (2011). Crooks filed a motion to dismiss,
challenging the juvenile court's statutory authority to
waive jurisdiction over a thirteen-year-old. The juvenile
court denied the motion. Crooks then filed a second motion to
dismiss, this time asserting the youthful offender statute
was unconstitutional. The juvenile court denied this motion,
finding Crooks failed to establish that the statute was
waiver-of-jurisdiction hearing, the juvenile court made the
three findings required by Iowa Code section
232.45(7)(a) for transfer to district court: (1)
Crooks was fifteen years of age or younger, (2) there was
probable cause that Crooks committed the forcible felonies
alleged in the petition, and (3) the State had established
that there were no reasonable prospects for rehabilitating
Crooks prior to his eighteenth birthday if the juvenile court
retained jurisdiction. The juvenile court waived jurisdiction
over Crooks and transferred the case to the district court
for Noah's prosecution as a youthful offender.
State filed a trial information in district court, alleging
murder in the first degree and assault with intent to commit
sexual abuse. The jury trial began on April 30, 2013. Crooks
raised the defenses of insanity and diminished
responsibility. On May 13, the jury returned a verdict
finding him guilty of murder in the second degree and not
guilty of assault with the intent to commit sexual abuse. The
court placed him on youthful offender status and transferred
his supervision to the juvenile court for disposition under
Iowa Code section 232.52.
conducting a dispositional hearing, the juvenile court
transferred guardianship of Crooks to the director of the
Department of Human Services for placement at the State
Training School in Eldora. Crooks was under the supervision
of the juvenile court until his eighteenth birthday. The
juvenile court conducted yearly review hearings, and Crooks
remained at the State Training School. He attended school and
participated in mental health treatment. He graduated from
high school on May 29, 2015.
April 2016, the juvenile court officer (JCO) filed a youthful
offender report, and the juvenile court reported to the
district court as required by Iowa Code section 232.56. The
report noted that throughout his time at Eldora, Crooks tried
to avoid addressing why he killed his mother. The JCO
mentioned that when Crooks's father confronted him about
his matricide, he responded that "[he] thought we would
be better off without her." The JCO report elaborated,
During a recent family meeting on April 14, 2016 with his
father and counselors, Noah was asked again about why he
killed his mother. He responded by saying, "I didn't
think of the consequences. I didn't think anything would
happen. I thought I would maybe get grounded." This
question has been asked of Noah throughout his therapy time
at the State Training School. Any answer Noah could give
would not be an acceptable answer to his father and family
district court ordered a presentence investigation (PSI). The
PSI report recommended incarceration:
The defendant was 13 years of age when he shot and killed his
mother. He will turn 18 on 07/29/16. Prior to his arrest on
the instant offense he had no criminal history. He was
involved in counseling with his family and was placed on
psychotropic medication for a couple of years. There are
reports he made comments to his peers at school about killing
his mother and it would appear he bullied other children from
time to time. It is also noted he was cruel to animals and
may have burned down his grandmother's home when he was
5-6 years of age. These types of behaviors are disturbing for
a child of his age. He admitted he was "arrogant and
stuck up" and didn't really think anything bad was
going to happen to him when he killed his mother.
The defendant professes that he came from a good home and
loved his family, yet he shot and killed his mother in their
own home. He stated he was not angry at her and reported he
was close to his mother. His behavior at the State Training
School has been pretty unremarkable with a few minor
violations. According to the defendant, he has had no major
behavioral issues at the training school because he knows the
rules and doesn't want to suffer the consequences that
would come as a result of negative choices he might make. He
graduated from high school and has dreams of attending
The real concern is for public safety and how the defendant
will conduct himself if allowed to return to society. No one
can predict the future behavior of an individual with any
certainty. He has been in institutional settings since the
age of 13 and has learned to follow rules and modify his
behavior in a structured setting. The concern is will others
be placed at risk and will he create more victims in the
future? If the defendant could offer a plausible explanation
for why he shot and killed his mother, that might offer some
insight into his thoughts and actions that day, but he can
give no explanation for why he did what he did. For the
protection of society, it is recommended the defendant be
supervised at a higher level of supervision than what
community based supervision can provide.
In light of the above it is respectfully recommended that the
defendant be sentenced to a period of forty-five (45) years
to the custody of the Director of the Department of
district court held a hearing on May 6 to determine
Crooks's status after his eighteenth birthday. The
attorneys presented arguments. The State requested a
fifty-year indeterminate sentence with no mandatory minimum.
Crooks's attorney told the court,
You only have two options under the statute itself. The first
is to continue the youthful offender status itself or
discharge him. That's it. There aren't - In the event
that you continue the youthful offender status itself, then
you have other options. You can place him on probation. You
can confine him. You can do a number - You can suspend the
sentence and you can provide all types of restrictions on
probation, but that's it. And that's the position
that we've taken.
attorney further argued that any confinement or
probation could not exceed five years, with credit provided
for time served. He did not specifically request placement in
a transitional facility.
read to the court a statement he wrote in which he described
the groups he voluntarily joined at the State Training School
and expressed his regret for taking his mother's life. He
apologized to the people he hurt through his actions. Several
family members gave victim-impact statements. His uncle (the
victim's brother) requested the maximum sentence, and his
maternal grandmother emphasized that he "doesn't
have real empathy." William, the defendant's father,
[F]or four years we never talked about Gretchen, not once. He
never had any remorse about his mom. I'd push him. . . .
[H]e just wanted her out of his life because he can play
video games. . . . [F]our years isn't long enough to pay
for a wonderful woman who did so much at the hospital, for
all of us, who were all of our rocks that we had to rely on.
I - he needs to pay for his mother's life.
And I know that's hard to say, but it's just what it
is, kid. It's time you face the piper, I guess, and
letting you out today would ruin so many more lives. It
[T]he common theme throughout the documents that have been
submitted, and even comments made here today, is that there
has been a surprising lack of an emotional response from
Noah, something showing appropriate remorse, empathy, which
is understanding the feelings of the other people who have
been affected by your actions. And I recognize that you are a
young person, and there's a reason we treat young people
differently. It's because sometimes emotionally they
aren't developed enough to maybe respond in the
appropriate way; but it is - it is very apparent to me, in
reviewing the evidence, that for one reason or another, Noah,
you just don't want to deal with this, with what
you've done; and at some point in time you're going
to have to, but it doesn't appear to me that that's
happened yet. You've got some ground yet to cover and I
think that there's work left to be done so I don't
believe that a straight discharge at this time is
At this point I do not see sufficient evidence to convince me
that Noah has been rehabilitated. The nature and
circumstances of this offense, coupled with the lack of
emotion, remorse, and empathy, indicates that there is a lot
of ground to cover. There have been some recent expressions
of remorse and attempts to show empathy, and I hope that
those are sincere, but the fact that they are so recent
causes me to wonder. And, Noah, going forward you'll have
the opportunity to prove to everybody that you mean what you
say. You've heard the saying "actions speak louder
than words, " and I suspect that's what your family
is waiting for, and I know that's what the rest of us
will be looking for as well.
I'm also concerned, when we talk about the
appropriateness of street probation, that you have made the
comment that you really don't think you have any need for
future services. You made a comment, when asked whether you
perhaps would want to return to the Training School to speak
some day after you've been rehabilitated, you didn't
really think so or you hoped not, I think were your words.
You changed your answer after you were pressed on it a little
bit, but those comments are concerning to me, that you still
don't have a full appreciation for what you've done
and the legitimacy of everyone's concerns.
I am hopeful, but I'm not yet convinced, that it is safe
for you to be free despite your young age. The lack of an
appropriate emotional response, the lack of empathy, the lack
of something that even approaches an adequate explanation for
why this happened could be an indication that you just
don't care. We just don't know yet. That's the
point, we don't know. And I don't believe it's
appropriate to release you on probation until we can be
confident that that isn't the situation, but rather that
you do care and that we don't have to worry about
something like this happening down the road. And, in short,
we need more time so that we can be confident in that
So I do believe that the imposition of a sentence with
incarceration is appropriate, and to that end it is necessary
that I enter conviction.
court entered judgment for murder in the second degree. The
court sentenced Crooks to an indeterminate term of
incarceration not to exceed fifty years without any mandatory
minimum sentence. Crooks was therefore immediately eligible
appealed. On appeal, he argues that Iowa Code section
232.45(7)(a) (2011) does not provide statutory
authority to try a thirteen-year-old as a youthful offender.
He also contends sections 232.45(7) and 907.3A violate
article I, section 17 of the Iowa Constitution prohibiting
cruel and unusual punishment. Finally, he argues that the
sentencing court abused its discretion by incarcerating him.
We retained his appeal.
Standard of Review.
review the juvenile court's interpretation of statutes
for correction of errors at law." In re A.M.,
856 N.W.2d 365, 370 (Iowa 2014). Our review of constitutional
challenges to a statute is de novo. State v.
Thompson, 836 N.W.2d 470, 483 (Iowa 2013). "We
review the district court's sentence for an abuse of
discretion." State v. Hill, 878 N.W.2d 269, 272
(Iowa 2016) (quoting State v. Barnes, 791 N.W.2d
817, 827 (Iowa 2010)).
raises several challenges to the youthful offender provisions
of the Iowa Code. We begin by providing a brief overview of
the statutory scheme. We then consider whether the statutes
permitted the juvenile court to waive jurisdiction over
Crooks at age thirteen for prosecution as a youthful offender
in district court. Because we conclude the juvenile court was
statutorily authorized to do so, we next address his claim
that the youthful offender statutes constitute cruel and
unusual punishment in violation of article I, section 17 of
the Iowa Constitution. We conclude that the waiver provisions
do not constitute punishment, and we decline to impose a
categorical bar on prosecuting thirteen-year-olds as youthful
offenders in district court. Finally, we reject his claims
that the district court abused its discretion by imposing a
sentence of incarceration with no mandatory minimum.
Overview of the Youthful Offender Statutes.
youthful offender statutes were enacted in 1997 as part of
comprehensive legislation related to juvenile justice.
See generally 1997 Iowa Acts ch. 126 (entitled
Juvenile Justice and Youthful Offenders). Generally,
"[t]he juvenile court has exclusive original
jurisdiction in proceedings concerning a child who is alleged
to have committed a delinquent act unless otherwise provided
by law . . . ." Iowa Code § 232.8(1)(a).
However, the juvenile court may transfer cases to adult
After the filing of a petition which alleges that a child has
committed a delinquent act on the basis of an alleged
commission of a public offense and before an adjudicatory
hearing on the merits of the petition is held, the county
attorney or the child may file a motion requesting the court
to waive its jurisdiction over the child for the alleged
commission of the public offense or for the purpose of
prosecution of the child as an adult or a youthful offender.
Id. § 232.45(1). Section 232.45(7)(a)
sets forth the findings required for the juvenile court to
waive its jurisdiction over a child who then can be
prosecuted as a youthful offender in district court.
At the conclusion of the waiver hearing and after considering
the best interests of the child and the best interests of the
community the court may, in order that the child may be
prosecuted as a youthful offender, waive its jurisdiction
over the child if all of the following apply:
(1) The child is fifteen years of age or younger.
(2) The court determines . . . that there is probable cause
to believe that the child has committed a delinquent act
which would constitute a public offense under section 232.8,
subsection 1, paragraph "c",
notwithstanding the application of that paragraph to children
aged sixteen or older.
(3) The court determines that the state has established that
there are not reasonable prospects for rehabilitating the
child, prior to the child's eighteenth birthday, if the
juvenile court retains jurisdiction over the child and the
child enters into a plea agreement, is a party to a consent
decree, or is adjudicated to have committed the delinquent
Id. § 232.45(7)(a) (emphasis
added). The juvenile court, however, can waive its
jurisdiction over the child for prosecution as an
adult only when "[t]he child is fourteen years
of age or older" and other conditions are met.
Id. § 232.45(6).
The Applicability of Iowa Code Section 232.45(7)(a)
to Thirteen-Year-Old Offenders.
argues that Iowa Code section 232.45(7)(a) does not
allow the juvenile court to waive jurisdiction over a
thirteen-year-old child to be tried as a youthful offender in
district court. He contends that, when related statutes are
read together as a whole, section 232.45(7)(a) is
ambiguous. We disagree and conclude the statutes
unambiguously allow prosecution of a thirteen-year-old as a
youthful offender. "[O]ur starting point in statutory
interpretation is to determine if the language has a plain
and clear meaning within the context of the circumstances
presented by the dispute." McGill v. Fish, 790
N.W.2d 113, 118 (Iowa 2010).
emphasizes the different language used for the
"traditional" waiver for prosecution as an adult
and waiver for prosecution as a youthful offender.
Compare Iowa Code § 232.45(6)(a)
("fourteen years of age or older" to be
prosecuted as an adult (emphasis added)), with id.
§ 232.45(7)(a)(1) ("fifteen years of age
or younger" to be prosecuted as a youthful
offender (emphasis added)). He encourages us to read these
provisions together as setting a lower age limit-a
"floor"-of fourteen for children who can be
prosecuted as youthful offenders. Subsections 6(a)
and 7(a) describe waiver processes with quite
different consequences, and we decline to impose the lower
age limit for prosecution as an adult on the
subsection regarding prosecution as a youthful
offender. The legislature used different language in
describing age limits throughout the statute and knows how to
set a lower age limit. See, e.g., id.