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For immediate release -- Monday, February 11, 2008.
Contact Bob Brammer -- 515-281-6699.

Attorney General’s Criminal Law Proposals for 2008

Miller has called for stronger tools to stop Internet predators of children; more resources for drug treatment, enforcement and prevention; better laws to prevent domestic violence injury and homicides; and other measures.

Des Moines. Attorney General Tom Miller has proposed a battery of nine criminal law legislative priorities that are under consideration by the Iowa Legislature. Many of the proposals have been working their way through the 2008 General Assembly.

“We have asked for measures including proposals to prevent and punish sex offenses against children,” Miller said, “and to prevent domestic violence injuries and murders.”

Another proposal is aimed at helping block the sale of guns to persons who have been involuntarily committed to a mental institution. “We never will prevent all disastrous murders such as we saw at Virginia Tech and the Omaha Von Maur store,” Miller said, “but this would be a step in the right direction.”

Miller also asked the Legislature to prohibit the possession of firearms by persons convicted of domestic abuse assault or persons who are subject to a domestic abuse no-contact order. For the last decade, about a dozen Iowans have been killed each year in domestic violence homicides – mostly by guns. The change would make Iowa law consistent with federal law.

Miller again appealed to the Legislature to strengthen drug treatment as a key means to reduce crime. “There is a very clear linkage between drugs and crime, and we can reduce crime if we provide more drug treatment.”

Miller’s proposal would increase funding for community substance abuse treatment by $7 million, expand funding for drug courts by $3 million, and fund effective after-school programs with $5 million. Miller also urged the Legislature to replace $2.7 million in expected losses of Federal funding for Iowa Drug Task Forces.

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Summary of the Attorney General’s
2008 Criminal Law Legislative Proposals

 

Fund Drug Treatment to Reduce Crime:

1. Increase state funding in several key areas to deal with the problem of drug-related crime in Iowa, focusing particularly on increased funding for drug treatment and prevention.

(a) Expand Treatment ($7 Million). The Attorney General proposes an increase of $7 million to provide increased funding for community substance abuse treatment services. Increasing the money available for substance abuse treatment will reduce crime and make Iowans safer, because most crime is associated with drugs, and drug treatment is effective in reducing drug use.

(b) Expand Drug Courts ($3 Million). Drug court programs specially tailored to the specific needs of families, juveniles and adults in local communities have shown success in Iowa. Because these programs are proving their effectiveness, the state should ensure their continuation and expansion. The Attorney General proposes an increase of $3 million for this purpose.

(c) Fund After-School Prevention Programs ($5 million). Studies show that children are most at risk during unsupervised after-school hours. For example, in a study of American teens, the YMCA found that youth who are unsupervised after school are three times more likely to use drugs than their peers who are supervised. The Attorney General supports a proposal by the Iowa Afterschool Alliance for an increased appropriation of $5 million to fund the demonstrated need for effective after-school programs in Iowa.

[Go to full details on the Attorney General’s Drug Treatment proposals.]

Prevent and Punish Sex Offenses Especially Against Children:

2. Prosecute Internet predators for enticement.

Amend the “enticing” statute to facilitate prosecution of Internet predators who attempt to seduce children, but who do not know that they actually are communicating with investigators posing as children. Legislation is needed following the recent Hansen decision, which limited the use of this enforcement method.

3. Allow multiple charges for child pornography.

Amend the “sexual exploitation of minors” statute to allow multiple criminal charges against persons who possess multiple images of child pornography. The recent Muhlenbruck decision limited prosecution to a single charge when multiple child pornography files are found on a single computer. (This proposal now is an amendment to a bill sponsored by Rep. Deborah Berry.)

4. Prohibit sexual abuse by deception.

Amend the definition of “sexual abuse by deception” to include “deception as to the sexual nature of the act.” There have been several cases in which naive victims, typically minors, were persuaded to submit to fondling or other sexual contact by adults who claimed to be conducting “health examinations” or who used some other ruse. Such cases were successfully prosecuted before the recent Bolsinger decision, but now legislation is needed in the wake of that decision.

Prevent Domestic Violence Injury and Homicide:

5. Domestic violence offenders and possession firearms: Prohibit persons from possessing a firearm who (1) have been convicted of a domestic abuse assault, or (2) are the subject of a current pending domestic abuse no-contact order.

The measure would promote public safety and prevent death and injury in domestic violence cases. Federal law prohibits possession of firearms by persons who have either been convicted of domestic abuse or ordered to avoid contact with a domestic abuse victim (following notice and a hearing.) However, a state law is needed to enable state and local authorities, who must deal with the vast majority of domestic violence cases, to enforce this prohibition. More than twenty states already have passed legislation mirroring provisions of the federal law. The bill passed the Senate last year in the first session of this General Assembly.

6. Define strangulation as a form of felonious assault.

After use of a gun, strangulation is the most common lethal method of domestic assault. Strangulation is common in domestic violence cases, and it has been identified as a prime indicator of the likelihood of murder. Ten percent of violent deaths each year are due to strangulation, and female victim outnumber male victims by 6 to 1.

But strangulation rarely can be prosecuted successfully at the felony level, unless death or a broken neck results. Defining assault by strangulation as a form of felonious assault and Class “C” felony would help, as has been done already in six other states. Strangulation would be defined as knowingly impeding the normal breathing or blood circulation of another person by applying pressure to the throat or neck. This measure would strengthen domestic violence protection for victims by taking domestic abuse perpetrators out of the home before the situation escalates to murder.

Prevent Sale of Guns to Certain Persons:

7. This measure would help prohibit sale of guns to a person who has been involuntarily committed to a mental institution.

Federal law prohibits issuing permits to persons who have been involuntarily committed to a mental institution. The FBI maintains a list of persons of that status, and sellers of guns are required to check the federal data bank and refuse sales to persons on the list. However, following the Virginia Tech mass murders, examination of compliance showed that most states, including Iowa, do not send the FBI more than a small fraction of the names of those who should be disqualified from obtaining permits to possess a firearm. Legislation could help correct this, while preserving an efficient check system and still protecting the general confidentiality of mental health records. This measure would not prevent all disastrous murders, such as at Virginia Tech and the Omaha Von Maur store, for example, but it would be a step in the right direction.

Prevent and Prosecute Financial abuse of Older Iowans:

8. Create an Older-Iowan Financial Fraud Prosecution Unit in the Attorney General’s Office.

In a state with a large and growing elderly population, surprisingly few law enforcement resources are devoted to protecting a group that is specifically targeted for fraud -- and is vulnerable to fraud. The Attorney General’s Area Prosecutions Division has been successful in prosecuting several major cases in this category, but could do much more with a two-person team specializing in this area. The proposal would provide funding for an experienced prosecuting attorney, an experienced investigator, and related costs, at an appropriation of $230,000.

Replace Lost Federal Funds for Iowa’s Drug Task Forces:

9. Replace an expected $2.7 million loss in Federal Funds that have been used for statewide drug law enforcement efforts by Iowa’s Drug Task Forces.

For State Fiscal Year 2009, the federal government is anticipated to cut the Byrne Justice Assistance Grant funding for the Governor’s Office of Drug Control Policy (ODCP), which is directed by Iowa statute to coordinate and monitor statewide drug enforcement efforts and substance-abuse prevention and treatment programs. Local Drug Task Forces under the ODCP framework have been instrumental in law enforcement efforts against drugs, and it is important to find state funds to replace the lost federal funds.

About $1 million of the cuts will affect local direct grants, and the other $2 million in cuts will affect state-coordinated grants via the Governor’s Office of Drug Control Policy (ODCP) to drug task forces, community drug and crime prevention initiatives, and offender treatment programs. The impact of cuts to Byrne Justice Assistance Grant funding administered by ODCP will be the elimination of grants for 15 drug control programs across the state and 39 personnel working in those programs.
Byrne-JAG-supported drug task forces currently serve about three-quarters of the State of Iowa, providing communities with front-line protection against methamphetamine and other drugs. As it stands now, the anticipated federal cuts will severely harm the level of effort and scope of service of Iowa drug task forces. In SFY 2007, Byrne-JAG-supported Iowa drug task forces seized illegal and diverted drugs valued at more than $31 million dollars and netted over 2,000 criminal convictions.

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