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Iowa Supreme Court Rules That Sex Offender Treatment Program Requires Due Process Protections

The Iowa Supreme Court held in two companion cases that the Iowa Department of Corrections’ (IDOC) Sex Offender Treatment Program (SOTP) deprived prisoners of due process of law.

Before 2001, Iowa prisoners “were eligible for a sentence reduction of one day for each day of good conduct and …could earn a further reduction of up to five days per month for satisfactory participation in certain programs, including treatment programs” under Iowa Code § 903A.2(1)(a) (1999). Effective January 1, 2001, the law was amended to make prisoners “eligible for a reduction of sentence equal to one and two-tenths days for each day the inmate demonstrates good conduct and satisfactorily participates in any program or placement status identified by the director to earn the reduction.” Iowa Code § 903A.2(1)(a) (2001).

Under the 2001 amendment, if a prisoner refused to attend SOTP he would lose ninety days of earned time but retain the ability to accrue future earned sentence reductions.
Holm v. Iowa Dist. Ct., 767 N.W.2d 409, 415 (Iowa 2009). Section 903A.2(1)(a) was again amended in 2005 to provide that “an inmate required to participate in a sex offender treatment program shall not be eligible for a reduction of sentence unless the inmate participates in and completes a sex offender treatment program established by the director.”

Under an IDOC policy applying the 2005 amendment, a prisoner “will no longer accrue any earned time after refusing to attend SOTP, but will not lose any previously accrued earned time.” The Iowa Supreme Court held in Holm that “the 2005 amendment was merely a clarification of the 2001 amendment.”

In 2005, John Dykstra was convicted of a felony offense for “dependent adult abuse” and a misdemeanor simple assault offense which “was pled down from an original charge of sexual abuse in the third degree.”

His simple assault sentence expired on October 9, 2005, but Dykstra remained in prison on the dependent abuse sentence. On December 15, 2005 the IDOC recommended that Dykstra participate in SOTP “based on the alleged circumstances of the simple assault as well as Dykstra’s previous convictions and his inclusion on the sex offender registry.” The IDOC found “that Dykstra’s wife, who lived in a nursing home because of multiple sclerosis, reported she was forced to perform oral sex on Dykstra against her will.” Prison officials also noted “a 1983 indecent exposure conviction, a 1994 indecent exposure charge, a 1995 burglary conviction for stealing a neighbor’s lingerie and sexually explicit photos, [and] a 2000 prostitution solicitation charge.”

Dykstra objected to the requirement that he attend SOTP; he “maintained that any sexual contact with his wife was consensual, and argued the simple assault did not contain a sexual element.” On January 27, 2006, Dykstra failed a polygraph concerning the facts of the simple assault. He signed an SOTP refusal form on February 16, 2006. Under the 2005 amendment to § 903A.2, the “IDOC determined Dykstra was no longer eligible for earned time credit,” and moved his sentence discharge date from January 20, 2008 to May 12, 2010.

The Iowa Supreme Court held that “Dykstra was entitled to due process because his liberty interest in earned time was affected by his classification as required to participate in SOTP.” Noting that “Dykstra argues his due process rights were violated because he did not receive the protections of” Wolff v. McDonnell, 418 U.S. 539, 94 S.Ct. 2963 (1974), the Court held that Dykstra was correct since the “IDOC relied on unadmitted factual allegations that did not result in a sex-offense conviction....” Dykstra was denied basic due process protections, including “written ... or even verbal notice,” “an opportunity to present witnesses or documentary evidence” and “a written statement of the specific evidence relied upon and the reasons for his own classification.” The Iowa Supreme Court was unable to determine on the record before it “whether the decision maker was sufficiently impartial.”

The Court also recognized that while “due process does not prohibit use of polygraph examinations in all contexts, there may be circumstances where use of a polygraph examination would likely violate a prisoner’s due process rights.” Although it ultimately left “the decision to admit polygraph evidence at a classification hearing to the discretion of IDOC,” the Supreme Court observed that the “IDOC likely cannot replace procedural protections with a polygraph examination or rely solely on a polygraph examination without violating due process.” See: Dykstra v. Iowa Dist. Court for Jones County, 783 N.W.2d 473 (Iowa 2010).

In a companion case issued the same day, the Iowa Supreme Court held that removing a prisoner from SOTP based solely on the results of a polygraph examination violated his due process rights.

Rory Reilly was convicted of a sex offense involving a child and began serving his sentence in December 2005. The IDOC determined that he “was required to participate in SOTP. As part of the treatment, IDOC administered a specific issue polygraph examination to Reilly because Reilly’s account of his sexual offense differed in some way from his victim’s account. Reilly failed the polygraph examination, and IDOC removed him from SOTP because of the failed polygraph test.”

As a result, Reilly lost his ability for earned time sentence reductions under § 903A.2 (2005), moving his discharge date from March 20, 2008 to June 13, 2010. “Reilly was later reinstated into SOTP, and his discharge date was changed to May 27, 2008. Therefore, his temporary removal from SOTP added approximately two months to Reilly’s sentence.”

The Court concluded that “although removal from SOTP implicates a liberty interest, it is a lesser interest than the initial classification decision requiring an inmate to participate in SOTP.” As held in Dykstra, the latter requires the due process protections articulated in Wolff v. McDonnell, 418 U.S. 539, 94 S.Ct. 2963 (1974), but in this case the Court concluded that the former requires only the lesser protections mandated by Greenholtz v. Inmates of Neb. Penal & Corr. Complex, 442 U.S. 1, 99 S.Ct. 2100 (1979). That is, the “IDOC must provide (1) advance notice allowing the inmate time to secure documents or prepare a statement, (2) an opportunity to present documentary evidence, letters, or make statements before the decision-maker, and (3) an explanation for the reasons behind any removal decision. Additionally, although not contested in Greenholtz, it is a fundamental element of due process that the decision-makers be ‘sufficiently impartial.’”

The Supreme Court found that the process employed by the IDOC to remove Reilly from SOTP failed to comply with “three of the four” required safeguards. He was not given advance notice, allowed to present documentary evidence or make a statement to the decision-makers, and the IDOC did not fully explain the reason for his removal from the program. Therefore, Reilly’s due process rights were violated.

Noting that Dykstra had held “that use of a polygraph substitute for procedural protections or as the sole evidence for deprivation of a liberty interest may implicate constitutional concerns,” the Iowa Supreme Court found that “decisions or hearings regarding removal from SOTP may consider polygraph examinations as a factor influencing the removal decision because polygraph examinations serve a rehabilitative purpose within treatment.” See: Reilly v. Iowa Dist. Court for Henry County, 783 N.W.2d 490 (Iowa 2010).

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Related legal cases

Dykstra v. Iowa Dist. Court for Jones County

Reilly v. Iowa Dist. Court for Henry County

Holm v. Iowa Dist. Ct.