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Iowa SOTP Requirement Does Not Violate Fifth Amendment

The Iowa Supreme Court has held that prison officials do not violate the Fifth Amendment by depriving convicted sex offenders of earned-time sentence reductions when they refuse to participate in a sex offender treatment program (SOTP) that requires them to admit their guilt.

On March 21, 2006, Iowa resident Robert Harkins was convicted of a sex offense and sentenced to 10 years in prison. After his conviction was affirmed on appeal, the district court imposed a special life sentence pursuant to Iowa Code § 903B.1 in addition to the 10-year sentence.

While incarcerated at the Mount Pleasant Correctional Facility, Harkins was on the waiting list for an SOTP. A position in the SOTP became available on July 2, 2008, but eligibility was contingent on Harkins signing a “Treatment Contract” that required him to agree “to be completely honest and assume full responsibility for [his] offenses and [his] behavior.”

Harkins refused to sign and thus could not participate in the SOTP. The Iowa Department of Corrections (IDOC) responded on July 9, 2008 by suspending his earned-time pursuant to Iowa Code § 903A.2(1)(a) (2007). Under that statute, “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 [IDOC] director.”

Harkins filed a state court action, arguing that “suspension of his earned-time credits for failure to participate in the SOTP violated his Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination.”

The district court held “that by conditioning Harkins’ earned time upon his participation in the SOTP, in which Harkins would be required to acknowledge his criminal conduct, the State was unconstitutionally compelling Harkins to give testimony” against himself. The court found, however, that the three-year statute of limitations for perjury expired on March 21, 2009, after which time Harkins’ admission of guilt, which conflicted with his testimony at trial, would no longer be potentially incriminating. As such, “the district court ordered Harkins’ earned time to be reinstated from July 9, 2008 through March 21, 2009, but suspended as of March 22, 2009, until he participated in and completed the SOTP.”

Both Harkins and the State appealed to the Iowa Supreme Court. Following an extensive analysis of the Fifth Amendment in McKune v. Lile, 536 U.S. 24, 122 S.Ct 2017 (2002) [PLN, Oct. 2002, p.8] and numerous federal and state court decisions that applied McKune in similar cases, the Supreme Court found no Fifth Amendment violation.

“Harkins had every right not to be a witness against himself, a right he actually chose to waive at trial by taking the stand,” the Court noted. “Now that he has been convicted as a sex offender, though, the State of Iowa may constitutionally establish an incentive for him to obtain treatment in prison by withholding earned-time credits if he declines to participate.”

Accordingly, the Iowa Supreme Court vacated the district court’s order reinstating Harkins’ earned-time between July 9, 2008 and March 21, 2009. See: State of Iowa v. Iowa District Court for Webster County, 801 N.W.2d 513 (Iowa 2011), rehearing denied.

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Related legal case

State of Iowa v. Iowa District Court for Webster County