Lawmakers consider second restitution bill for people who kill their abusers

By: - February 16, 2023 2:58 pm

There is bipartisan support among state lawmakers to eliminate restitution requirements for sex trafficking victims. (Photo via Canva)

A small group of Iowa representatives on Thursday gave preliminary approval to a bill that would eliminate a requirement for the victims of human trafficking to pay $150,000 restitution if they are prosecuted for killing their abusers.

House File 125 was unanimously supported by a three-person judiciary subcommittee. It has a similar goal to a Senate bill that advanced last week but has different language to accomplish it.

Both bills are in response to a restitution order last year against a Des Moines teenager who said she was the victim of sex trafficking in 2020 and killed a man who sexually assaulted her. A judge gave Pieper Lewis a deferred judgment and probation in the murder case after she pleaded guilty to lesser charges but said he was required by state law to order her to pay $150,000 to the heirs of the man she killed.

Iowa law requires the restitution for people who are convicted of a felony if their crime causes the death of someone else.

The House bill, in its current form, would exempt people who are younger than 18 years old at the time of the crime or if the crime was “directly related to the offender being a victim of human trafficking.”

It received more-vigorous support from criminal justice advocates than the Senate bill, which doesn’t specify that an offender must be a victim of trafficking but rather the victim of a crime.

“The fact that it says it can be any crime — that seems a little broad,” Lisa Davis-Cook, who represents the Iowa Association for Justice, said last week of the Senate bill. Her organization is registered as “undecided” in its support of the Senate bill but is “for” the House bill.

Rep. Brian Meyer, a Des Moines Democrat who was a member of the House Judiciary subcommittee Thursday, said the bill should be modified to specify a procedure for determining whether restitution is necessary, “something that says the court shall hold a hearing regarding whether they find the offender was a victim of human trafficking by preponderance of the evidence or something like that.”

That would address county prosecutors’ concerns that were aired during a hearing about the Senate bill last week.

“At the time we get to sentencing, then are we going to have, in essence, a mini trial where the defense counsel is now going to try to prove their client was the victim of an offense?” Marion County Attorney Ed Bull said last week.

Meyer also questioned whether it was right to remove the restitution requirement for all offenders who are juveniles, as the House bill prescribes.

Another key difference between the House and Senate bills: The House bill says the restitution requirement “shall not apply” to juveniles and victims of human trafficking, whereas the Senate bill gives judges discretion about whether or not to impose restitution.

Ultimately, the House bill was recommended and will be subject to consideration and amendment by the full judiciary committee.

“I think the premise of the bill is fantastic,” said Rep. Henry Stone, a Forest City Republican who was part of the subcommittee. “It’s something that’s needed.”

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Jared Strong
Jared Strong

Senior reporter Jared Strong has written about Iowans and the important issues that affect them for more than 15 years, previously for the Carroll Times Herald and the Des Moines Register.