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University of Iowa News Release


Sept. 11, 2007

Law professor to help revise Iowa criminal code

University of Iowa law professor James Tomkovicz will help the Iowa legislature revamp the state's criminal code for the first time in almost 30 years.

Tomkovicz, an expert in criminal law and procedure, has been appointed to the legislature's Criminal Code Reorganization Study Committee, a 15-member group that will review the entire Iowa Criminal Code and recommend changes to the state legislature.

The revision process, the first since 1978, is expected to take two to four years. Though the scope of the committee's work has not yet been determined, Tomkovicz hopes the committee opts for an extensive revision of the state's criminal laws.

"The Iowa code lacks coherence, and we aren't going to fix the problems by just making isolated changes here and there," Tomkovicz said. "The incoherence is in part due to the many piecemeal modifications and additions made by the state legislature over the past 30 years. There are also many ambiguities and gaps in the code that create difficult problems of interpretation for lawyers and courts. I hope that we can formulate and propose a comprehensive revision that addresses and resolves most of the deficiencies."

For instance, Tomkovicz said the code's minimum and mandatory sentencing statutes should be reconsidered in an effort to help ease prison overcrowding.

"Prisons are crowded and that situation is only going to get worse," he said. "Unless the state wants to invest in new prisons, something needs to be done about the use of incarceration as a sanction. One way to address the issue is to examine whether sentencing has become excessive, as some suggest, and to make it more proportionate while still ensuring that the people of the state are adequately protected against those who are dangerous and need to be isolated."

The Iowa code also offers little guidance to judges and attorneys in many areas of the law in which guidance could be helpful. For instance, the code offers no specific rules regarding the liability of accomplices for the crimes committed by others.

"It would be helpful if the code specified as clearly and definitively as possible the requirements for charging one person with another's criminal acts," said Tomkovicz. "Right now, difficult issues of accomplice liability must first be determined by trial judges as each case arises. This is just one of the many areas that the legislature should address so that the courts have the guidance they need to reach consistent and sensible results."

The study committee will be made up of three members of the House of Representatives, three members of the Senate, and nine others from the state's legal community, including professors, judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys and corrections officials. The committee is chaired by Sen. Keith Kreiman, D-Bloomfield, and Rep. Kurt Swaim, D-Bloomfield. Both are University of Iowa law school graduates.

Tomkovicz has taught law at Iowa since 1982 and is one of the country's leading criminal law scholars. He is a co-author of the casebook "Criminal Procedure: Constitutional Constraints Upon Investigation and Proof" and the treatise "The Right to the Assistance of Counsel." He has also written several amicus curiae briefs in cases before the U.S. Supreme Court.

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Service, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 371, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500.

MEDIA CONTACT: Tom Snee, University News Services, 319-384-0010,