Supreme Court Victory in Iowa
Unlike the recent court victory in North Dakota which was decided on constitutional grounds, the Iowa Supreme Court elected to not face the constitutional arguments in the Trucke case (Iowa v. Trucke, 410 NW 2d. 242). HSLDA President Michael Farris prepared the brief for the Trucke case, in which he challenged the enforcement of § 299.1 of the Iowa Code (the educational code which includes the certification requirement) on the grounds that it violated the Truckes’ rights under the First and Fourteenth amendments of the U.S. Constitution. But the court elected not to address these issues in its opinion, stating, “. . . we recognize a duty to avoid constitutional questions when the merits of a case may be fairly decided without facing them” (Trucke, page 2).
Instead, the court requested that Mike Farris submit a supplemental brief on the issue of premature charges being filed before an offense was actually committed under § 299.1. HSLDA has used this defense in subsequent cases, but the argument was not raised at the trial level in the Trucke case, so without the supreme court requesting to hear this argument, Mike Farris was prohibited from raising the issue. In the supplemental brief, Mike Farris showed that the statute requires parents to send their children to school for at least 120 days in each school year beginning with the first day of September. Therefore, by September 30, when the Truckes’ were charged with truancy, no parents could have possibly been in compliance with the law since only 30 days had passed in the school year.
The Iowa Supreme Court agreed with Mike Farris, and stated that “. . . no parent—including the Truckes—could be in compliance with the statute by September 30 of any given year, inasmuch as only thirty days of the school year had passed” (Trucke, page 6). The court further stated, “. . . the record before us on appeal reveals that an essential element of the offense (120 days school attendance) was completely omitted from the charging instrument and the criminal culpability of the defendants was thus determined upon what amounts to no more than anticipated violation of the statute” (ibid.). The court concluded that “elements such as time and the means by which an offense is committed are material ingredients of the offense” (Trucke, page 7), and therefore concluded that the charges against the Truckes, lacking these essential ingredients, “erroneously led to convictions based on crimes not yet committed” (ibid.). Based on this technical but crucial denial of criminal due process, the case was remained to the district court for dismissal. In conclusion, the court declared, “where criminal sanctions are invoked [against homeschoolers] the state cannot dispense with adherence to fundamental rules of criminal procedure” (Trucke, page 7).
Another HSLDA family, the Gieskes, were similarly charged with truancy and convicted at the trial level. Since they too were prematurely charged, their case will likely be won on appeal. This victory has created confusion and has rendered the statute unenforceable against the large majority of homeschoolers for the present. Hopefully this will provide incentive for the Iowa legislature to amend the law in favor of homeschooling.