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Jail sentence for fight against face masks in Iowa raises questions over mandatory minimum sentences


A Des Moines man accused of starting a fight after being confronted with incorrectly wearing his face mask has been convicted of a felony and faces a mandatory 10-year prison sentence, as reported for the first time the Iowa Capital Dispatch.

Why is this important: The case raises the question of whether the punishment fits the crime and could result in legislative action, said Bob Rigg, law professor at Drake University at Axios.

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  • National calls have been made to reform mandatory minimum jail sentences for years, including in Iowa.

What happened: Shane Michael, 42, followed Mark Denning outside following a verbal exchange about Michael’s incorrect mask wearing at a DSM Vision 4 Less store in November, according to court testimony.

  • Michael then allegedly attacked, spat and coughed at Denning, shouting, “If I have it, you have it.”

  • Denning said he was stung in the eye and knelt in the groin by Michael. He also said he almost lost his eye, but a doctor said he would make a full recovery.

The results: Michael rejected a plea deal and was convicted this month of assault causing bodily harm, resulting in a decade in mandatory jail in Iowa.

  • The deal also reportedly erased the case from its record after two years on probation. “He took a hell of a risk putting this question to a jury,” Rigg said.

  • Michael will likely be eligible for a parole hearing within a year and could be released sooner, Rigg added.

And after: Sentencing is set for May 11.

This story first appeared in the Axios Des Moines newsletter, designed to help readers get smarter and faster on the most important news happening in their own backyard.

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