Among many other states, Florida sentences juveniles to life without the possibility of parole. In 2009, the United States Supreme Court narrowed judges’ ability to sentence a juvenile to life without being eligible for release through parole. The Court listened to two Florida juvenile appeals. As a Jacksonville juvenile lawyer, the case of State v. Graham hit close to home. In this case, a juvenile criminal defendant in Duval County was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole for armed burglary in Jacksonville. In Graham, the Supreme Court held that the Duval County judge should not have sentenced this juvenile to life in prison. The Court reasoned that sending a juvenile to prison for life without parole was cruel and usual for non-homicide crimes. This Duval County juvenile case was reversed. Read Jacksonville Juvenile Criminal Case Prohibits Harsh Sentencing for Florida Juvenile Charges for more information.
On March 20, 2012, the United States Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Miller v. Alabama, another landmark juvenile criminal case. On June 25, 2012, the Supreme Court released its ruing. The Court has long held that “the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment ‘guarantees individuals the right not to be subjected to excessive sanctions.’” It has been established “that children are constitutionally different from adults for the purposes of sentencing.” “Juveniles have diminished culpability and greater prospects for reform… ‘they are less deserving of the most severe punishments.’” In Miller, the Supreme Court held that 8th Amendment of the United States Constitution “forbids a sentencing scheme that mandates life in prison without the possibility of parole for juvenile offenders.” The court reasoned, “The mandatory penalty schemes at issue here prevent the sentence from taking account of these central consideration…these laws prohibit a sentencing authority from assessing whether the law’s harshest term of imprisonment proportionately punishes a juvenile offender.”
There are two cases that Jacksonville juvenile attorneys will be following: (1) Christian Fernandez and (2) Joshua Phillips. In Fernandez’s case, he is the youngest child to be charged as an adult. He was only 12-years-old and charged with first-degree murder in Jacksonville, Florida. Joshua Phillips was charged with murder in Jacksonville at the age of 14. Since Phillips was convicted of first-degree murder of Maddie Cliffton, he was sentence to life in prison without parole. This was the minimum mandatory sentence for his charge. With the new juvenile Supreme Court ruling, this minimum mandatory prison sentence no longer exists.
The Florida Times Union reported on this issue:
“Shelia Delongis, Maddie’s mother, said she is angry that Phillips will get another day in court. Delongis said she wants him to die in prison, where he has spent more than 12 years…. Former State Attorney Harry Shorstein, who prosecuted Phillips, said he regrets in hindsight that Phillips had to be sentenced by law to life without parole….Shorstein said that science, coupled with reports that Phillips has been a model inmate, make him a good candidate for a rehearing.”
As a Jacksonville Criminal Defense Attorney, I agree with the Supreme Court’s ruling on juvenile cases. In my career as a Jacksonville criminal lawyer, I have represented people of all ages. Children and teenagers are different. They should be treated differently. I know that Maddie Cliffton’s mother has been suffering and will always deal with a huge void. Personally, I know Joshua Phillip’s mother. She has also been suffering and will have a hole in her heart that cannot be filled. Phillip’s should at least have the opportunity to be released. It does not mean that he should be released from prison immediately. This is why the case should be reviewed. It does not mean a juvenile charged with murder in Jacksonville should not face a heavy sentence. When a crime, such as murder, is committed, Florida juveniles will be punished. When it comes to children and teens, we need to also remember how important it is to rehabilitate these children.
In my practice as a Jacksonville lawyer, I have a quote that I try to live by: “If it feels wrong, it probably is wrong.” There is something that feels wrong about locking up a child and throwing away the key without giving it a second thought.