Reform Florida’s Juvenile Justice Laws and Life Sentences

US Supreme Court Juvenile Law

Governor of Massachusetts, Deval L. Patrick

This article should be read after the article on my Jacksonville lawyer blog entitled “Has Florida’s Juvenile Criminal Laws Ignored US Supreme Court?”  The prior article explains the Miller v. Alabama Supreme Court decision.  It discusses two very important Jacksonville murder cases.  It also shows how this Supreme Court case will affect Florida juvenile lawyers and Jacksonville criminal attorneys with future cases.  Even more importantly, I would like to discuss how it affects people that are depending on the legislature and courts to follow the reasoning behind Miller v. Alabama.  A friend of mine wrote something today that was eye-opening.   Her son is Joshua Phillips.  He was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for the 1998 murder of Maddie Cliffton.  He was only 14-years-old at the time of his conviction.  He has been in Florida State Prison ever since.  His mother stated:

“At the end of June, 2012, The United States Supreme Court ruled that my son Josh’s sentence of Life Without the Possibility of Parole, was unconstitutional, which meant, he like many other juveniles in his situation, need to be re-sentenced.  The wheels of justice move more slowly than I ever imagined they could. My son has been incarcerated from the age of 14 until now, nearly his 29th birthday. In November of 2012, he’d spent half his life in prison. When the ruling came down, I was ecstatic to the point of tears and weak knees, because it meant my son was coming home! But, now, months later, we are still waiting for something to happen in his case…. Where is Governor Rick Scott in all of this?”

Why did she state, “Where is Governor Rick Scott in all of this?” She is referring to Deval L. Patrick, the governor of Massachusetts.  He is following the US Supreme Court ruling to help children that have been given unfair sentences.  He is giving them a chance at rehabilitation.  I have a lot of respect for a man that proactively make a stance like this.  Here is the proposal that Governor Patrick made to the senate and house of representatives:

I am filing for your consideration legislation entitled, “An Act to Reform the Juvenile Justice System in the Commonwealth.”  On June 25, 2012, the United States Supreme Court ruled in Miller v. Alabama that mandatory criminal sentences of life in prison without the possibility of parole, imposed on juveniles who were less than eighteen when they committed their crimes, were unconstitutional.  Massachusetts law currently mandates life without parole for juveniles convicted of first degree murder.  Accordingly, our state law must change to comply with the Miller decision.

Like the Miller decision, this bill recognizes research establishing that the immaturity of the adolescent brain affects behavior, judgment and character.  Fair treatment of juveniles requires holding them accountable for their actions and ensuring public safety, while also taking into account their reduced maturity and difficulty controlling impulses.  This bill also recognizes the importance of providing juveniles with age-appropriate resources for rehabilitation.  To this end, I propose extending the juvenile court’s jurisdiction over juveniles from 17 to 18 years of age to provide young offenders with the services and oversight that are unique to the juvenile justice system.

This legislation furthers these goals by including the following provisions:
1. It addresses the Supreme Court’s holding in Miller v. Alabama by eliminating mandatory sentences of life without parole for a juvenile between the ages of 14 and 18 adjudicated as a youthful offender for first-degree murder.  Instead, the juvenile court may sentence these juveniles to either life with parole eligibility after 15 to 25 years served or to life without parole after first considering any mitigating factors and making written findings on specific mitigating factors.  In addition, if the juvenile was adjudicated as a youthful offender for murder in the first degree under the felony-murder rule or on a theory of joint venture, the juvenile could be eligible for parole after 10 to 25 years served, or sentenced to life without parole after the judge considers the mitigating factors, including the extent of the juvenile’s participation in the crime.
2. It returns the trial of juveniles accused of murder to the juvenile court where the juvenile court can employ its expertise in working with children.
3. In cases when a prosecutor intends to seek a sentence of life without parole for a juvenile accused of first degree murder, this legislation requires the prosecutor to notify the court and the defendant of that intent during or before the pretrial conference.
4. It requires that, prior to sentencing, the judge must hear evidence regarding the aggravating and mitigating factors and may only enter a sentence of life without parole if the judge finds, in writing, that there is clear and convincing evidence that the sentence is necessary for the safety of the public, is in the interest of justice, and a lesser sentence would not satisfy these interests.
5. It requires that a juvenile between the ages of 14 and 18 adjudicated as a youthful offender for second-degree murder be sentenced to life with parole eligibility after 15 years served.
6. It raises the age of criminal responsibility from 17 to 18 by increasing the maximum age for jurisdiction of the juvenile court and Department of Youth Services (DYS), in most cases raising the age limit from 17 to 18 years, and eliminating the jurisdiction of the Superior Court and District Court over 17 year-olds.
7. It amends the definition of CORI to exclude adjudications concerning juveniles under the age of 18, increased from age 17.
8. Finally, it allows for delinquent juveniles to voluntarily accept DYS post-discharge transitional services until age 21 and permits youthful offenders to voluntarily receive DYS post-discharge transitional services until age 23.

I urge your prompt consideration and enactment of this bill to bring Massachusetts into compliance with the Miller decision.  This legislation ensures the provision of age-appropriate services and makes genuine rehabilitation a more realistic prospect for youth.

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