Change to Florida Juvenile Criminal Sentencing Laws

Jacksonville Juvenile Lawyer

FL legislature to change unconstitutional juvenile law

A Florida law that applies to Jacksonville juvenile criminal cases will be changing.  As many people know, a child may be charge as an adult if he or she is accused of a certain crime.  The most common example is the Cristian Fernandez murder case.  As a Jacksonville juvenile lawyer, I know that children are different than adults.  They do not make the same decisions.  A child does not think about things the same way as an adult.  The law recognizes that children must be treated differently than adults in the criminal justice system.  This is why children end up in Jacksonville juvenile delinquent court instead of adult felony or misdemeanor court.

The United State Supreme Court has held that children should also be treated differently in murder cases.  In Graham v. Florida, The U.S. Supreme Court “held that life in prison without parole is unconstitutional for juveniles who did not kill anyone, and there should be a meaningful opportunity for review whether they are rehabilitated and deserve earlier release.” After the Graham ruling, the Supreme Court took this logic a step further to apply to murder cases.  In Miller v. Alabama, the Supreme Court held that “juveniles convicted of murder cannot be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.”

Now, the Florida “Legislature is close to an agreement on a sentencing bill for juveniles who commit murder or other life felonies to bring Florida law into compliance with two U.S. Supreme Court decisions.”  The Florida Bar News stated:

“During a Senate session on April 11, Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Orange Park, announced that he and Rep. James “J.W.” Grant, R-Tampa, reached a compromise between SB 384 and HB 7035. The Senate substituted the House bill for the Senate bill, and adopted the compromise amendment. The bill may now be taken up by the Senate for a vote and sent back to the House for final passage.”

This proposed compromise has different components. First, it would authorize “judges to hold separate sentencing hearings to determine whether life imprisonment is appropriate, and specifies factors to be considered if such a hearing is held.”  The proposed law would also require “a minimum mandatory sentence of 40 years for first-degree murder if the offender actually killed, intended to kill, or attempted to kill the victim.”  Additionally, the proposed law “requires a minimum mandatory sentence of 20 years for first-degree murder if the offender did not actually kill, intend to kill, or attempt to kill the victim.”  This is usually seen in felony murder cases “when the defendant was present during a robbery, but the victim was actually killed by someone else.”   The proposed law further “provides sentence review for all juvenile offenders that vary in timing and frequency, depending on the severity of the offense.”  After the sentencing review, if the judge decides that a juvenile criminal defendant may be released, the defendant must serve five years of probation.

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