New Case Law Applies to Jacksonville Florida Juvenile Cases

 

Duval County Criminal Lawyer

FL Sup Ct Rules on Juvenile Sentencing

Jacksonville juvenile criminal defendants who have been sentenced to life in prison will be receiving new sentences. Last week, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that “Florida inmates serving life sentences for crimes they committed as juveniles should be resentenced under guidelines that went into effect last year…. In four separate cases, the justices ordered lower courts to apply the 2014 law to inmates who, as juveniles, were sentenced in the past either to life in prison or to terms that would have effectively kept them behind bars until they die. Two of the inmates were convicted of murder.”

The United States Supreme Court ruled upon the issue of sentencing juveniles to life in prison a few years ago. Indeed, “the highly anticipated rulings settle the question of whether two seminal U.S. Supreme Court decisions that found life sentences for juveniles violate Eighth Amendment protections against cruel and unusual punishment should apply retroactively. Lower courts were divided on the retroactivity issue.”   In 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court heard a Florida juvenile case. This case, Graham v. Florida, resulted in the Supreme court ruling that “life sentences without a ‘meaningful opportunity’ for release for juveniles convicted of non-homicide crimes” violated the 8th Amendment. Two years later, the U.S. Supreme Court made a similar ruling in Miller v. Alabama. In this juvenile case, “the high court barred mandatory life sentences for juveniles convicted of murder. Juveniles can still face life sentences in such cases, but judges must weigh criteria such as the offenders’ maturity and the nature of the crimes before imposing that sentence.”

Based upon the U.S. Supreme Court decisions in Graham and Miller, the Florida Supreme court has concluded that these rulings should be applied retroactively. This means that many juveniles across the state of Florida will be entitled to new sentencing hearings. The Florida Supreme Court explained the reason for it’s ruling:

“‘The patent unfairness of depriving indistinguishable juvenile offenders of their liberty for the rest of their lives, based solely on when their cases were decided, weighs heavily in favor of applying the (U.S.) Supreme Court’s decision in Miller retroactively.’ Justice Barbara Pariente wrote in an opinion ordering a lower court to consider a new sentence for Rebecca Lee Falcon. Falcon is serving a life sentence for a 1997 murder committed during a botched robbery in Bay County, when she was 15.”

Falcon is just one of many defendants that will be resentenced. The Florida Supreme Court’s ruling will result in the resentencing of approximately 300 inmates. The resentencing will likely result in a reduced sentence for these defendants. WJCT news reported other juvenile cases in which the Florida Supreme Court granted sentencing review:

“Anthony Duwayne Horsley, who was convicted of first-degree murder in the 2006 shooting death of a convenience-store owner in Brevard County when Horsley was 17, was also granted another review…. The justices also ordered a resentencing for Leighdon Henry, who was tried as an adult for multiple non-homicide offenses, including sexual battery, committed when he was 17, and was sentenced to life in prison plus 60 additional years. After the Graham decision, Henry’s sentence was reduced to 90 years. But even the reduced sentence would not give Henry the opportunity for reform, Justice James E.C. Perry noted in a 12-page opinion. ‘We conclude that Graham prohibits the state trial courts from sentencing juvenile non-homicide offenders to prison terms that ensure these offenders will be imprisoned without obtaining a meaningful opportunity to obtain future early release during their natural lives based on their demonstrated maturity and rehabilitation,’ Perry wrote.”

Many Jacksonville criminal defense attorneys and Florida criminal lawyers agree with the court’s ruling. Nancy Daniels, a public defender in Florida, stated “It’s definitely a victory for child advocates who’ve been asking to get the Graham decision implemented in a widespread fashion.”

 

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