Florida Supreme Court Once Again Reverses Itself & Decides That Juveniles Can Be Sentenced for More Than 20 Years
The Florida Supreme Court has once again made an astonishing decision reversing its previous decision on what constitutes cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. After shocking the state and, indeed, the entire country when, in January, it found that the court erred in 2016 when it ruled that a jury must be unanimous in sentencing a defendant to death, in March, the court reversed yet another decision, this time the one that banned life sentences that failed to provide a meaningful opportunity for early release for juveniles convicted of non-homicide crimes. According to the majority opinion, in doing so, to the extent that the court previously instructed that resentencing be provided for all juvenile offenders serving sentences longer than 20 years without the opportunity for early release based on judicial review, the court pointed out that this was done in error.
The Case & Decision
The case involved a 17-year-old who was convicted in 2003 of murder. She accepted a plea deal and was sentenced to 40 years in prison. Now aged 37, 20 years later, she asked the court to revisit her sentence because it was imposed without individual consideration of her youth. However, all of the higher courts that reviewed her sentence found it to be constitutional because even though her youth and its characteristics were not considered in the original sentencing, they found that it could not be unconstitutional because she was not sentenced to life in prison.
However, as pointed out by the dissent in the case, the decision does not make sense because, had the defendant plead guilty to first-degree murder and received a mandatory life sentence, she would have been entitled to resentencing and been eligible for judicial review of her sentence after 25 years. It is also worth noting that the decision is completely antithetical to all of the research that originally led the US Supreme Court to do away with lifetime incarceration for juveniles, except in very rare circumstances.
What Does This Mean About Future Criminal Defense Trials in Florida?
This is the court’s second major decision backtracking on progress when it comes to criminal justice issues since the sharp ideological shift on the court following governor Ron DeSantis’ appointment of three conservative justices last year. These decisions also represent a significant departure from stare decisis, which entails the court respecting and relying on previous court decisions or “precedent.” This could be an indication that criminal defense laws and decisions that we have long considered to be settled could now be subject to change.
The question of what comes next is a serious one that was also raised in the death penalty case, as the legislature was winding down at the time of that decision and lawmakers did not indicate any desire to change the law in response to the court’s decision. In this case, the Florida legislature already revamped sentencing laws for juveniles six years ago and, one year after that, the Florida Supreme Court ordered all judges to apply those laws retroactively to any and all inmates who had been sentenced to life as juveniles.
If Your Loved One Is Facing Charges in Florida, You Need the Very Best in Juvenile Defense
If your child or loved one has been charged with a serious offense, it is now more important than ever that you retain the very best Orlando juvenile crime attorney to ensure that their rights are protected. At The Baez Law Firm, we pride ourselves on providing the very best in criminal defense services. Contact us today to find out more.