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Juvenile Sentences are Redefined under Florida Supreme Court Ruling

A recent Florida Supreme Court ruling is seen as a victory for those juvenile inmates who are currently serving extensive sentences in prison. Under the new ruling made by the Florida Supreme Court, the sentencing guidelines for juveniles who were charged as adults will reflect the leniency that the criminal justice system is trying to give to young inmates who made terrible mistakes as teenagers. This recent ruling bars the court from sentencing juveniles, who are being tried as adults for nonhomicide crimes, to life sentences (or sentences that meaningfully will encumber the juvenile’s life such as sentences of 70 years). The sentencing guidelines also require that juveniles who are convicted of homicide may not be sentenced to life without parole, but may be sentenced to 35 years with the opportunity for review within 25 years.

The Florida Supreme Court Rulings

The cases, which led to the Florida’s Supreme Court ruling, dealt with an appeal for two juveniles who were sentenced to 70 and 90 years in prison. Due to the immaturity and underdevelopment of the brains of these juveniles at the time of the crime, the court ruled that life sentences without parole for nonhomicide crime constituted cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment. In addition, it would impede the ability of these juveniles to have a meaningful opportunity to be rehabilitated, thus negating the purpose of the prison system in the first place. Locking the door and throwing out the key on these juveniles who made such terrible mistakes at a time when their ability to fully appreciate their actions would be an injustice.

The Eighth Amendment: Prohibition of Cruel and Unusual Punishment

The Eighth Amendment is a right under the U.S. Constitution to prohibit the government from imposing cruel and unusual punishment, or more specifically, any punishment that would be overly excessive and does not adequately fit the crime. In this case, the Florida Supreme Court found that sentencing juveniles to significant prison sentences would be cruel and unusual punishment.

The New Sentencing Guidelines for Juveniles

Under the new law, juveniles charged as adults for nonhomicide crimes would be permitted to have their sentence reviewed within 25 years of their prison sentence, especially where the juvenile may show that he or she has matured, has been rehabilitated, and could be a productive member of society. Specifically, depending on the crime and the severity of the offense, the juvenile offenders, under this new ruling, would be able to have their sentencing reviewed within 15, 20, and 25 years.

Factors Courts Will Weigh When Deciding Juvenile Sentences

As a result of the new ruling, almost 200 people will be affected, and the Florida Supreme Court gave juvenile offenders who fit into this situation two years to make an appeal for a resentencing. For those who committed homicide and other related capital felonies, the court’s sentencing may be based on a variety of factors and will determine whether life imprisonment is appropriate. The following are some of the circumstances that the court must evaluate:

  • The severity and the circumstances surrounding the offense committed by the juvenile defendant;
  • The juvenile’s age, intellectual capacity, maturity, and emotional/mental health at the time of the offense;
  • The extent to which the above traits of the juvenile affected his/her ability to appreciate the consequences of his/her actions;
  • Any prior criminal history and its effect on the present crime; and
  • The likelihood that the defendant may be rehabilitated, among others.

Experienced Criminal Defense Attorney in Fort Lauderdale

Unfortunately, youthful indiscretions and hijinks can have a significant impact on the youth’s life and aspirations. Sometimes at such a young age, one is unable to fully appreciate the consequences of one’s actions. If your child has been involved in a crime, an experienced criminal defense attorney like Kevin J. Kulik is the right person to be on your child’s side. Contact Kevin J. Kulik today for a free and confidential consultation in the Fort Lauderdale area.

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