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June 1, 2013
Measures dealing with the sentencing of juveniles die

When the hankies dropped signaling the end the legislative session, measures to amend the sentencing laws for juveniles who commit murder or other serious crimes ended for the year, too.

Sen. Rob Bradley SB 1350, sponsored by Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Orange Park, and HB 7137, sponsored by Rep. Ray Pilon, R-Sarasota, died before final votes could be taken on the floors of both chambers. The legislation addressed two recent U.S. Supreme Court rulings that called into question life sentences without parole that are given to juveniles tried as adults.

In 2010, the court, in Graham v. Florida, held that juveniles could not receive life sentences without the possibility of parole for non-homicide offenses. Then, last summer, the court in Miller v. Alabama ruled that juveniles convicted of murder could not automatically be sentenced to life without parole.

“They’ve said that our method of punishing juvenile offenders is unconstitutional. Therefore, we have an obligation to modify our juvenile statutes so they are consistent with the dictates of Graham and Miller,” Bradley said in committee.

Bradley contended his bill conformed Florida’s criminal statutes to the dictates of Miller and Graham by requiring that the judge in each type of case conduct a hearing after conviction and before sentencing to consider a variety of factors based on Miller and Graham. After that hearing, the judge could impose a non-life sentence in a capital murder case, but in no instance could the sentence be less than 50 years. In non-homicide cases and life felony cases, including felony murder, the judge could impose a sentence of up to 50 years. Pilon’s bill had similar language, and neither bill provided for any review of that sentence after a period of years to consider how the juvenile might have changed when he or she finished maturing.

On the Senate floor during the session’s last week, Sen. Rene Garcia, R-Hialeah, offered an amendment to allow juveniles sentenced to more than 50 years to have their sentence reviewed after serving 25 years.

Bradley argued against the amendment, saying that allowing for additional hearings would re-victimize the families who had lost loved ones by forcing them to come back for hearings and relive the crime. But the amendment passed 19-18.

After the bill was amended, it was temporarily postponed and never came back up for a final vote. The House bill expired while sitting on the House calendar.

According to the staff analysis for the Senate bill, there are 43 juvenile inmates who have received life sentences for non-homicide crimes; 222 who have received life sentences for capital murder; and 39 who received life sentences for second-degree murder who also could have received lesser sentences.

[Revised: 03-11-2014]