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Juvenile sentencing compromise in the works

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Juvenile sentencing compromise in the works

The 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.

Rep. James “J.W.” Grant 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.

According to the Office of the State Courts Administrator, the proposed compromise:

* Authorizes 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;

* Requires 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;

* 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 (such as in cases of felony murder, when the defendant was present during a robbery, but the victim was actually killed by someone else);

* Provides sentence review for all juvenile offenders that vary in timing and frequency, depending on the severity of the offense;

* Requires a judge who concludes, after a sentence review, that an offender may be released to order five years of probation.

As Grant has described, he crafted the bill to “thread the needle” so that Florida law is no longer at odds with the 2010 landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Graham v. Florida. The case 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. Florida law also clashes with Miller v. Alabama, a 2012 Supreme Court opinion that expanded Graham, holding juveniles convicted of murder cannot be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

“Understand, that if we do not get something done this year, the [Florida] Supreme Court will be writing the law, and we don’t know what we will get,” Grant said April 1 on the House floor.

Before the compromise was reached, a key difference in the Senate version was there would be no sentence review hearing for juveniles who actually “pulled the trigger” and killed the victims.

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