Florida Sentencing Blog

A discussion of contemporary law, policy, and practice in Florida criminal sentencing.

Comment: Miller, Graham, and Resentencing of Juveniles Sentenced Under Mandatory Sentencing Schemes

with one comment

Hon. William H. Burgess, III, B.C.S.

Miller v. Alabama 1 provides little guidance on how to proceed with resentencing juveniles convicted under mandatory sentencing schemes. Under Miller, while a sentence of life without parole remains constitutional in homicide cases, the sentencing court must be free to impose a lesser sentence when the defendant’s youth or the circumstances of the crime so indicate. Florida Statutes, however, do not currently provide for lesser sentences in first-degree murder cases. Miller has thus opened a breach in Florida’s sentencing statutes. The rule adopted by the First and Third Districts has been for the court to exercise restraint and for the parties to make their case before the trial court, where testimony may be taken, evidence presented, and argument made on all material issues to include the potential range of sentencing options.2

Note that the appellate courts of Florida have held that Miller does not apply retroactively because that decision does not affect the determination of guilt or innocence and does not cast doubt on the integrity of the original trial proceeding, and so is a procedural rather than a substantive change in sentencing law.3 Federal and state courts are, however, sharply divided on the issue.4

In the wake of Graham v. Florida,5 the appellate courts been faced with the question of sentences involving terms-of-years that were the functional equivalent of a life sentence, and a conflict has emerged between the Second, Fourth and Fifth District Courts on the one hand and the First District Court on the other. The Second, Fourth and Fifth Districts have approved sentences of 60-,6 65-,7 90-,8 100-9 and 150-years10 as not being violative of the Eighth Amendment. The First District has, however, adopted the following rule of law: First, Graham applies not only to life without parole sentences, but also to lengthy term-of-years sentences that amount to de facto life sentences; and second, a de facto life sentence is one that exceeds the defendant’s life expectancy based upon statistical evidence presented at sentencing.11

The rule of Graham does not extend to persons whose age at the time of their crimes was greater than 18 years, nor to those who were more than 18 years old but had a mental age of less than 18 or were otherwise mentally or developmentally delayed.12 Furthermore, Graham did not prohibit all life sentences for juvenile nonhomicide offenders, it does not require a resentencing court to use a juvenile nonhomicide offender’s resentencing hearing as the “meaningful opportunity” to seek release based on rehabilitation and maturity, it did add “maturity and rehabilitation” as grounds for downward departure under Florida’s sentencing statutes.13 Where a juvenile defendant is convicted of both a homicide and nonhomicide offense which arose out of single criminal episode, a sentence of life without parole on the nonhomicide offense falls squarely within the exception created in Graham, permitting the imposition of such a sentence for a juvenile who committed both homicide and nonhomicide crimes, and nothing in Graham requires that the sentence on the homicide equal or exceed the sentence on the nonhomicide offense in order for the sentences to be lawful.14 Note that Graham is retroactive, as it imposed a substantive prohibition of life-without-parole upon minors for nonhomicide offenses.15 The different approaches to Graham are now before the Florida Supreme Court.16

FOOTNOTES

1 Miller v. Alabama, — U.S. —, 132 S. Ct. 2455, 183 L. Ed. 2d 407 (2012).

2 See, Washington v. State, 103 So. 3d 917 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 1st Dist. 2012); Hernandez v. State, — So. 3d —, 2013 WL 1136434 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 3d Dist. 2013).

3 Gonzalez v. State, 101 So. 3d 886 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 1st Dist. 2012); Geter v. State, — So. 3d —, 2012 WL 4448860 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 3d Dist. 2012); see also, Kennedy v. State, 106 So. 3d 512 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 5th Dist. 2013) (PCA citing Geter).

4 See, Falcon v. State, — So. 3d —, 2013 WL 1809742 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 1st Dist. 2013), n. 1.

5 Graham v. Florida, 560 U.S. 48, 130 S. Ct. 2011, 176 L. Ed. 2d 825 (2010).

6 Guzman v. State, — So.3d —, 2013 WL 949889 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 4th Dist. 2013) (trial court’s imposition of 60-year sentence on juvenile offender did not constitute cruel and unusual punishment).

7 Walle v. State, 99 So. 3d 967 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 2d Dist. 2012) (sentence of 65 years for defendant, who was 13 when he committed 18 non-homicide offenses, including armed kidnapping, armed sexual battery with a deadly weapon, and carjacking with a deadly weapon, which sentence was to run consecutively to previously imposed concurrent sentences totaling 27 years, did not violate the Eighth Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment, where defendant was sentenced for multiple convictions, sentence was for a term of years, and there was nothing in the record to indicate that a 65-year sentence equated to life imprisonment).

8 Henry v. State, — So.3d —, 2012 WL 162005 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 5th Dist. 2012).

9 Johnson v. State, — So.3d —, 2013 WL 1007663 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 5th Dist. 2013).

10 Mediate v. State, — So.3d —, 2013 WL 757623 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 5th Dist. 2013) (sentence of 130 years’ imprisonment imposed on juvenile convicted of kidnapping and sexual battery did not constitute de facto life sentence in violation of Eighth Amendment).

11 See, Adams v. State, — So.3d —, 2012 WL 3193932 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 1 Dist. 2012) (sentence, which required defendant, aged 16 years and 10 months at the time he committed attempted first-degree murder, armed burglary, and armed robbery, to serve at least 58.5 years in prison, was a de facto life sentence imposed on a juvenile for non-homicide offenses, thus violating Eighth Amendment); Smith v. State, 93 So. 3d 371 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 1st Dist. 2012) (affirming an 80–year sentence for a 17–year–old defendant); Floyd v. State, 87 So. 3d 45 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 1st Dist. 2012) (reversing an 80–year sentence for a 17–year–old defendant); Thomas v. State, 78 So.3d 644 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 1st Dist. 2011) (affirming a 50–year sentence with a 25–year minimum mandatory for a 17–year old-defendant); Gridine v. State, 89 So.3d 909 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 1st Dist. 2011) (affirming a 70–year sentence with a 25–year minimum mandatory for a 14–year–old defendant).

12 Romero v. State, 105 So. 3d 550 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 1st Dist. 2012).

13 See, Young v. State, — So. 3d —, 2013 WL 614247 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 2d Dist. 2013).

14 Lawton v. State, — So. 3d —, 2013 WL 811661 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 3d Dist. 2013).

15 See, Gonzalez v. State, 101 So. 3d 886 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 1st Dist. 2012).

16 See, Gridine v. State, 103 So. 3d 139 (Fla. 2012) (SX12-1223); Henry v. State, 107 So. 3d 405 (Fla. 2012) (SC12-578).

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  1. […] Comment: Miller, Graham, and Resentencing of Juveniles Sentenced Under Mandatory Sentencing Schemes (floridasentencing.wordpress.com) […]


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