Criminal cases involving juvenile defendants can raise a number of tricky legal questions. Florida’s Third District Court of Appeal recently took up the case of a man who was sentenced to life in prison when he was a minor. The decision offers some important insight for anyone facing criminal charges as a juvenile, whether it’s for a Florida sex crime or another offense.
Defendant was 17 years old when he was charged with first degree murder in 1973. He eventually pled guilty to second-degree murder and was sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole. Defendant got that parole six years later, when he was let out of prison on supervised release. He was sent back to prison two years later after being convicted of cocaine possession and battery on a law enforcement officer. He was released on parole and sent back to prison two additional times over the next two decades.
In 2017, Defendant filed a motion seeking to correct his original life sentence. He argued that the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Miller v. Alabama and the Florida Supreme Court’s decision in Atwell v. State made it unlawful for a minor to be sentenced to life in prison. In Miller, the U.S. Supreme Court said that a juvenile can be sentenced to life in prison must receive some meaningful opportunity to obtain release based on demonstrated maturity and rehabilitation. In Atwell, the state’s highest court struck down a sentence for a juvenile who would not have had the opportunity for parole for some 140 years.