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Saturday, June 15, 2024 | Back issues
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Retroactive Relief to Fla. Juvies Serving Life

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (CN) - With the U.S. Supreme Court having found that life sentences for juvenile offenders are unconstitutional, Florida's highest court vacated several sentences after deciding to apply the holding retroactively.

It has been nearly three years since Miller v. Alabama made it unconstitutional for courts to impose mandatory life sentences without the possibility of parole for juvenile murderers.

The decision relied on the 2010 case Graham v. Florida, a case that threw out life sentences for juveniles convicted of nonhomicide offenses.

Critical to its finding was the understanding that juveniles are more vulnerable to negative outside influences than adults, but also possess a greater potential for change.

With 270 juvenile offenders facing life in prison, a new Florida law took effect on July 1, 2014, to bring the state's sentencing statutes into compliance with the Supreme Court precedent.

That legislation did not address, however, juvenile offenders whose sentences for crimes committed prior to July 1, 2014, violate Miller. An appellate panel thus asked the state's high court to determine this remedy.

Following in the footsteps of eight states - Mississippi, Massachussets, Iowa, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Illinois, Texas and Wyoming - the Sunshine State's highest court vacated four sentences that it found now violate the Eighth Amendment.

Rebecca Lee Falcon, Anthony Duwayne Horsley Jr., Shimeeka Daquiel Gridine and Leighdon Henry are the inmates in the four cases.

While the first two caught life sentences in connection to first-degree murder convictions, Gridine was sentenced to a 70 years for attempted first-degree murder, and Henry was sentenced to life as a 17-year-old for multiple counts of sexual battery and other offenses.

Falcon was 15 when she participated in the 1997 robbery that resulted in the death of a cab driver. The ruling in her case cites testimony about Falcon's traumatic childhood, including sexual and emotional abuse at the hands of her stepfather, and "continued sexual exploitation from peers at school." She committed the fatal 1997 robbery on the night she was dumped by a boyfriend she saw as "the first person who seemed to care for" her.

Horsley was 17 when he participated in a fatal convenience store robbery, and Henry was 17 as well.

Looking at Gridine, just 14 at the time of his crime, the court said he was "denied a meaningful opportunity for early release in the future."

The American Civil Liberties Union says the United States is the only country in the world that allows children to be locked away for life.

As of today, 2,750 juvenile offenders have been sentenced to life in the United States, with 270 in Florida.

The Supreme Court has taken up two cases , both from Louisiana, on retroactively applying Miller.

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