In four separate unanimous opinions, issued yesterday, the Florida Supreme Court has addressed issues relating to the United States Supreme Court's decisions in Miller v. Alabama, 132 S.Ct. 2455 (2012) and Graham v. Florida, 560 U.S. 28 (2010). In the face of questions relating to retroactivity of SCOTUS' rulings that trial courts may not impose life sentences upon juveniles, and many trial court's circumventing that decision by sentencing juveniles to terms of years which are tantamount to life sentences, our Supreme Court handed down decisions relating with separate, but uniquely important issues. The principal theory behind each of these cases is that to deny a juvenile a "meaningful opportunity at release" is a violation of the 8th Amendment prohibition against "cruel and unusual punishment."
In Falcon v. State, Case No. SC130865, the Court decided that the Miller decision was in fact applicable to juvenile offenders whose convictions and sentences were already final at the time Miller was decided, reversing the 1st DCA opinion in Falcon's case to the contrary. Justice Pariente, writing for the Court, determined that Miller constituted a development of fundamental significance and a change which places beyond the authority of the state the power to regulate certain conduct or impose certain penalties. Miller having satisfied all known tests for retroactivity, Miller applies retroactively.
In Horsely v. State, Case No. SC13-1938, Pariente and the Court double-downed on Falcon. Eschewing the state's theory of statutory revival of the prior statute of life with parole after 25 years, the Court ordered that Chapter 2014-220 Laws of Florida, passed by the legislature in response to Miller, also has to be applied retroactively.
Henry v. State, Case No. SC12-578, the juvenile defendant was sentenced to 90 years for multiple non-homicide offenses. The Court recognized that juveniles are a "special class of offenders" that require a mechanism for evaluating for demonstrable maturity and reform in the future because any term of imprisonment for a juvenile is qualitatively different than a comparable period of incarceration is for an adult. Resultantly, Mr. Henry's sentence violate Graham, Miller, and the 8th Amendment. Thus Henry was entitled to a full sentencing hearing and sentence in accord with Graham and Miller. The author of Henry, was Justice Perry.
Lastly, Gardine v. Florida, Case No. SC12-1223, also written by Justice Perry, applied this retroactivity to a trial court's attempt to circumvent Graham, a juvenile defendant charged with, and convicted of, Armed Robbery and Attempted 1st Degree Murder (the trial court interpreted Attempted 1st Degree Murder as a "homicide offense") and was given a 70 year sentence in a clear and unequivocal challenge to Graham's prohibition against life sentences. The Court first called out the trial judge by applying prior decisions that Attempted 1st Degree Murder is not a homicide offense since no one died. The Court then reversed the sentence because the sentence did not give the Defendant a "meaningful opportunity at release".
Henry relied upon Horsely. Gardine relied upon Henry.
The appropriate remedy is for all effected juveniles to seek relief under Rule 3.850. The remedy is to include a full sentencing hearing before the trial court, and to be sentenced in accord with decisions handed down with Falcon. You can be sure that this means a lot of work for our judges, many of whom are not guilty of imposing these illegal sentences, but are now charged with applying the remedy. To be sure, some will try hard to avoid the tough calls that need be made, and our DCA's will be busy correcting those attempts, but in the end they will get it right.
These are significant victories for the offices of the Public Defenders who fought so hard and valiantly to gain hope and justice for these, and all juveniles, in our prison system, who have been sentenced to life or long terms of incarceration tantamount to life terms. Maybe the idea of warehousing another whole generation of youthful offenders, a large majority of which are of color, has ended, and the ideal of rehabilitation may yet see a revival.