Boy charged with first-degree murder as 12-year-old pleads to lesser charge; will be released at 19

February 11, 2013

The nearly two-year saga and one of Jacksonville's most controversial court cases wrapped up last week when a boy charged with murder at age 12 pleaded guilty to reduced Jacksonville criminal charges on Friday. Cristian Fernandez pleaded guilty to manslaughter and aggravated battery in Duval County in the death of his 2-year-old half-brother in 2011, according to a report in the Florida Times-Union. As part of the plea agreement, Fernandez will serve his time in a juvenile jail until he turns 19. From there, he will be released and required to serve eight years on probation, with a possibility of early termination after five years, according to the newspaper report.

Because he was charged with first-degree murder, Fernandez was facing a mandatory life sentence, though life sentences for juveniles have been recently been put into flux by the U.S. Supreme Court. Fernandez was the youngest person ever to be charged with first-degree murder in Jacksonville and his age sparked national headlines and debate as to whether he was old enough to understand the crime and the charges. Fernandez was accused of beating his 2-year-old half-brother to death. His mother pleaded guilty last year to Jacksonville aggravated manslaughter for leaving the children alone and waiting eight hours to take the younger son to a hospital, the newspaper reported. Her sentence has been on hold awaiting the outcome of her son's case, the newspaper reported.

The key to this Jacksonville Violent Crimes case will end up being the eight years Fernandez is on probation in Jacksonville. The probation is specifically tied to the aggravated battery charge, the newspaper reported, which is very important in terms of probation. Under Florida law, if a person violates probation, a judge could sentence the defendant to the maximum penalty on their original crime. So let's take Fernandez as an example. Jacksonville Aggravated Battery is second-degree felony with a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison. If he violates, his maximum exposure is 15 years - minus however long he's already been on probation. He was originally charged with child abuse, which was a first-degree felony and carried a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison. That's a huge difference in this Jacksonville Violent Crimes case.

There is a laundry list of conditions in his probation, including no unsupervised contact with children under 16 and staying away from his other siblings unless they initiate contact. The biggest stumbling block in probation could be committing another crime - that's an automatic violation. Then, a judge would determine whether to put him back on probation or send him to prison, which would be adult prison this time. It's difficult to predict how people will respond after a lengthy sentence, especially someone who will have spent seven years institutionalized before his 19th birthday.

Probation can be a trap door for many defendants, depending on the terms. Some clients choose to take a longer sentence up front to avoid probation, knowing their chances of violating could be high. Our Jacksonville Probation Attorney can lay out every option and work to negotiate a deal that works best for the client and is hopefully something he or she can adhere to and get back on track.

If you or a loved one needs a criminal defense attorney in Jacksonville or the surrounding area, call The Mussallem Law Firm at (904) 365-5200 for a FREE CONSULTATION. Our Duval County Violent Crimes Attorney, Victoria "Tori" Mussallem, is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.