Supreme Court rules against life sentences for juveniles – even in murder cases

A United States Supreme Court ruling this week will pave the way for a resentencing in one of Jacksonville’s most notorious murder cases – the 1998 killing of 8-year-old Maddie Clifton. The high court last week shot down mandatory life sentences for juveniles convicted of first-degree murder – and there are differences of opinions locally on whether or not it completely forbids any life sentence for a juvenile, according to a report in the Florida Times-Union. This the second major Supreme Court ruling as it relates to juveniles in Jacksonville. The first, in 2011, was based on a Jacksonville case and abolished life sentences for juveniles convicted of anything but murder. Criminal defense attorneys argued the decision made it illegal to sentence a juvenile to life in prison for anything, though prosecutors said they interpreted it to mean judges still had the discretion to impose a life sentence, the newspaper reported. Before the ruling, anyone indicted on a first-degree murder charge, regardless of age, is subject to a mandatory life prison sentence if convicted.

The science that has been brought up repeatedly is that the brain is not fully developed to understand the consequences of such behavior. A similar finding emerged last week in the case of Cristian Fernandez, now 13, charged with first-degree murder in the beating death of his 2-year-old half-brother. The state is planning on trying Fernandez first on Jacksonville Sexual Battery Charges against another stepbrother, but a psychiatrist found Fernandez was unable to understand his Miranda rights when they were read to him – key testimony in a pending decision about whether the interviews and alleged confession will be brought in at trial.

The Supreme Court ruling also means another sentencing for Josh Phillips, convicted of brutally beating and stabbing his neighbor when he was 14 years old. He has already served 14 years in prison. The Jacksonville State Attorney at the time told the Times-Union this week that if he had it to do again, he would have left the sentencing discretion with the judge and not forced the court’s hand with the mandatory life sentence. Recent high court decisions are moving toward reduced sentences for juveniles, while in Clay County, Duval County and Nassau County, the trend seems to be moving in the opposite direction. Jacksonville Juvenile Crimes are very serious and can without question have a lasting impact on the life of the youth who is charged and convicted. There are numerous options – from diversionary programs to incarceration – for teens charged with serious crimes and our Jacksonville Juvenile Crimes Attorney has represented thousands of teens and knows all of the possible sentences and programs available. Our Jacksonville juvenile crimes lawyer is committed to working toward the best possible scenario so the teen can do his or her punishment that is deserved, but move on with his or her life and not have a mistake dragging them down the rest of their life.

If you or a loved one needs a Juvenile 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 Juvenile Lawyer is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.