Jacksonville teen’s life sentence for 2010 murder overturned by appeals court

A state court has overturned the life sentence of a Jacksonville teen who was 16 when he robbed and stabbed a man to death in 2010. The 1st District Court of Appeal overturned the sentence last week because of a 2012 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that found life sentences without parole for juveniles were unconstitutional, according to a report in the Florida Times-Union.

The reversal is the latest sticky issue when it comes to sentencing juveniles in Jacksonville and all over the state of Florida. Life sentences for crimes other that murder were already determined unconstitutional, and it was a Jacksonville Juvenile Gun Crimes case that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on to establish precedent. With murder added, it directly conflicts with Florida law that requires anyone convicted of first-degree murder to be sentenced to either life in prison or the death penalty. The appellate court did not specify what should be done in the next sentence for Thomas Partlow, who along with two friends robbed a man of $3 and then stabbed and killed him, the newspaper reported.

The larger issue that will likely have to be addressed then is whether the state will be able to charge youth as adults in first-degree murder cases. Jacksonville was once more in the national spotlight after local prosecutors charged 12-year-old Cristian Fernandez with first-degree murder in 2011 in connection with the death of his 2-year-old half-brother. Lawyers for Fernandez have sought to have the charge dropped because of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling, but the motion was denied. Fernandez is scheduled for trial in March.

In Jacksonville Juvenile Crime cases, the state has the power to charge youth as adults, and typically does so in violent cases or cases involving guns. The practice is known as “direct filing” and has increased dramatically in Clay, Duval and Nassau counties in recent years. The discretion is solely up to the prosecutors. And once someone is charged as an adult, they can be sentenced to prison and be in the same population as adults who have been convicted of crimes. If the Jacksonville juvenile crime case stays in juvenile court, any incarceration would be done in a youth facility, not in an adult prison.

There could be as many as 260 other cases in Florida like Partlow’s that would need another sentencing, the newspaper reported. Appellate courts have been split about whether cases like Partlow’s where the sentence was decided before the Supreme Court decision are even subject to the law. It will be interesting to see where the courts end up in coming months. Wherever the decision lands, it will likely have a dramatic impact on the charging, prosecuting and sentencing of Jacksonville juvenile crimes.

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 Juvenile Crimes Attorney, Victoria “Tori” Mussallem, is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.