Florida Supreme Court throws out 70-year sentence for Jacksonville teen

The state Supreme Court this month tossed out a 70-year sentence given to a Jacksonville boy who was 14 at the time he committed an armed robbery.  The defendant, now 20, will have to be resentenced, as will likely hundreds of defendants across the state who received similar lengthy sentences, according to a report in the Florida Times-Union. The defendant was arrested in 2009 for shooting a gas station owner, the newspaper reported. The boy pleaded guilty to attempted first-degree murder and armed robbery. Both are first-degree felonies with possible sentences up to life in prison. The boy in this Jacksonville Juvenile Crimes Case was sentenced to 70 years in prison.

The Supreme Court ruled that the 70-year sentence for a teen was essentially a life sentence, and that went against the intent of a previous U.S. Supreme Court ruling. That decision banned life sentences for juveniles charged with any crime other than murder. When juveniles are sentenced to life in prison, a review must occur after 25 years. If a juvenile is not given a life sentence on a crime that would warrant one, such as murder, the minimum sentence is 35 years.  But for cases other than murder, the courts have not had clear direction on how teens should be resentenced and perhaps this Florida Supreme Court decision will provide more clarity. These decisions apply to teens who are charged with crimes as an adult – not simply teens who have relatively minor charges that stay within the juvenile court system. In many instances in Duval, Clay and Nassau counties, prosecutors will bypass the juvenile court system and immediately throw the case into adult court.

What the Florida Supreme Court is at least partially saying in this ruling is: juveniles who commit crimes cannot be treated exactly like adults. That’s why there is a separate detention and punishment system for teens – with five levels of detention, from house arrest on up to what’s essentially a prison for teens. That’s why there is a separate type of sentencing for Youthful Offenders, which can cap the time at six years for someone who commits a crime before the age of 21. Those years can be split among probation and prison with, for example, four years in prison and two years of probation – or any combination thereof.  Juveniles can commit serious felonies and, without question, should face punishment and be held responsible for their actions. But the state also must balance the mental capacity of a 14-year-old when issuing a sentence that will keep him in prison into his 80s.

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