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Juvenile law in Florida set to change after Supreme Court ruling

Florida criminal courts may be in for some major adjustments after a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling. In contrast with Florida law, the high court held that mandatory life sentences for juveniles convicted of homicide are unconstitutional. Florida is one of 28 states that have such statutes in place regarding juvenile crimes, and the Supreme Court's recent ruling may have a widely felt impact on the juvenile law system in our state.

The high court's decision does not necessarily mean that juveniles cannot be sentenced to life without parole, but the ruling does mean that judges, prior to sentencing, must now consider a juvenile's age and the nature of the crime. Nevertheless, as of right now, Florida judges are in a bind. If they give a life sentence to a juvenile, they are in violation of the Supreme Court's ruling, but if the judges refrain from giving a life sentence in some cases, the judges are in violation of the state statutes.

Regarding these issues, there are two possible options for the Florida legislature. The first is to grant prisoners a resentencing hearing. Based on preliminary data, it is believed that about 250 inmates' sentences may be affected, but some public interest groups are still trying to calculate how many prisoners may be eligible for resentencing.

The second option is to pass legislation that grants individuals who were sentenced under the mandatory life-sentence statute the opportunity for parole. Either way, prisoners who were convicted of homicide as juveniles should be fully aware of their legal options.

Source:, "Life sentence rules uncertain for juveniles in Florida," The News-Service of Florida, July 1, 2012

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Andrew M. Coffey has been recognized as a Board Certified Civil Trial lawyer by the Florida Bar. Certification is the highest level of recognition by The Florida Bar of the competency and experience of attorneys in the areas of law approved for certification by the Supreme Court of Florida.

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