State Plans Push for Harsher Terms; JUVENILES Two Cases from North Florida Are Headed for the Supreme Court

Article excerpt

Byline: PAUL PINKHAM

Sentencing juveniles as adults is an appropriate way to fight crime and is for Florida lawmakers, not federal courts, to decide, state lawyers will argue when the U.S. Supreme Court considers the issue in a Jacksonville case in November.

The state's position, outlined in a 63-page brief by the Florida Attorney General's Office, is bolstered by organizations who filed seven supporting briefs in Washington this week.

They include a coalition of victims groups, the National District Attorneys Association and 19 other state attorneys general, all opposing a Jacksonville inmate who is challenging life prison sentences without parole for juveniles convicted of non-homicides.

The Supreme Court agreed in May to hear arguments in two North Florida cases to decide whether life without parole for juveniles in non-homicides is unconstitutional cruel and unusual punishment.

One case involves Terrance Jamar Graham, now 22, who was 16 when he committed an armed burglary in Jacksonville. He initially received probation but was sentenced to life for violating its terms by committing a series of armed robberies.

The other appellant is Joe Sullivan, who was 13 when he raped a woman in Pensacola 20 years ago.

Many of the arguments advanced by lawyers for Graham and Sullivan track the Supreme Court's 2005 decision to abolish the death penalty for juveniles. They contend juveniles aren't mentally developed enough to appreciate the consequences of their actions, that life sentences for juveniles are disproportionate and that they violate international law.

In the state brief, Florida Solicitor General Scott Makar argues that the courts have always distinguished between the death penalty and, outside the 2005 opinion, have never exempted an entire class of people from a sentencing provision. …