Minors' Life Sentences on Justices' List; the Supreme Court Will Hear Appeals in North Florida Cases

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Byline: PAUL PINKHAM

The U.S. Supreme Court agreed Monday to hear two North Florida cases to decide whether life sentences for juveniles in non-homicides are unconstitutional cruel and unusual punishments.

One of the cases involves a Jacksonville man who was 17 when he committed a 2004 home-invasion armed robbery during a rash of thefts of Hispanic laborers. Terrance Jamar Graham, now 22, had been on probation for an armed burglary committed when he was 16.

The other case involves Joe Sullivan, who was 13 when he raped an elderly woman in Pensacola 20 years ago.

Acceptance by the court of the two cases is an indication the justices want to address the issue of juvenile incarceration, said Bryan Gowdy, Graham's attorney.

"I think it will generate a lot of publicity on the length of sentences we give children," Gowdy said. "Any case they decide is precedent for all the other courts in the country."

The court rejected a case last year with similar arguments from a South Carolina teen serving 30 years for killing his parents when he was 12, according to The Associated Press. In 2005 the court struck down the death penalty for juveniles on cruel and unusual grounds.

Sandi Copes, spokeswoman for state Attorney General Bill McCollum, said arguments on the Florida cases are months away. The inmates' lawyers have 45 days to file briefs outlining their legal positions, and the Attorney General's Office has an equal amount of time to respond, she said. …

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