Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Bill Will See Juvenile Criminals Handled Differently

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Bill Will See Juvenile Criminals Handled Differently

Article excerpt


Nearly four years after the U.S. Supreme Court said Florida must treat sentencing of juvenile criminals differently than adults, the state Legislature has reached agreement on a sentencing plan for juveniles who commit murder and other serious crimes.

The Senate on Wednesday voted 36-0 for a bill (HB 7035) that will bring Florida law into line with recent federal court rulings. The rulings have held that juveniles cannot be sentenced to life without parole for non-homicide crimes and that sentences for juveniles who commit murder must be weighed against factors including the youths' maturity level and background as well as the nature of their crimes.

The compromise has the support of juvenile advocates, defense attorneys and state prosecutors.

"I'm very pleased that we have resolution of this issue," said Sen. Rob Bradley, a former state prosecutor, who helped work out the compromise. "I feel as though it is our duty as a Legislature to give guidance to the courts and we've done our duty today."

A key component is that the bill will give nearly all the juveniles serving lengthy sentences -- including life -- to have their sentences later reviewed by a court, with the possibility that they could be released.

The only juveniles who will be denied that review are those who commit capital murders -- which would draw the death penalty or life without parole if they were adults -- and who have committed previous violent crimes, such as another murder, kidnapping or armed robbery.

The juveniles who commit capital murders will also have to serve a minimum sentence of 40 years if they are not given a life sentence, although there would not be a minimum sentence for other juvenile offenders.

Rep. James Grant, R-Tampa, predicted the House will accept the Senate version of the bill. He said he believes the legislation balances public safety and the opportunity for rehabilitation for serious juvenile criminals.

"How do you bifurcate the monster, who no matter what we do, is never going to be reformed from the juvenile who made a mistake and is never going to show up again but has to be held accountable for their actions?" Grant said. "I don't know that there is a magical answer but I think we tried to get to a place that makes sense. …

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