Court Revisits Life Sentences for Juvenile Offenders, Part 2

Regina Keenan |

On March 19, 2005, the Florida Supreme Court issued opinions in Falcon v. State, (SC13-865) and Horsley v. State, (SC13-1938) combined with State v. Horsley, (SC-13-2000). In Miller v. Alabama, 132 S. Ct. 2455 (U.S. 2012), the United States Supreme Court held that mandatory life without parole for those under the age of 18 at the time of their crimes violates the Eighth Amendment of the United States Constitution prohibition on cruel and unusual punishments. Falcon and Horsley addressed the application of Miller to juvenile sentences and convictions finalized prior to that decision.
In Falcon, noting numerous conflicts in Florida and federal courts, the Florida Supreme Court held that Miller applied retroactively to finalized juvenile sentences and convictions. Retroactive application balances the need for decisional finality with the concern for fairness and uniformity. The three prong test for retroactivity is if the change: (a) emanates from this Court or the United States Supreme Court, (b) is constitutional in nature, and (c) constitutes a development of fundamental significance. Witt v. State, 387 So. 2d 922 (Fla. 1980). The first two prongs are met.
Because Miller rendered the only statutory means for imposing a mandatory life sentence without parole unconstitutional, and noting that it is unfair to deprive indistinguishable juvenile offenders of their liberty for the rest of their lives based solely on when their cases were decided, the Court concluded that this is a “development of fundamental significance” and that Miller should be applied retroactively.
Horsley then turned to the question of what remedy applies to juvenile offenders sentenced and convicted prior to Miller. Given that the State of Florida “cured the federal constitutional infirmity” by revising its juvenile sentencing guidelines in chapter 2014-220, Laws of Florida, there was no need for an analysis of statutory revival based on discerning legislative intent. The law grants all juvenile offenders individualized consideration before the imposition of a life sentence and that most juvenile offenders are eligible for a subsequent judicial review of their sentences.
Horsley noted the time gap determining relief of juveniles sentenced and convicted after Miller but before the effective date of the law on July1, 2014. Horsley found that juveniles affected by this gap should be sentenced according to the 2014 law because it is consistent with legislative intent and is consistent with cases that determined juveniles are fundamentally different.
Thus, the Florida Supreme Court quashed and remanded Falcon v. State, 111 So.3d 973 (Fla. 1st DCA 2013) and Horsley v. State, 121 So.3d 1130 (2013) and remanded both cases for resentencing in conformance with chapter 2014-220, Laws of Florida.