Florida Supreme Court Affirms Right to Bond for Juveniles Charged with Non-homicide Life Felonies

By Herron Bond

In Treacy v. Lamberti (SC12-647), the Florida Supreme Court considered whether a juvenile charged as an adult with attempted premeditated murder in the first degree is guaranteed a right to pretrial release under the Florida Constitution. The Court ruled that the framework created by the United States Supreme Court’s decision in Graham v. Florida, 560 U.S. 48 (2010) and Article I, Section 14 of the Florida Constitution ensures this right for juveniles charged with non-homicide offenses.
Wayne Treacy, a 15 year old charged as an adult with attempted first-degree murder with a deadly weapon, challenged his denial of bond before the Fourth District Court of Appeals in 2012. The 4th DCA affirmed the denial and the Florida Supreme Court granted review.
Treacy argued that he was entitled to bond under Article I, Section 14 of the Florida Constitution, which grants a right to pretrial release for defendants not convicted of “a capital offense or an offense punishable by life imprisonment.” He claimed that the United States Supreme Court’s decision in Graham, which affirmed the US Constitution’s prohibition on sentences of life without the possibility of parole for juvenile non-homicide offenders, ensures that his crime is not “punishable by life imprisonment” and, thus, his denial of bond violated Article I, Section 14.
The State, citing Batie v. State, 534 So. 2d 694 (Fla. 1988) and State v. Hogan, 451 So. 2d 844 (Fla. 1984), argued that Article I, Section 14 “focuses on the classification of the offense to determine entitlement to pretrial release, and not the potential severity of punishment.” Thus, regardless of Treacy’s actual eligibility for life without parole, denial was proper because attempted first-degree murder with a deadly weapon is classified as an offense “punishable by life imprisonment.” Furthermore, the State maintained that life imprisonment was a possible punishment for Treacy despite the ruling in Graham because future legislation could make parole possible in these circumstances.
In its opinion, the Florida Supreme Court first addressed the State’s argument that possible future legislation creating an opportunity for parole could justify sentencing juvenile non-homicide offenders to life imprisonment. The Court ruled that the potential for “legislative grace” does not remedy a current violation of constitutional provisions.
Next, the Court addressed the State’s assertion that Treacy is not protected by Article I, Section 14 because his offense is generally classified as “punishable by life imprisonment.” The Court adopted the plain language of the provision, which clearly states that a defendant cannot be denied pretrial release unless he is actually eligible for life imprisonment or guilty of a capital crime. Current Florida law plainly rejects such a sentence for juveniles convicted of non-homicide offenses. Thus, the Court overturned the 4th DCA, ruling that Treacy and similarly-situated juvenile offenders are “entitled to pretrial release on reasonable conditions [that] reasonably protect the community from risk of physical harm. . . .”