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August 8, 2012

Florida courts struggling with what Graham means for long juve term-of-years sentences

As reported in this local article, headlined "Courts ponder: When is juve’s long prison term effectively ‘life’?," a notable court ruling from Florida today spotlights an on-going struggle for state courts in the wake of Graham.  Here are the basics:

A district appeals court urged the state Supreme Court on Wednesday to weigh in on how long is too long when sentencing a juvenile for crimes other than murder, since the U.S. Supreme Court has said such kids can’t spend their entire lives in prison.

A three judge panel of the 1st District Court of Appeal noted that the lower courts have disagreed on just how long a juvenile would have to be sentenced for it to be a “de facto life sentence.”  The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2010 in Graham v. Florida that it was unconstitutional to sentence juveniles to life sentences for non-homicide crimes.

Since then, appeals courts have found that in some cases where the sentence wasn’t technically life, the juvenile would still be likely to spend life in prison, because the term of years was longer than their life expectancy.

That was exactly what the DCA found in the particular case at issue Wednesday. The court ordered a new sentence for a 16-year-old, Demahgio Adams, who robbed and shot someone multiple times – but without killing the victim -- and was given a sentence that would require him to serve at least 58 and a half years, meaning he wouldn’t be released until he is nearly 76.  That would exceed his life expectancy, the court said, finding the sentence a “de facto” life sentence that is unconstitutional.

But at least one other DCA in the state has held differently, so the judges said the state Supreme Court should decide whether the Graham opinion applies to long sentences that aren’t technically life sentences, and “if so, at what point does a term-of-years sentence become a de facto life sentence?”

The case referenced in this article, Adams v. Florida, No. 1D11-3225 (Fla. 1st Dist. Aug 8, 2012) (available here), makes for an interesting read and spotlights an issue that could face many state courts in the wake of Graham (and also now that Miller may raise the same kind of issue for any juves given very long mandatory sentences for homicide offenses).

August 8, 2012 at 05:41 PM | Permalink


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When you think about it, a life sentence has a lot of debatable things. Not all life sentences have the same length. Of course it would depend on when the criminal dies. But what about the people serving life that are significantly younger than other people who have life sentences? In these cases wouldn’t the younger people be serving a longer term thus having a bigger punishment? And what about people on their 90’s who get sentenced to life? They get of easy if that’s the case. I'm just a curious student currently taking law minor.

Posted by: Carl Michael | Aug 9, 2012 8:08:17 AM

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