Kristen Larson |

In Graham v. Florida, 560 U.S. 48 (2010), the Supreme Court of the United States held that a Florida law which allowed juveniles to be sentenced to life without parole for nonhomicide crimes was unconstitutional. The Court reasoned that juveniles’ immaturity makes them susceptible to outside forces and incapable of the “reprehensible” behavior that is committed by adult offenders. Id. at 68. Therefore, they “cannot be reliably ‘classified among the worst offenders.’” Henry v. Florida, SC12-578 (2015), quoting id. quoting Roper v. Simmons, 543 U.S. 551 (2005). In Miller v. Alabama, 132 S. Ct. 2455 (2012), the U.S. Supreme Court stated specifically that an offender’s juvenile status makes a mandatory life term cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment. On March 19, the Florida Supreme Court issued opinions in two cases involving juvenile life sentences: Henry v. State (SC12-578) and Gridine v. State (SC12-1223).

At seventeen, Leighdon Henry was tried for multiple nonhomicide crimes and sentenced to life without parole. Subsequent to the Graham decision, Henry was resentenced to ninety years. The Fifth District Court of Appeal upheld the conviction and the Florida Supreme Court reviewed it de novo. The Court held that “the constitutional prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment under Graham is implicated when a juvenile nonhomicide offender’s sentence does not afford any ‘meaningful opportunity to obtain release based on demonstrated maturity and rehabilitation.’” Opinion page 9, quoting Graham, 560 U.S. at 75. Under the terms of Henry’s sentence, he would not be eligible for release until he was ninety-five, thus depriving him of such an opportunity. Therefore, the Court remanded the case for resentencing.

At fourteen, Shimeeka Gridine was sentenced to seventy years for attempted first-degree murder and twenty-five years for attempted armed robbery, both with a mandatory minimum prison term of twenty-five years. The First District Court upheld the sentence and the Florida Supreme Court reviewed it de novo. Graham stated that “defendants who do not kill, intend to kill, or foresee that life will be taken are categorically less deserving of the most serious forms of punishment than are murderers.” Opinion at page 5, quoting Graham, 560 U.S. at 69. The State in this case argued that Gridine’s offense of attempted first-degree murder should be considered a homicide offense to which Graham would not apply. The Court, referencing Tipton v. State, 97 So.2d 277 (Fla. 1957), held that under Florida Law the offense must result in death to be considered homicide. Opinion at 5. Therefore, Graham does apply and Gridine’s sentence was ruled unconstitutional for the same reasons set forth in Henry.

Court Revisits Life Sentences for Juvenile Offenders

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