ST. PETERSBURG, FL, August 01, 2014 /24-7PressRelease/ -- A new law passed by the Florida Legislature and signed by the governor is now effective that dramatically changes penalties assigned to defendants convicted of serious crimes committed before they were 18. The new law removes a mandatory minimum of life in prison for those convicted of certain crimes committed before reaching the age of 18, and sets a mandatory minimum of 40 years in prison instead of life for juveniles convicted of murder.
St. Petersburg juvenile defense lawyer Melinda Morris said the law still falls short because it maintains mandatory minimum sentences.
"Setting a mandatory punishment for defendants convicted of certain crimes can be a dangerous practice," Morris said. "Courts and defense attorneys should be able to reach a sentence that truly matches the circumstance of each defendant, and mandatory minimums take that ability away."
The law, passed as House Bill 7035, changes Florida law to comport with rulings made in the past few years by the U.S. Supreme Court in Graham v. Florida and Miller v. Alabama. In the former case, the Court ruled that life imprisonment was an unconstitutional sentence for any non-homicide committed by a person who is younger than 18 at the time of the act. In Miller v. Alabama, the Court decided that mandatory life sentences for any crime committed as a juvenile was unconstitutional.
Under the law, if a person who is convicted of a murder or attempted murder before attaining the age of 18, the Court will hold a hearing to determine whether a life sentence is appropriate. If the Court determines it is, the defendant will be sentenced to life. If not, the Court will sentence him or her to a term of prison of at least 40 years.
For a capital felony, the same hearing will be held to determine whether life in prison is an appropriate sentence. If not, the person will receive a sentence with no mandatory minimum. Capital felonies include certain drug trafficking and sexual battery charges, among others.
The law also gives these defendants a right to a hearing after 20 or 25 years to review their sentence. If the defendant is determined to have been rehabilitated and ready to rejoin society, he or she will be placed on parole for five years.
Morris said it is important that that criminal statutes comport with constitutional law. The elimination of mandatory minimums for capital felonies for juvenile defendants is also a positive step, she said. However, Morris believes that the law should have eliminated all mandatory minimum sentences, "No matter how heinous the crime, each defendant deserves to have their offense and their individual circumstance reviewed," she said.
Melinda Morris, of the Morris Law Firm, is a St. Petersburg criminal defense lawyer who represents adults and juveniles charges with DUI, drug charges and other serious offenses.
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