Graham v. Florida Shows Juveniles’ Sentencing Rights In Jacksonville

In Jacksonville, juveniles can face major punishments for violent crimes, such as homicide. However, non-homicidal crimes sometimes carry major punishments as well. It is important for juvenile offenders to know their rights when being sentenced for a non-homicidal crime, particularly in Jacksonville.

Juvenile Crimes in Jacksonville typically tend toward the non-violent, particularly theft and drug crimes. However, the court system tends to be tough on crimes such as these, because the system wants to make sure that juveniles in Jacksonville learn their lesson and that those offenders will not do that crime again. Unfortunately, some courts have attempted to make sure that these offenders never do anything ever again outside of prison.

Graham v. Florida shows a juvenile’s right of protection from being sentenced to life imprisonment without possibility of parole for a non-homicidal crime. In this case, Terrance Graham, a 16 year old boy, was charged and plead guilty to armed burglary and attempted armed robbery. Graham was sentenced to two back-to-back 3 year probation terms, which he violated.

Graham went through a trial court sentencing hearing where he received the maximum sentence for his crimes: life imprisonment for the first charge and 15 years for the second charge. Graham challenged his sentence under the Eighth Amendment saying that his punishment was cruel and unusual because his crime was non-violent, his punishment was excessive, and he could not be released on parole.

In Florida, the legislature has abolished the parole system, leaving no realistic opportunity for an offender to be released from a life imprisonment sentence. The only option that an offender has for release in Florida is a grant of executive clemency from the Governor of Florida. These grants are not given often. Therefore, if someone is sentenced to life-imprisonment, most likely, that person is not going to get out.

The Florida legislature abolished the parole system because of Florida’s increasing tough on crime policy. The original target was violent offenders, who many in the Florida legislature felt would do best to serve their remaining sentence in prison for the crimes they had committed, rather than having the possibility of getting out of prison early or at all for some major offenses. However, abolishing the parole system also keeps non-violent/non-homicidal offenders from being released as well.

This is the future that Graham was facing. However, the Supreme Court ruled in this case that the Constitution does not allow someone to be sentenced to life-imprisonment without the possibility of parole when that person did not commit homicide. The Court said that the state does not have to guarantee release for a non-homicidal offense, but if the state, in this case, Florida, is not going to have a parole system, the state has to provide the offender a realistic opportunity to be released before the end of the sentence.

A person in this situation seems to be facing a wall that they cannot climb over. If only there was a way out; but there is a way out. One needs an experienced Jacksonville juvenile crimes lawyer to fight for their rights as minors and make sure that they have the best defense presented for them.

The Forbess Law Firm has been aiding clients who face criminal charges in Jacksonville for more than a decade and is here to provide aggressive criminal defense to anyone accused of a crime. If you or a loved one requires a Jacksonville criminal defense lawyer, contact our firm today. We are available through our website or by calling us at 904-634-0900.

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