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Florida Court Hears Arguments in Defense of Juvenile Offenders

On March 6, the Florida Supreme Court heard arguments regarding the nature of a 2012 U.S. Supreme Court decision, which ruled that mandatory life sentences for juvenile offenders are unconstitutional because they represent cruel and unusual punishment.

Specifically, the court considered the question of whether Rebecca Lee Falcon, a Panama City woman convicted of murdering a cab driver when she was 15, should be required to stay in prison for the rest of her life. Falcon represents a much larger group of more than 200 Florida prisoners who are currently serving life sentences — without the possibility for parole — for crimes committed when they were under the age of 18.

Prior to the landmark 2012 Supreme Court ruling, which examined the high-profile Miller v. Alabama case, any juveniles convicted of murder in Florida were given mandatory life sentences without parole. However, this ruling occurred after the sentences for Falcon and a number of other juvenile prisoners had been finalized. Now, the question is whether the ruling is retroactive. If so, Falcon and other prisoners can undergo re-sentencing hearings, which take into account important issues like the nature of the crime, the defendant’s maturity and the potential for rehabilitation.

Falcon’s defense lawyer has argued that her client should be given post-conviction relief to avoid obvious injustice. The Florida Supreme Court’s ruling is pending.

The 2012 U.S. Supreme Court ruling represents a significant victory for individuals currently serving life sentences for crimes committed when they were very young. However, juvenile offenders may still face short- and long-term penalties for crimes committed in their youth. If your child has been convicted of a crime, you need to work with a knowledgeable and compassionate criminal defense attorney.

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