Supreme Court Gets Case on Juvenile Life Sentences

Supreme Court Gets Case on Juvenile Life Sentences Stock photo

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — The lawyer for a woman who helped commit a murder when she was 15 told the Florida Supreme Court she deserves a new sentencing hearing because of a federal ban on mandatory life-without-parole sentences for juveniles.

The court heard arguments Thursday in the case of Rebecca Falcon, which could have far-reaching effects for juveniles who were sentenced to life-without-parole. Falcon’s lawyer argued that a 2011 U.S. Supreme Court ruling should be applied retroactively to juveniles previously convicted. A lower court previously rejected her motion.

Falcon was convicted for her role in the 1997 shooting of a cab driver. She was sentenced to life under Florida law.

“We’re talking about just giving a new sentencing in front of a trial judge,” Falcon’s lawyer Karen Gottlieb said. “We’re not going to impanel a new jury. … It’s obviously not going to overturn any conviction.”

A spokesman for the state attorney’s office declined comment on the case until the Supreme Court has made a ruling. The state does not believe that U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling is applicable retroactively. The ruling said that judges must consider age and other factors when sentencing juvenile killers.

New legislation establishing sentencing guidelines for juveniles who are tried as adults and convicted of serious felonies is going through state Senate and House committees.

Under the bill, juveniles convicted of serious felonies would get a review hearing after 20 years of imprisonment and another after 30 years.

Juveniles convicted of murder, but not involved in the act of killing, would receive a review hearing after 25 years.

Juveniles who actually pulled the trigger or committed the act would get 35-to-life with no hearing.

“The courts are asking us to give them guidance,” the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Orange Park, said Wednesday. “It is the legislature’s job to define crimes and fix punishments.”

Some lawmakers have voiced concerns about the harshness of the proposal, noting that juveniles mature both socially and physiologically within 20 years.