4th DCA
4th DCA (Melanie Bell)

The Fourth District Court of Appeal on Wednesday reversed the sentences of two men sentenced as juveniles to life without parole for murder.

Because a similar case is pending before the Florida Supreme Court, the Fourth District stayed its order until the higher court rules in Falcon v. State.

The issue is whether a 2012 U.S. Supreme Court decision, Miller v. Alabama, should be applied retroactively. In Miller, the court said a mandatory life sentence without parole for young killers is unconstitutional.

The Fourth District’s unsigned opinion consolidated the cases of Travis James and Joseph Cotto. James was 16 when he fatally shot his sister’s boyfriend during a robbery attempt in 1997. Cotto was 17 when he broke into a home and brutally murdered an elderly couple with a knife in 1999.

The appeals court concluded Miller should be applied retroactively. The court cited Jackson v. State, an Arkansas case where the U.S. Supreme Court retroactively granted relief to Kuntrell Jackson, who was 14 during the slaying of video store clerk in 1999.

Fourth District Judge Jonathan Gerber dissented, asserting a 2012 Third District ruling, Geter v. State, came to the opposite conclusion.

The James and Cotto sentences are among 222 in the state involving juveniles affected by Miller.