Although a juvenile (under 18) charged with a crime is subject to certain protections under the law in Florida, he or she may face the real possibility of significant jail time, depending on the nature of the crime. Yet there remain limits on how long a juvenile can be sent to jail. In Floyd v. State, the First District Court of Appeal explains that a minor convicted of a crime cannot be sentenced to life in prison, nor given such a lengthy sentence that it essentially amounts to life in prison.

Antonio Floyd was 17 years old when he committed grand theft auto and two counts of robbery, armed with a pellet gun. He was originally sentenced to life in jail. After the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 ruling in Graham v. Florida, in which the court found that a life sentence for a juvenile convicted of a “nonhomicide” crime violates the Constitution – because it constitutes “cruel and unusual punishment” – Floyd’s sentence was reduced to 80 years (two 40-year sentences, one for each armed robbery count, to run consecutively).

The court reversed the sentence, finding that 80 years is essentially a life sentence and therefore unconstitutional in light of the Graham decision. “[W]hile a state is not required to guarantee eventual freedom to a juvenile offender convicted of a nonhomicide offense, it must give defendants…’some meaningful opportunity to obtain release based on demonstrated maturity and rehabilitation,’” the court said, quoting the decision.

The court acknowledged that other lengthy sentences for minors convicted of nonhomicide crimes have been upheld in Florida, including a 90-year sentence in Henry v. State and an almost 140-year sentence in State v. Kasic. “We disagree with those courts, however, that a lengthy term-of-years sentence cannot constitute the functional equivalent of a life sentence without parole,” the court said. While the Graham decision was limited to a lengthy sentence without the possibility of parole, the court indicated that its decision is nevertheless guided by the principles established in Graham as well as common sense.

In this case, Floyd provided statistics showing that he is likely to be dead by the time his sentence ends. As a result, according to the court, the sentence is the “functional equivalent” of a life sentence and does not give Floyd a “meaningful or realistic opportunity to obtain release.” The court reversed the decision and remanded the case back to the trial court for resentencing.

As this case makes clear, a person under the age of 18 who commits a crime in Florida faces serious potential consequences. If you or a loved one are under the age of 18 and have been charged with a crime in Florida, you should seek the advice of an experienced criminal defense laywer as soon as possible. The attorney can assess your particular situation, prepare legal defenses that can get your sentence reduced or dismissed, and help you achieve the best outcome possible.

The South Florida criminal defense attorneys at Anidjar & Levine represent clients throughout the area, including in Pompano Beach, Fort Lauderdale and Boca Raton. Call us. at 800-747-3733 or fill out and submit our online “Contact Us” form to schedule a free initial consultation.

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