Miami-Dade Public Defender Carlos J. Martinez said in a statement: “The court continues to recognize what science has been teaching us. Kids are different.”
The Florida Attorney General’s Office, which handles appeals, was not happy.
“We’re disappointed that the Court has disallowed mandatory life imprisonment for juveniles who commit heinous murders,” spokeswoman Jennifer Meale said.
The Florida Department of Corrections was still doing research Monday to determine how many state inmates could be affected by the ruling. Miami-Dade prosecutors are still tallying how many defendants would get new sentencing hearings.
Some inmates in high-profile cases would be eligible, including Michael Hernandez, convicted of murdering a classmate at Southwood Middle School in 2004, and Ronald Salazar, convicted of raping and murdering his 11-year-old sister in 2005. Each was 14 at the time of the crimes.
In Broward, Edward Babbs is eligible for re-sentencing. He was sentenced to life earlier this year in the murder of his pregnant girlfriend outside a Miramar grocery store in 2009; when he committed the crime, Babbs was two months shy of his 18th birthday.
Broward County prosecutors estimate that they have 10 to 15 murder cases that may have to be reviewed in light of the Supreme Court’s ruling.
Jeff Marcus, the chief of the felony division for the Broward County State Attorney’s Office, said the court’s decision could affect any first-degree murder sentences handed down against juveniles since 1994, the year the state adopted mandatory life sentences for first-degree murder.
Lawyers are unsure exactly how the cases will proceed, although prosecutors expect sentencing will be lengthy, with testimony from defense experts.
Marcus said these defendants could potentially be sentenced under the pre-1994 sentencing statute, which carried a 25-year minimum sentence for first-degree murder with a possibility of parole, although the state’s parole commission now exists only to handle pre-1983 cases. More likely, the Legislature will need to craft a new sentencing scheme for juveniles.
Florida Rep. Michael Weinstein, a Jacksonville Republican, said that if he is reelected this fall, he will sponsor a bill to do just that.
Weinstein, a current prosecutor, sponsored a bill in March to allow juveniles convicted of non-homicides and sentenced to life to have their sentences re-visited after 25 years in custody. But the bill died on the Senate floor.
New law is needed, Weinstein said, because judges are “boxed in” between the Supreme Court decisions and laws that now mandate “illegal sentences.”
“The Legislature needs to help the judiciary in setting guidelines for how juveniles are to be processed as adults,” he said.