State

March 5, 2014

Fla. Senate panel OKs juvenile sentencing bill

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

Florida would establish new sentencing guidelines for juveniles who are tried as adults and convicted of serious felonies, under legislation approved Wednesday by a state Senate committee.

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled states cannot impose life-without-parole sentences on juveniles, leaving Florida law in need of an update.

“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.”

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 bill was approved 7-to-5. Lawmakers voiced some concerns about the harshness of the proposal, noting that juveniles mature both socially and physiologically within 20 years.

“What nags at me is being the father of two boys and I see the adolescent’s brain,” Sen. Christopher Smith, D-Fort Lauderdale, said during the meeting. “I see things that they do that I can’t fathom someone even thinking of doing.”

He said they change dramatically between ages 7 and 12, and even more dramatically as adults.

“I just think it goes a little far not to ever take another look at a life, especially something that was done as a juvenile,” Smith said.

The Florida Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments Thursday in the case of Rebecca Falcon, who was convicted of murder and sentenced to life without parole at age 15 after a cab driver was shot in the head in 1997. She is seeking release after the U.S. Supreme Court banned life-without-parole sentences for those who were under age 18 when the crime was committed.

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