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Juveniles Charged as Adults

Juveniles Charged as Adults

Over the past several years there has been an influx of changes with regard to the sentencing of juvenile defendants. Courts are now required to consider the “youthful attributes” of juveniles to consider their level of culpability. Limitations have also been placed on the sentences applicable to juveniles. As a general rule, all juvenile defendants should be entitled to the following two protections: 1) A meaningful opportunity for release, and a judicial review after 20 years on sentences over 20 years; and 2) They may be entitled to an individualized sentencing hearing to consider their “youthful attributes.”


In Kelsey[1] the Defendant was re-sentenced to 45 years in prison after his life sentence was held unconstitutional based on Miller[2] and Graham.[3] In Kelsey, the Florida Supreme Court held that “his sentence [of 45 years] was unconstitutional not because of the length of his sentence, but because it did not provide him a meaningful opportunity for early release based on maturation and rehabilitation…” The Florida Supreme Court went on to say that it is for the legislature to decide the mechanism to provide juveniles with a meaningful opportunity for early release. The Florida Supreme Court was referring to chapter 2014-220 requiring juvenile offenders who were sentenced as adults to more than 20 years to receive a judicial review after 20 years in order to give them an opportunity for early release based on maturity and rehabilitation. Kelsey, 41 Fla. L. Weekly S600b (Fla. 2016). Any juvenile who receives a sentence that does not comply with chapter 2014-220 is entitled to be re-sentenced pursuant to said chapter 2014-220 at a new sentencing hearing. Id.


Whether juvenile defendants are entitled to an individualized sentencing hearing is currently being litigated. Florida Statute 921.1401 indicates that the court “may” conduct a separate hearing when sentencing juvenile defendants in order to consider a number of factors. However the United States Supreme Court in Miller unequivocally required the court “to consider a juvenile defendant’s ‘mitigating qualities of youth.'”  Miller[4] specifically lays out a number of attributes associated with youth that a court must consider when sentencing juvenile defendants to long periods of incarceration.

The court must also consider that juveniles are different than adults. In Lindsey[5], the court held it was error to fail to consider the difference between juvenile and adult defendants. In Lindsey, the court went on to state it was error to put the burden on the Defendant to show youthful immaturity, because the Supreme Court has already determined that these “distinctive attributes of youth” already exist. Id.


The many inherent differences of juvenile defendants from adults should be reflected at sentencing. A juvenile defendant should receive: 1) A judicial review after 20 years to provide for an opportunity for release; 2) An individualized sentencing hearing; and 3) All the protections afforded to juveniles should apply to VOPs even if they violate their probation as an adult.

Foot Notes

[1] Kelsey v. State, 41 Fla. L. Weekly S600b (Fla. 2016)

[2] Miller v. Alabama, 132 S.Ct. 2455 (2013)

[3] Graham v. Florida, 130 S.Ct. 2011 (2010)

[4] The Court in Miller cited Johnson v. Texas, 509 U.S. 350, 367 (1993).

[5] Lindsey v. State, 168 So.3d 267 (Fla. 2nd DCA 2015)