Mandatory Minimum Sentences in Florida Criminal Cases

Florida law is often strict when it comes to doling out punishments for crimes, even when the person charged is a juvenile. Although the U.S. Supreme Court has established some limits on harsh sentencing for people under the age of 18, states still have a lot of leeway to put juveniles behind bars for long stretches of time. Florida’s Fifth District Court of Appeal recently explained that judges have the power to impose mandatory minimum sentences on juvenile offenders.

Gun and MoneyMr. Young was 17 years old when he was charged with armed robbery, a Florida gun crime that’s punishable by up to life in prison. He was convicted and sentenced to 10 years behind bars, the mandatory minimum punishment under state law. Young later appealed the sentence, arguing that it violated the U.S. Constitution. Young’s attorneys told the court that the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment bars the state from imposing mandatory minimum sentences. That’s because those sentences don’t allow judges to consider individual circumstances or to take into account that juveniles may have more capacity for reform, they said.

The Fifth District disagreed. “The court clearly allowed for the consideration of Young’s age in fashioning its sentence, as evidenced by Young receiving the lowest permissible sentence for his crime,” the court said. “Although we acknowledge that the 10-year mandatory minimum sentence required here does limit, to some extent, the discretion of a trial court in sentencing a juvenile offender, we do not view this modest limitation as a constitutional infirmity.”

The Supreme Court in 2011 ruled that life sentences for juveniles who don’t commit homicide are unconstitutional under the Eighth Amendment. The justices two years later expanded that decision, finding that any life sentence for a juvenile that doesn’t at least include the opportunity for parole is unconstitutional. But Young’s case didn’t involve a mandatory life sentence, the court said. Instead, he got a separate sentencing hearing to determine whether he should be sentenced to life in prison. At the close of that hearing, the judge decided to sentence Young to 10 years behind bars. That decision was entitled to “substantial deference,” according to the court.

“Young will be released from prison and will re-enter society when he is 27 years old,” the court said. “The trial court, by its sentence, has provided Young with a “meaningful opportunity” for early release at a young age.”

If you or a loved one has been charged with a gun or other crime in Florida, it is essential that you seek the advice and counsel of an experienced attorney. Tampa gun crime lawyer Will Hanlon is a seasoned attorney who fights aggressively on behalf of clients charged with a wide range of offenses. Call our offices at (813) 228-7095 or contact us online to speak with Mr. Hanlon about your case.

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