THE CAPITAL, TALLAHASSEE, May 30, 2012
David Royse, The News Service of Florida
The state Supreme Court should determine whether a 70-year sentence for a 14-year-old essentially amounts to life in prison, and therefore should be barred, a lower court said Tuesday.
A three judge panel of the 1st District Court of Appeal in Tallahassee ruled unanimously on Tuesday that it doesn't in the case of Shimeek Gridine, who was convicted after guilty pleas to attempted murder and armed robbery in a 2009 case.
Gridine, who had to be sentenced to at least 25 years because he used a gun in the crime, was sentenced to 70 years in prison. His lawyers argued that such a long sentence would mean he very well might die in prison, making the sentence effectively a life term. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled recently that juveniles can't be sentenced to life in prison for crimes other than murder.
The 1st DCA first rejected Gridine's appeal in 2011, saying that the U.S. Supreme Court specifically ruled that such "functional life sentences" only applied to juveniles sentenced to life without parole – which wasn't the case in Gridine's situation.
Gridine's lawyers asked for a rehearing on the issue, and on Tuesday a different three judge panel than the one that ruled against him two years ago rejected that request.
But in doing so, the appeals court asked the state Supreme Court to weigh in on whether a 70-year sentence is functionally a life sentence for a 14-year-old and thereby barred by the U.S. Supreme Court ruling.
Courts have ruled in different ways on the question since the U.S. Supreme Court ban on life sentences for juveniles. Just last month, the 1st DCA said an 80-year sentence handed down to an Escambia County 17-year-old was unconstitutional.
During the previous two legislative sessions, lawmakers have considered legislation aimed at dealing with the question, but have failed to pass a bill. This past session the House passed a bill that would have required a review of the sentence after 25 years for any juvenile sentenced to life or any other long sentence. That measure failed to pass the Senate, however.