HB 7035 provides an opportunity for most children who previously would have been sentenced to life without parole to go back before a judge to have their sentences reviewed after they have served a specified amount of time in prison. If signed, the bill will apply to those sentenced on or after July 1, 2014.
The bill also requires judges to conduct individualized hearings before sentencing a child to life in prison. During the hearings, judges must consider a number of factors, including, but not limited to, the child’s age and maturity, role in the crime, background, and potential for rehabilitation. If a life sentence is imposed, most children will still be eligible for review after 15, 20, or 25 years, depending on the offense. After an individualized sentencing hearing, only youth with prior convictions in adult criminal court can be denied the opportunity for review later in life.
This bill is intended to bring Florida in line with the 2010 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Graham v. Florida, which found it unconstitutional to impose a life-without-parole sentence upon a child for a non-homicide crime and the 2012’s Miller v. Alabama ruling that automatic life-without-parole sentences may not be imposed on children. Florida is among the five states that have sentenced two-thirds of the nation’s children serving life without parole. Approximately 195 of the 2,500 youth sentenced to life without parole are incarcerated in Florida.