Juvenile Sentencing Bill
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) - Inmates sentenced to life imprisonment when they were teenagers will get a shot at redemption under a bill that cleared a Senate panel Wednesday.
As originally presented, the proposed law (SB 212) provided an opportunity for inmates sentenced to life when they were under 18 to be resentenced after serving 25 years - but only for a crime other than homicide.
That initial term was shortened to 15 years after a last-minute amendment by Sen. Paula Dockery, a Lakeland Republican, who thought a 25-year wait was too long.
The state has 105 inmates who might qualify.
The bill then was approved unanimously by the Children, Families and Elder Affairs Committee, after an impassioned back-and-forth between committee chair Ronda Storms and Sen. Steve Oelrich, the bill's sponsor.
Sen. Storms, a Valrico Republican, told the story of a constituent's college-age daughter who was raped by a juvenile and beaten to the point of brain damage as she was returning a library book.
"Their sweet baby has been shattered," she said. "How can I face these parents and say, 'I think this guy should get out'?"
Oelrich, a former Alachua County sheriff, reminded Storms that forgiveness is a tenet of their shared Christianity.
"A person can change over time," he said.
"There are people who do heinous crimes who, at some point, have a revelation."
"The idea that somebody at 16 can commit an awful crime and be irredeemable for the rest of their life seems rather draconian to me."
He added: "Maybe they should be sentenced to life in prison, or maybe they can change."
Storms agreed but said forgiving "doesn't mean you don't continue to suffer the consequences."
The measure is in response to a 2010 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that teenagers can't be locked up for life without any possibility of parole if they haven't killed anyone.
Florida, however, abolished parole in 1983.
The Supreme Court case involved Terrance Graham of Jacksonville, now 25, sentenced to life for armed robberies committed when he was 16 and 17.
Some inmates who were life-sentenced as minors have already asked for and gotten hearings; the law under consideration would regulate the process.
An inmate has to be free of disciplinary reports for three years before getting a hearing.
Judges then would have to consider several factors under the bill, which has a companion in the House, including the inmate's maturity, sense of remorse, and wishes of the victim or victim's family.
Oelrich said he would work on a sliding scale to add to the bill by the time it's taken up by the Budget Committee, its last stop before the Senate floor.
Dockery had suggested one in which those convicted of more atrocious crimes would wait longer than others.
A Department of Corrections spokeswoman said she did not immediately know all the charges of current inmates sentenced to life when they were under 18.
The second chance may not be much solace for some, according to Earl Moreland, the chief prosecutor for DeSoto, Manatee and Sarasota counties.
He told the panel that inmates affected are "the worst of the worst" and the few who've been resentenced received 60-80 years - another virtual life sentence.
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