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Fla. Supreme Court Considers Juvenile Sentencing Changes

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Sentencing a minor to life in prison without the possibility of parole was ruled unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2010 in cases other than murder. Now the Florida Supreme Court is being asked to define just what a life sentence is. But, justices might find an easier question to answer by revisiting the way the state’s parole system works.

Due to laws enacted in the eighties and nineties, any person who’s been convicted and sentenced in a felony case in Florida after October of 1995 is only eligible for parole after serving 85-percent of their prison sentence.   Such is the case for lawyer Gail Anderson’s client, Shimeek Gridine, who was sentenced to 70 years in prison for attempted murder when he was only 14. Anderson argues if her client has to serve 85-percent of his sentence before he’s eligible for parole, his sentence is effectively a life sentence. During oral arguments before the state Supreme Court Tuesday, Justice Barbara Pariente asked Anderson if it would be easier to revise Florida’s parole rules or draw a line between what is or isn’t a life sentence.

“If the judge had given him a forty year sentence, I don’t know if you could be here. Even though a forty year – he’d serve the 25 years or he’d serve – what’s 85-percent of forty years? He’d serve a very long sentence. So, is he better off – is a defendant better of getting a longer sentence with the possibility of parole or a long sentence but not life, without the possibility of parole?” Pariente said.

The state’s attorney Kellie Nielan countered Anderson’s assertion by noting U.S. Supreme Court Precedent set during the 2010 case Graham V. Florida doesn’t say when a person should be considered for parole.

“Graham has said that someone needs review sometime within their life. They need an opportunity for release within their life. It doesn’t say when,” Nielan said.

Shimeek Gridine was convicted of attempted murder in the shooting of a woman in Jacksonville in 2009. The court has no deadline for a ruling in the case.