Florida Supreme Court reverses “discretionary” life sentence for juvenile offender based on Miller, Gridine and Graham.

Laisha Landrum v. State, SC15-1071 (Fla. June 9, 2016).

Landrum, aged 16, was convicted of second-degree murder arising out of the death of another teenaged girl.  The sentencing guidelines called for a sentence ranging from 22.3 years to life.  Defense counsel argued for a downward departure; however, the trial court imposed a life sentence without articulating reasons for doing so.

After Miller, Landrum filed a motion for post-conviction relief and asked for a new sentencing hearing.  Both the Circuit and the Second District Court of Appeal denied her motion because the Trial Court had the discretion to impose a term-of-years sentence.  Since the life sentence was not mandatory pursuant to Florida law, she could not obtain relief pursuant to Miller.  Of course, in doing so, the Second District relied upon the legislature’s mandatory imposition of a sentence, rather than the effect of a life sentence, which is MANDATORY LIFE.

In reversing the Second, the Florida Supreme Court held that a life sentence imposed upon a juvenile is unconstitutional when the court was not required to consider, and did not take into account, the individualized attributes of an offender’s youth when exercising the discretion.

Florida Statutes 921.1401(2) enacted in 2014 details factors that courts should consider when sentencing juvenile offenders.  Thus, offenders sentenced after 2014 are given the benefit of having such factors weighed to determine the appropriateness of a sentence.  Ms. Landrum was essentially stuck in a gap between Miller and Section 921.1401(2).  This ruling now provides an avenue for relief for any juvenile offender sentenced prior to the enactment of 921.1401(2) to a discretionary life sentence.

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