Juvenile Law Center filed an amicus curiae brief in support of Shimeek Gridine and Leighdon Henry, who were convicted of non-homicide offenses for crimes committed as children and who received sentences of 70 and 90 years, respectively.
Gridine was convicted of multiple non-homicide offenses, all related to a single event that occurred when he was 14 years old. His 70-year sentence means that he will not be eligible for release until he is approximately 77 years old. Henry also was convicted of multiple non-homicide offenses related to a single event. He received an aggregate sentence of 90 years for crimes he committed at age 17. He will not be eligible for release until approximately age 94.
Our brief argued that these sentences are unconstitutional pursuant to the United States Supreme Court's ruling in Graham v. Florida, which held that juvenile offenders cannot be sentenced to life without parole without a meaningful and realistic opportunity to re-enter society prior to the expiration of their sentences for non-homicide offenses (130 S.Ct. 2011, 2010 (2010)). The Supreme Court based this holding on the fact that the unique characteristics of youth that make children less culpable, in addition to the developmental differences between children and adults, make it more likely that a child can reform.
Juvenile Law Center also argued that these sentences violate Miller v. Alabama, which emphasized the importance of an individualized sentencing determination, including consideration of each defendant's upbringing and participation level in the offense. Pursuant to both Miller and Graham, 70 and 90 years without the possibility of parole are not constitutional sentencing options for juveniles because children are fundamentally different from adults and categorically less deserving of the harshest forms of punishments. Under Graham, juveniles who do not kill or intend to kill must be guaranteed a "meaningful opportunity to obtain release"—even if that opportunity does not actually result in release (130 S.Ct. at 2030). Gridine and Henry were denied that opportunity when they were sentenced to a term of years that is functionally equivalent to a life sentence. In light of these facts, we argued that the Court should find their sentences unconstitutional under Graham.
On March 19, 2015, the Florida Supreme Court held that juveniles convicted of non-homicide offenses must receive a “meaningful opportunity to obtain future early release during their natural lives based on their demonstrated maturity and rehabilitation," and therefore, the juveniles' prison sentences were unconstitutional.