Romero v. State
In September 2013, 18-year-old Dorian Romero, was charged with a burglary. The prosecutor used Dorian’s criminal history record, based on offenses committed when Dorian was a juvenile, to demand a 15-year statutory maximum sentence. Had Dorian’s earlier offenses been categorized as juvenile adjudications, they would not have triggered the maximum sentence. However, because Dorian had been transferred to adult court and placed in a Department of Corrections facility, they did trigger the heightened sentence.
Dorian filed post-conviction petitions for relief challenging the application of the statutory maximum sentence because he lacked a meaningful opportunity to challenge the underlying transfer to adult court and placement with the Department of Corrections (DOC). Dorian was never informed by counsel that he had a right to appeal. Dorian argued, among other things, that the statute of limitations should have tolled while he was a juvenile, which now would allow him to challenge the transfer and the DOC placement, and therefore to challenge the heightened adult sentence.
Juvenile Law Center filed an amicus brief supporting his appeal, arguing that the statute of limitations in the Florida Rule of Criminal Procedure 3.850(b) must be tolled when an incarcerated individual lacks access to the courts. The United States Supreme Court has made clear that access to the courts must be tailored to confer upon the individual the capability of challenging his or her sentence or conditions. The Supreme Court has recognized, in a wide array of legal contexts, that adolescents are different than adults, deserve different protections from adults, and, most importantly, cannot be expected to comply precisely with procedural expectations created for adults. Social science research further supports these findings, demonstrating that adolescents have neither the legal experience nor the cognitive capabilities to access the courts without significant adult support and guidance from counsel. Access to the courts for adolescents therefore requires the support of an adult legal advocate.
Because Dorian Romero was an adolescent with no attorney, no other adult tasked with advocating for him, and had not even been informed by his own attorney that he had a right to appeal, Juvenile Law Center argued that he lacked access to the courts, and that the statute of limitations should therefore have been tolled during the period of his minority.
The Fifth District Court of Appeal of Florida per curiam affirmed Dorian's conviction without a written opinion explaining the court's reasoning.