There are many opinions out there about the Death Penalty; those that are absolutely opposed to, those that are mostly in favor of, and many who fall somewhere in between. But, what about the next most severe punishment someone can receive as a criminal sentence – life in prison without the possibility of parole? The Florida Supreme Court has recently drawn a pretty bright line when it comes to one category of individuals sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole: juveniles nonhomicide offenders. This line was drawn in Graham v. Florida.

In Graham, a juvenile offender was sentenced to probation on a charge of robbery. After the trial court found Graham in violation of his probation, the court sentenced him to life in prison. Since Florida no longer has a Parole Board, this meant that Graham would not have the opportunity to seek parole; he would spend the rest of his life in prison. However, the Florida Supreme Court held “that for a juvenile offender who did not commit homicide the Eighth Amendment forbids the sentence of life without parole. This clear line is necessary to prevent the possibility that life without parole sentences will be imposed on juvenile nonhomicide offenders who are not sufficiently culpable to merit that punishment.” Graham v. Florida, 130 S. Ct. 2011, 2030, 176 L. Ed. 2d 825 (2010).

The important distinction in Graham is between cases involving homicide offenses and cases involving nonhomicide offenses. Since the Florida Supreme Court specifically found that life in prison without parole in nonomicide cases is unconstitutional, it still leaves a possible life without parole sentence available to judges when a juvenile commits a homicide offense. So, this may not be the end of litigation in this area.

*Disclaimer: This summary was prepared by the Law Office of Guichard St. Surin, P.A. and should be used as a reference only. Interested parties should contact an attorney before drawing legal conclusions.

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