Constitutional Law

80 Years In Prison For 17-Year-Old Armed Robber Is Unconstitutional, Fla. Appeals Court Holds

A Florida appeals court has held that an 80-year prison sentence for a 17-year-old armed robber is unconstitutional.

The Tallahassee-based 1st District Court of Appeal said in a ruling (PDF) Thursday that such a sentence is the functional equivalent of a life-without-parole sentence, which the U.S. Supreme Court in 2010 said amounted to cruel and unusual punishment for juvenile offenders convicted of non-homicide offenses.

Antonio Demetrius Floyd, now 31, was 17 in 1998, when he stole a car and committed two armed robberies with a pellet gun, the Associated Press reports. He was originally sentenced to life in prison but was re-sentenced to two consecutive 40-year terms after the Supreme Court outlawed life sentences for juveniles who haven’t killed anyone.

In its ruling, the appeals court pointed out that Floyd, if he serves his entire sentence, would be 97 when he is released. Even if he earns the maximum amount of gain time, he would be 85 before he is freed.

“While the trial court was correct that the Eighth Amendment does not foreclose the possibility that juveniles who commit nonhomicide crimes will remain in prison for life,” the three-judge panel said in a per curiam opinion, “[the Supreme Court decision] also cautioned that states are foreclosed from making the judgment at the outset that those offenders will never be fit to re-enter society. … By sentencing appellant to 80 years in prison, the trial court impermissibly made that judgment,” they wrote.

In its ruling, the court also encouraged the state legislature to follow the Supreme Court’s guidance on the issue and to “explore the means and mechanisms” for complying with the decision.

“Until either the legislature or a higher court addresses the issue, the uncertainty that has arisen in this area of the law since [the ruling] will continue,” they wrote.

Hat tip to Sentencing Law and Policy blog.

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