The Florida House has passed a bill that re-works mandatory life sentences for juveniles, bringing state law closer to a ruling from the United States Supreme Court banning such sentences.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2012 that life without parole for juveniles violates the Constitution's ban against cruel and unusual punishment, leaving Florida law in need of an update.
The House passed the bill (HB 7035), sponsored by James Grant, R-Tampa, 117-0 on Tuesday. The accompanying Senate bill (SB 384) is on the calendar for Thursday.
The House bill allows for varying sentences and a judicial hearing depending on the crime.
The U.S. Supreme Court has acknowledged that juvenile brains are still developing, and they deserve an opportunity for rehabilitation. The bill excludes a review for murder defendants who previously committed serious crimes.
"I believe we landed in a good spot," Grant said. "If we do not get something done this year, the Supreme Court will be writing this law and we don't know what we'll get.
"I believe we've landed in a place ... that is common sense that ensures that monsters who threaten our public safety are not let out of prison, but then every juvenile sentenced is not seen somehow as a monster that we do provide a process for rehabilitation - to differentiate between those two juveniles."
Following the U.S. Supreme Court ruling, the Florida Supreme Court began hearing arguments in the case of Rebecca Falcon, who was convicted of murder and sentenced to life without parole at age 15 after a cab driver was shot in the head in 1997. She is seeking release after the U.S. Supreme Court banned life-without-parole sentences for those who were under age 18 when the crime was committed.