FINAL UNTIL TIME EXPIRES TO FILE REHEARING MOTION AND, IF
from the Circuit Court for Pinellas County; William H.
Burgess, III, Judge.
Jo Bondi, Attorney General, Tallahassee, and Kiersten E.
Jensen, Assistant Attorney General, Tampa, for Appellant.
L. Dimmig, II, Public Defender, and Maureen E. Surber,
Assistant Public Defender, Bartow, for Appellee.
State seeks review of a postconviction order declaring
unconstitutional two life sentences for the crimes of
first-degree murder and attempted first-degree murder which
Kevin Ratliff committed when he was a juvenile. The
postconviction court granted relief under Miller v.
Alabama, 567 U.S. 460 (2012), and Graham v.
Florida, 560 U.S. 48 (2010), as interpreted in
Atwell v. State, 197 So.3d 1040 (Fla. 2016). The
State argues that the court erred by granting relief without
considering whether, due to the possibility of parole,
Ratliff's life sentences constituted "de facto"
life sentences. We reject this argument and affirm.
Miller, the Supreme Court held that it was a
violation of the Eighth Amendment to impose a mandatory
sentence of life without parole for a juvenile. 567 U.S. at
479. In Graham, the Supreme Court held that it was
also unconstitutional to impose a sentence of life without
parole for a juvenile convicted of a nonhomicide offense. 560
U.S. at 74-75. In Atwell, the Florida Supreme Court
held that Miller and Graham also apply in
cases in which a defendant sentenced to life in prison is
eligible for parole in Florida. 197 So.3d at 1050.
question on appeal is whether, under Atwell,
juveniles serving life sentences with parole eligibility are
entitled to relief under Miller and Graham
only if their presumptive parole release dates (PPRD) results
in their sentences being "de facto" life sentences.
We answer this question in the negative.
Atwell, the juvenile defendant had been convicted of
first-degree murder and sentenced to a mandatory term of life
in prison with parole eligibility. 197 So.3d at 1041. The
defendant's PPRD was 2130 which the court noted exceeded
his life expectancy and virtually ensured he would spend the
remainder of his life in prison. The question before the
court was whether the defendant's life sentence was
constitutional under Miller. Id.
court answered this question in the negative, stating,
"We conclude that Florida's existing parole system,
as set forth by statute, does not provide for individualized
consideration of Atwell's juvenile status at the time of
the murder, as required by Miller, and that his
sentence, which is virtually indistinguishable from a
sentence of life without parole, is therefore
unconstitutional." Id. The court explained
three reasons for its holding. First, it was consistent with
its prior cases which followed the spirit of Miller
and Graham as opposed to "an overly narrow
interpretation." Id. (citing Henry v.
State, 175 So.3d 675 (Fla. 2015), cert. denied,
136 S.Ct. 1455 (2016)).
it was consistent with the mandate in Miller and
Graham that courts sentencing juveniles consider how
they are different and how those differences mitigate against
life sentences. Id. at 1045. The court explained
that Miller and Graham would not
necessarily require resentencing if parole was available for
"certain juvenile offenders 'whose crimes reflected
only transient immaturity-and who have since matured.'
" Atwell, 197 So.3d at 1048 (quoting
Montgomery v. Louisiana, 136 S.Ct. 718, 736 (2016)).
However, Florida's existing parole system does not meet
this standard because it gives primary consideration to the
serious nature of the offense and the defendant's
criminal record. Id. at 1049. "Importantly,
unlike other states, there are no special protections
expressly afforded to juvenile offenders and no consideration
of the diminished culpability of the youth at the time of the
court's third reason for its conclusion was that it was
consistent with Florida's post-Miller and
Graham legislative intent. Id. at 1042.
"Rather than offer parole as a means of complying with
the principles established by the Supreme Court, the Florida
Legislature chose instead to enact a wholly new and distinct
sentencing framework for juvenile offenders, offering
term-of-years sentencing options for trial courts and
providing for a subsequent judicial review of lengthy
court thus quashed the decision upholding the defendant's
life sentence and remanded for resentencing under chapter
2014-220, Laws of Florida. Id. Under that framework,
the juvenile's sentence would be reviewed after
twenty-five years by a judge who must consider "among
other factors, the juvenile offender's youth and its
attendant characteristics at the time of the offense, the
opinion of the victim or the victim's next of kin
concerning the release of the juvenile offender from prison,
and whether the juvenile offender remains at the same level
of risk to society as he or she did at the time of the
initial sentencing." Id. at 1043.
Marshall v. State, 214 So.3d 776, 777 (Fla. 2d DCA
2017), this court relied on Atwell to hold that a
juvenile defendant sentenced to ninety-nine years with parole
eligibility was entitled to relief under Graham.
This court explained that the supreme court had clarified
that it is not necessary for term-of-years sentences to be
"de facto" life sentences for Graham to
apply. Id. at 778 (citing Kelsey v. State,
206 So.3d 5, 10 (Fla. 2016)). Instead, "the Eighth
Amendment will not tolerate prison sentences that lack a
review mechanism for evaluating this special class of
offenders for demonstrable maturity and reform in the
future." Id. (quoting Henry ...