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State v. Michel

Supreme Court of Florida

July 12, 2018

STATE OF FLORIDA, Petitioner,
v.
BUDRY MICHEL, Respondent.

         NOT FINAL UNTIL TIME EXPIRES TO FILE REHEARING MOTION AND, IF FILED, DETERMINED.

          Application for Review of the Decision of the District Court of Appeal - Certified Direct Conflict of Decisions Fourth District - Case No. 4D13-1123 (Broward County)

          Pamela Jo Bondi, Attorney General, Tallahassee, Florida, Celia Terenzio, Bureau Chief, and Matthew Steven Ocksrider, Assistant Attorney General, West Palm Beach, Florida, for Petitioner

          Carey Haughwout, Public Defender, and Paul Edward Petillo, Assistant Public Defender, Fifteenth Judicial Circuit, West Palm Beach, Florida, for Respondent

          Paolo Annino, Florida State University College of Law, Tallahassee, Florida, and Roseanne Eckert, Florida International University College of Law, Miami, Florida,

          Amici Curiae Public Interest Law Center at the FSU College of Law and the Florida Juvenile Resentencing and Review Project at the FIU College of Law

          POLSTON, J.

         We review the decision of the Fourth District Court of Appeal in Michel v. State, 204 So.3d 101 (Fla. 4th DCA 2016), in which the Fourth District certified that its decision conflicts with the decisions of the Fifth District Court of Appeal in Stallings v. State, 198 So.3d 1081 (Fla. 5th DCA 2016), and Williams v. State, 198 So.3d 1084 (Fla. 5th DCA 2016).[1] We quash the Fourth District's decision in Michel and approve the Fifth District's decisions in Stallings and Williams to the extent that they are consistent with this opinion.

          As explained below, we hold that juvenile offenders' sentences of life with the possibility of parole after 25 years do not violate the Eighth Amendment of the United States Constitution as delineated by the United States Supreme Court in Graham v. Florida, 560 U.S. 48 (2010), Miller v. Alabama, 567 U.S. 460 (2012), and Virginia v. LeBlanc, 137 S.Ct. 1726 (2017). Therefore, such juvenile offenders are not entitled to resentencing under section 921.1402, Florida Statutes.

         BACKGROUND

         Budry Michel was charged with first-degree murder, armed robbery, armed kidnapping, and attempted armed robbery in the shooting death of Lynette Grames and robbery of Adnan Shafi Dada. The crimes occurred in 1991 when Michel was sixteen years old. After a jury convicted him of first-degree premeditated murder and armed robbery, he was sentenced to life imprisonment with the possibility of parole after 25 years with a concurrent sentence for the armed robbery that has since expired. The Fourth District affirmed Michel's judgment and sentence on direct appeal. See Michel v. State, 727 So.2d 941 (Fla. 4th DCA 1998).

         After the United States Supreme Court issued its opinion in Miller, Michel filed a motion for postconviction relief pursuant to Florida Rule of Criminal Procedure 3.850. The motion asserted that he was sentenced to life in prison for a homicide and, because he was under eighteen at the time of the crime, he was entitled to relief under Miller. The State argued that Miller was inapplicable because Michel had the opportunity for release on parole. The trial court summarily denied the motion for the reasons stated in the State's response. On appeal, the Fourth District reversed, interpreting this Court's opinion in Atwell v. State, 197 So.3d 1040 (Fla. 2016), to require resentencing even where the offender may later obtain parole. See Michel, 204 So.3d at 101.

         ANALYSIS

         The United States Supreme Court's Eighth Amendment precedent regarding juvenile sentencing requires a mechanism for providing juveniles with an opportunity for release based upon their individual circumstances, which is not a standard aimed at guaranteeing an outcome of release for all juveniles regardless of individual circumstances that might weigh against release.

         Specifically, in Graham, 560 U.S. at 74, the United States Supreme Court held that "for a juvenile offender who did not commit homicide the Eighth Amendment forbids the sentence of life without parole." Importantly, the United States Supreme Court continued by explaining the following:

A State is not required to guarantee eventual freedom to a juvenile offender convicted of a nonhomicide crime. What the State must do, however, is give defendants like Graham some meaningful opportunity to obtain release based on demonstrated maturity and rehabilitation. It is for the State, in the first instance, to explore the means and mechanisms for compliance. It bears emphasis, however, that while the Eighth Amendment prohibits a State from imposing a life without parole sentence on a juvenile nonhomicide offender, it does not require the State to release that offender during his natural life. Those who commit truly horrifying crimes as juveniles may turn out to be irredeemable, and thus deserving of incarceration for the duration of their lives. The Eighth Amendment does not foreclose the possibility that persons convicted of nonhomicide crimes committed before adulthood will remain behind bars for life. It does prohibit States from making the judgment at the outset that those offenders never will be fit to reenter society.

Id. at 75.

         Then, in Miller, 567 U.S. 460, the United States Supreme Court extended its categorical rule prohibiting life sentences without parole for juvenile offenders convicted of nonhomicide crimes to juvenile offenders convicted of homicide. The Court held that "the Eighth Amendment forbids a sentencing scheme that mandates life in prison without possibility of parole for juvenile offenders." Id. at 479. It explained that "[m]andatory life without parole for a juvenile precludes consideration of his chronological age and its hallmark features-among them, immaturity, impetuosity, and failure to appreciate risks and consequences." Id. at 477. "[Y]outh matters in determining the appropriateness of a lifetime of incarceration without the possibility of parole." Id. at 473. And "[a]lthough [the United States Supreme Court did] not foreclose a sentencer's ability to make that judgment in homicide cases, [the Court did] require it to take into account how children are different, and how those differences counsel against irrevocably sentencing them to a lifetime in prison." Id. at 480.

         In Atwell, when attempting to apply the United States Supreme Court's decisions in Graham and Miller, a majority of this Court took issue with extended presumptive parole release dates that may occur under Florida's parole statute and held that "[p]arole is, simply put, 'patently inconsistent with the legislative intent' as to how to comply with Graham and Miller." Atwell, 197 So.3d at 1049 (quoting Horsley v. State, 160 So.3d 393, 395 (Fla. 2015)).

         However, the more recent decision of LeBlanc, 137 S.Ct. 1726, has clarified that the majority's holding does not properly apply United States Supreme Court precedent. We reject the dissent's assertion that we must adhere to our prior error in Atwell and willfully ignore the United States Supreme Court's clarification in LeBlanc. See Rotemi Realty, Inc. v. Act Realty Co., 911 So.2d 1181, 1188 (Fla. 2005) ("[S]tare decisis counsels us to follow our precedents unless there has been 'a significant change in circumstances after the adoption of the legal rule, or . . . an error in legal analysis.'" (emphasis added) (quoting Dorsey v. State, 868 So.2d 1192, 1199 (Fla. 2003))).

         In LeBlanc, 137 S.Ct. at 1729, the United States Supreme Court reversed the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals and held that a Virginia court's decision affirming a juvenile offender's sentence of life for a nonhomicide crime subject to the possibility of conditional geriatric release was not an unreasonable application of the Supreme Court's case law. The Virginia court had relied on Angel v. Commonwealth, 704 S.E.2d 386 (Va. 2011), where the Virginia Supreme Court held that Virginia's geriatric release program complied with Graham "because it provided 'the meaningful opportunity to obtain release based on demonstrated maturity and rehabilitation required by the Eighth Amendment.'" LeBlanc, 137 S.Ct. at 1728 (quoting Angel, 704 S.E.2d at 402). "The [Virginia] statute establishing the program provides:"

Any person serving a sentence imposed upon a conviction for a felony offense . . . (i) who has reached the age of sixty-five or older and who has served at least five years of the sentence imposed or (ii) who has reached the age of sixty or older and who has served at least ten years of the sentence imposed may petition the Parole Board for conditional release.

Id. (quoting Va. Code Ann. § 53.1-40.01 (2013)). Further, "[t]he regulations for conditional release under this statute provide that if the prisoner meets the qualifications for consideration contained in the statute, the factors used in the normal parole consideration process apply to conditional release decisions under this statute." Id. (quoting Angel, 704 S.E.2d at 402).

As the United States Supreme Court explained in LeBlanc,
Graham did not decide that a geriatric release program like Virginia's failed to satisfy the Eighth Amendment because that question was not presented. And it was not objectively unreasonable for the state court to conclude that, because the geriatric release program employed normal parole factors, it satisfied Graham's requirement that juveniles convicted of a nonhomicide crime have a meaningful opportunity to receive parole. The geriatric release program instructs Virginia's Parole Board to consider factors like the "individual's history . . . and the individual's conduct ... during incarceration," as well as the prisoner's "inter-personal relationships with staff and inmates" and "[c]hanges in attitude toward self and others." See 841 F.3d at 280- 281 (Niemeyer, J., dissenting) (citing Virginia Parole Board Policy Manual 2-4 (Oct. 2006)). Consideration of these factors could allow the Parole Board to order a former juvenile offender's conditional release in light of his or her "demonstrated maturity and rehabilitation." Graham, 560 U.S., at 75.

Id. at 1728-29.

         Similarly, here, Michel's sentence does not violate Graham or Miller because Michel was not sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. Michel is eligible for parole after serving 25 years of his sentence, which is certainly within his lifetime since he was sentenced in 1996 at the age of 16. The United States Supreme Court's precedent states that the "Eighth Amendment . . . does not require the State to release [a juvenile] offender during his natural life." Graham, 560 U.S. at 75. It only requires states to provide "some meaningful opportunity to obtain release based on demonstrated maturity and rehabilitation." Id. And Michel will receive a "meaningful opportunity" under Florida's parole system after serving 25 years in prison and then (if applicable) every 7 years thereafter. See §§ 947.16-.174, Fla. Stat.

         Florida's statutorily required initial interview and subsequent reviews before the Florida Parole Commission include the type of individualized consideration discussed by the United States Supreme Court in Miller. For example, under section 947.174(3), Florida Statutes, the presumptive parole release date is reviewed every 7 years in light of information "including, but not limited to, current progress reports, psychological reports, and disciplinary reports." This information, including these individualized reports, would demonstrate maturity and rehabilitation as required by Miller and Graham. Moreover, there is no evidence in this record that Florida's preexisting statutory parole system (i) fails to provide Michel with a "meaningful opportunity to obtain release," Graham, 560 U.S. at 75, or (ii) otherwise violates Miller and Graham when applied to juvenile offenders whose sentences include the possibility of parole after 25 years. And these parole decisions are subject to judicial review. See Johnson v. Fla. Parole Comm'n, 841 So.2d 615, 617 (Fla. 1st DCA 2003) (recognizing that the Parole Commission's final orders are reviewable in circuit court through an extraordinary writ petition); see also Parole Comm'n v. Huckelbury, 903 So.2d 977, 978 (Fla. 1st DCA 2005) (reviewing a circuit court's order on an inmate's petition challenging the suspension of a presumptive parole release date).

         Accordingly, if a Virginia juvenile life sentence subject to possible conditional geriatric release after four decades of incarceration based upon the individualized considerations quoted above conforms to current case law from the United States Supreme Court, a Florida juvenile life sentence with the possibility of parole after 25 years does too. See also Friedlander v. United States, 542 Fed.Appx. 576, 577 (9th Cir. 2013) (holding Miller did not apply to juvenile offender's life sentence because "Friedlander was not sentenced to life without parole [as] Friedlander admits that he 'has seen the parole board approximately 8 time[s]' "); Lewis v. State, 428 S.W.3d 860, 863 (Tex. Crim. App. 2014) (holding that a juvenile's mandatory sentence of life with possibility of parole did not violate Miller, explaining that "[l]ife in prison with the possibility of parole leaves a route for juvenile offenders to prove that they have changed while also assessing a punishment that the Legislature has deemed appropriate"); James v. United States, 59 A.3d 1233, 1235 (D.C. 2013) (holding that Graham and Miller did not apply to a Washington, D.C., juvenile offender's sentence of a mandatory minimum of 30 years to life with eligibility for parole after 30 years).[2]

         CONCLUSION

         We hold that juvenile offenders' sentences of life with the possibility of parole after 25 years under Florida's parole system do not violate "Graham's requirement that juveniles . . . have a meaningful opportunity to receive parole." LeBlanc, 137 S.Ct. at 1729. Therefore, such juvenile offenders are not entitled to resentencing under section 921.1402, Florida Statutes. Accordingly, we quash the

          Fourth District's decision in Michel and approve the Fifth District's decisions in Stallings and Williams to the extent that they are consistent with this opinion.

         It is so ordered.

          CANADY, CJ, and LAWSON, J, concur

          LEWIS, J, concurs in result

          PARIENTE, J, dissents with an opinion, in which QUINCE ...


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