final until disposition of timely filed motion for rehearing.
from the Circuit Court for the Nineteenth Judicial Circuit,
Martin County; Lawrence Michael Mirman, Judge; L.T. Case No.
Haughwout, Public Defender, and Stacey Kime, Assistant Public
Defender, West Palm Beach, for appellant.
Moody, Attorney General, Tallahassee, and Deborah Koenig,
Assistant Attorney General, West Palm Beach, for appellee.
Brooks Bellay appeals his life sentence, imposed following a
resentencing hearing pursuant to Miller v. Alabama,
567 U.S. 460 (2012), and section 921.1401, Florida Statutes
(2017). Appellant argues that his life sentence is an
unconstitutional cruel and unusual punishment because
"the evidence did not establish that he was permanently
incorrigible." Appellant also maintains that he was
entitled to elect to be resentenced under the 1983 sentencing
guidelines. We find that Appellant's sentence is
constitutional, and that Appellant was sentenced under the
proper law. As discussed below, we affirm.
1979, a four-year-old girl was reported missing. A search
commenced, in which Appellant, then fourteen years old,
participated as a volunteer. Eventually, the child was found
dead, naked, and partially covered in blood in a wooded area
near her home. The autopsy revealed that "the cause of
death [was] blunt trauma to the abdomen leading to
exsanguination. The four year old child had a lacerated
liver, fractured ribs, and a contusion to her sternal area.
Very significant force produced these injuries."
ultimately admitted to killing the child. He was initially
charged with first-degree murder. Following negotiations with
the State, Appellant waived his right to request a youthful
offender sentence, and the State dropped the first-degree
murder charge in return for the Appellant pleading guilty to
second-degree murder. Per the "open plea," the
determination of the sentence was left to the trial court; it
sentenced Appellant to life imprisonment.
the United States Supreme Court's opinion in
Miller and the subsequent enactment of section
921.1401, Florida Statutes, Appellant filed a motion for
postconviction relief, contending that his life sentence as a
juvenile offender violated the Eighth Amendment of the U.S.
Constitution and that, per Miller and section
921.1401, he was entitled to an individualized resentencing
hearing. With the State's consent, a resentencing hearing
to that hearing, defense counsel filed a motion asking for
Appellant to be sentenced as a Youthful Offender or under the
1983 sentencing guidelines. The trial court denied both
resentencing hearing, the State focused on the disturbing
nature of the offense, and the substantial impact that the
abduction, search, and murder had upon the victim's
family and community.
defense pointed to Appellant's family life and purported
remorse at the time of the crime. The defense's primary
focus, however, was on Appellant's transformation while
incarcerated. The defense argued that, in 1997, Appellant
commenced meaningful participation in a religious program
that his witnesses claim resulted in a "spiritual
transformation," leading to his becoming, in the words
of his classification officer, "the perfect
court issued a written resentencing order following the
hearing. The order first discussed Miller, noting
that the Court's opinion
acknowledged that a sentencing court might encounter the
"rare juvenile offender" for whom rehabilitation is
impossible and life without parole is justified. Further,
even if a court considers a child's age before sentencing
him or her to a lifetime in prison that sentence still
violates the Eighth Amendment for a child whose crime
reflects "unfortunate yet transient immaturity."
Life without parole should only be imposed on juvenile
offenders whose crimes reflect permanent incorrigibility and
trial court's order next detailed its consideration of
"all" of the sentencing factors set forth in
section 921.1401. The court first stated that "[t]o say
this crime is horrific is an understatement. It is one of the
most heinous crimes that has ever occurred in the history of
this jurisdiction . . . ." The order then discusses
Appellant's behavior immediately before and after the
"shockingly evil" murder; witness characterizations
of Appellant during this time frame; circumstances
surrounding the murder; and Appellant's behavior in
prison (both before and after the 1997 "spiritual
transformation"). Concluding that "there is no
doubt whatsoever that this Defendant is the rare juvenile
offender who exhibits such permanent incorrigibility and
irreparable corruption that rehabilitation is impossible and
a life sentence without meaningful parole is justified,"
the trial court resentenced Appellant to life in prison.
court also found that, for statutory purposes relating to
entitlement to sentence review, Appellant "is a person
who actually killed and intended to kill the victim" and
that the crime was committed while Appellant was a juvenile.
The court thus determined that Appellant is currently