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No Chance for Second Chance for Children Act?

Recognizing she did not have the votes at the Senate Judiciary Committee January 24, Sen. Joyner temporarily postponed her bill.


Then Chair Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, responded: "This bill will not come back up again, just so you know."

Beforehand, there was spirited debate on the bill that would allow a youthful offender sentenced to 10 or more years, upon reaching the age of 25, to file a motion to reduce the original sentence if certain criteria are met, such as completing the general education program (GED) and being free of any disciplinary reports in prison for at least three years before filing the petition.

Professor Annino again brought up the case of Kenneth Young, the poster child for the Second Chance for Children Act, to illustrate that "80 percent of all juvenile crime is done in groups," that the minor is often led into crime by an adult, yet both the juvenile and adult receive the same sentence.

Young was 14 when he was solicited by a 24-year-old--who had the gun and the car --to participate in a series of robberies, where no one was injured. Yet, Young received four consecutive life sentences, with the judge later admitting he did not realize a life sentence truly meant life in prison with no chance for parole.

"What this bill does is recognizes the fact that juveniles are different than adults and deserve a second look at the time of maturity," Annino said.

But Eighth Circuit State Attorney Bill Cervone, representing the Florida Prosecuting Attorneys Association, said: "While it is tempting to think we are dealing with towheaded little Dennis-the-Menace types, we are not. This bill would give disparate consideration to an idealized view that these are juvenile delinquents who simply have been misguided or need direction, and that is not at all the case.

"These are, for the most part, going to be people who have committed rape, who have committed violent robbery, who have tried their best to kill, and by sheer luck were not able to kill, and were convicted only of attempted murder."

Sen. Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton, who voted favorably for the bill the first go-around on November 3, said to Cervone: "As a prosecutor, I know you work with a lot of judges. Let's talk about those kids in Ft. Lauderdale who did those horrible things to that mother and her daughter. Have you ever met any judge ever in your career who would release those kids after five years or seven years?"

And Cervone responded: "I think the answer to that is 'yes.' I have several judges that I would be concerned would do so, yes."

Bennett bounced back: "I just want to clarify: The judges make mistakes, but the prosecutors don't? Is that what you're saying?"

Cervone answered: "I did not say that, Senator. I said we have serious considerations to what we are dealing with, in that victims and society as a whole deserve more protection from these kinds of crimes, once they reach the point of being sentenced."

Second Circuit Public Defender Nancy Daniels, speaking for the Florida Public Defender Association, supported the bill and said it boils down to whether you believe in rehabilitation.

"My experience is judges are not highly motivated to let violent offenders out of prison unless there is demonstrable evidence of some rehabilitation and mitigation," Daniels said.

"The reason for this to begin with is children's brains are not as well-developed as adults. I have a 14-year-old. I can tell you, and I'm sure everybody in the room who has teenagers can tell you, they are not all the way there yet cognitively. And yet, the criminal law makes no differentiation between an act they would commit and an act someone over 18 would commit. That is why Graham was decided. And right now in Florida law, there's a limbo. What are circuit judges supposed to do? They have already had several re-sentencings, but there's no guidance. This bill creates a very narrow path for some--some more deserving offenders to get a review."
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Publication:Florida Bar News
Date:Mar 1, 2012
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