More juveniles are being resentenced in Palm Beach County this week after the US Supreme Court ruled that sentencing a minor to life in prison without the possibility of parole for a crime other than murder is unconstitutional. Emmanuel Paul and David Slocum are scheduled to be resentenced by Judge Colbath in Palm Beach County on Tuesday after their life sentences were reversed. Both men were convicted of raping a woman and trying to kill her in 1994. Now, fifteen years later, the pair hope to receive a sentence that will prevent them from dying in prison.
We first wrote about this issue when the Dunbar Village defendants were being resentenced back in August. Read more about this issue here. Their life sentences were reversed and Judge Krista Marx sentenced them to 60 years in prison. Now, there is speculation that the 60 year sentence may also be reversed if the Appellate Court finds that 60 years is tantamount to life in prison.
The Supreme Court’s ruling states that a juvenile who is sentenced for a crime other than murder cannot be sentenced to life without parole. This is cruel and unusual punishment. The idea is that a juvenile’s brain is not yet fully developed when the crime is committed and dictating that there is no chance at rehabilitation at such an early age is cruel.
Florida is unique in that there is no easy fix for complying with the US Supreme Court’s ruling. Most states combat this problem with their parole system. A juvenile offender sentenced to life will go before a parole board at some point, and the parole board will determine if the offender has been rehabilitated. In Florida, we abolished parole in the 1990’s. So without any type of parole system to later determine whether or not the juvenile has been rehabilitated, Courts are forced to structure sentences for very violent juveniles without the benefit of time to see if they have actually been rehabilitated. This has led to many judges handing down very high jail sentences, such as the 60 year sentence in the Dunbar case.
Florida legislators are now proposing options to counter the Court’s ruling, such as reinstating parole for juvenile offenders. Many fear this option will not make it far since the state fought hard to get rid of parole in the first place. Another option is having juveniles brought back to court 25 years after they were initially sentenced to be resentenced. This is effectively turning the court system into a parole system. If they are rehabilitated, the judge could set them free. If the judge finds they are not rehabilitated, they could be resentenced to life in prison. Certainly, the negative of this scenario is that a judge is ruling on the fate of the juvenile without the benefit of hearing the facts at trial and potentially without hearing from the crime victim if they have passed away or moved out of the area in the interim. It also puts an added role onto the already taxed court system. Judges, who are not generally in the habit of evaluating whether or not a person has been rehabilitated, would then take on this additional role. It would also mean one person evaluating the juvenile rather than numerous people who would make up a parole board.
In the meantime, while we await any pending legislation to combat the Court’s ruling, there are 77 juvenile offenders who have to be resentenced.