Florida Supreme Court holds that Miller v. Alabama applies retroactively

On behalf of Billie Jo Hopwood

Falcon v. State

Falcon v. State, 40 Fla L. Weekly S151, is a Florida Supreme Court case involving a 15-year-old defendant who, in 1997, was involved in an attempted robbery that resulted in the death of a cab driver. The defendant had suffered a traumatic childhood, including sexual and emotional abuse and sexual exploitation from peers at school. On the night of the crime, the defendant had broken up with her boyfriend and consumed alcohol with the intent to "sleep off her sadness."

The defendant was convicted of first-degree murder and attempted armed robbery with a firearm and sentenced to 207.5 months for attempted armed robbery and the mandatory sentence for juvenile offenders for the murder: life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.

Miller v. Alabama

Miller v. Alabama, 132 S.Ct. 2455, is a 2012 United States Supreme Court case that "forbids a sentencing scheme that mandates life in prison without the possibility of parole for juvenile offenders" as violative of the eighth amendment's prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.

Does Miller v. Alabama apply retroactively?

The question before the Florida Supreme Court was whether Miller v. Alabama's prohibition on life sentences without parole for those under the age of 18 at the time of their crimes applied retroactively, that is, to crimes committed before Miller v. Alabama was decided.

Prior to the Florida Supreme Court addressing this issue, different courts in Florida had answered the question differently. Two circuits concluded it was retroactive while three held that it was not. Thus, the precise question before the Florida Supreme Court was "'whether the rule established in Miller v. Alabama . . . that mandatory life without parole for those under the age of 18 at the time of their crimes violates the eight amendment[ ],' should be given retroactive effect?"

In Florida, the test for determining whether a change in the law should apply retroactively is "(a) emanates from this court or the United States Supreme Court, (b) is constitutional in nature, and (c) constitutes a development of fundamental significance."

The Florida Supreme Court held that it applies to "juvenile offenders whose convictions and sentences were already final at the time Miller was decided" because it concluded thatMiller constitutes a "development of fundamental significance" in addition to emanating from the United States Supreme Court and being constitutional in nature.

Speak to a criminal defense attorney

If you have been convicted of a crime as a juvenile, it is important to work with a criminal defense lawyer experienced in juvenile crime matters. Contact our firm today to schedule a consultation to discuss your case.