Supreme Court ruling on juvenile sentencing at play in Florida case

We noted in a blog post earlier this year (please see our July 3 entry) the Supreme Court’s continued focus in recent years on sentencing mitigation reform for minors who commit serious crimes while under the age of 18 for which they receive harsh sentencing.

In June of this year, the Court took its views a step further in a narrow ruling pursuant to which it announced that sentencing a juvenile to a life sentence without parole following that minor’s conviction for any crime violates the Constitution’s bar against cruel and unusual punishment.

The rationale as stated in our earlier post is “the opportunity for judges and juries to exercise discretion that is not barred by a mandated sentence.”

A recent case from Florida centrally relates to the Court’s ruling and the requirement that a convicted juvenile receive a mitigation hearing in which proof can be presented that supports a lighter sentence.

Mark Berrios, a Jacksonville native, is now 32. He was 15 in 1995 when he was convicted by a jury of first-degree murder and sentenced by a judge to life in prison without any possibility of parole. Prosecutors in the case cited robbery as the motive, while Berrios claimed that he acted out of fear of being sexually assaulted. The man he killed was suspected of being a principal in a pedophile ring.

With what is called “gain time” for good behavior, Berrios has already served the equivalent of more than 24 years in prison.

Berrios’ attorney asked for a resentencing hearing and said last week that the Florida State Attorney General’s Office has agreed to allow Berrios to apply for parole after he has served 25 years behind bars. With gain time factored in, Berrios could be close to release.

Prosecutors wouldn’t confirm that, but did say that “we acknowledge the U.S. Supreme Court decision and will comply with it.”

There is one sticking point: A Miami appeals court ruled just last week that the change in law is not retroactive.

We will keep readers apprised of any material developments that emerge concerning the Court’s ruling and related factors.

Source: Daytona Beach News-Journal, “Lawyer: Killer sentenced as teen to life in prison may get new sentence,” Jennifer Edwards, Oct. 7, 2012