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Latest News: Amicus Curiae Activity

Kelsey v. Florida

Tuesday, January 19, 2016  
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Court: Florida Supreme Court

Topic: Lengthy Term-of-Years Sentences and Juvenile Offenders’ Meaningful Opportunity for Early Release after Graham v. Florida


In 2010, Thomas Kelsey was sentenced to two life sentences and two concurrent twenty-five year terms for non-homicide offenses he committed in 2002 at the age of fifteen. After the United States Supreme Court in Graham v. Florida ruled that mandatory life sentences are unconstitutional for juveniles convicted of non-homicide offenses, Mr. Kelsey was resentenced to four concurrent forty-five year terms. Mr. Kelsey appealed to the District Court of Appeal of Florida, First District, arguing that the forty-five year terms did not afford him a meaningful opportunity to obtain release based on his demonstrated maturity and rehabilitation as required by Graham. The District Court of Appeals affirmed the concurrent forty-five year sentences, concluding that Mr. Kelsey had not received a de facto life sentence and was therefore not entitled to resentencing. Mr. Kelsey appealed to the Florida Supreme Court.


This amicus brief argues that Mr. Kelsey’s forty-five year sentence is unconstitutional because it deprives him of the opportunity to re-enter society after demonstrating maturity and rehabilitation. The United States Supreme Court has established in Roper v. Simmons, Graham v. Florida, and Miller v. Alabama that juvenile offenders are entitled to special constitutional protections in sentencing due to their inherent lack of maturity, greater susceptibility to negative influence, and a character less well-formed than that of an adult. The brief further argues that Graham entitles all juveniles with lengthy term-of-life sentences to resentencing under state law. The brief contends that the District Court of Appeals did not apply the correct legal standard because the Court must consider whether a juvenile has an opportunity for early release during his or her natural life based on demonstrated maturity and rehabilitation, as opposed to whether the juvenile’s sentence was de facto life. The brief advocates that the Florida Supreme Court should adopt the Iowa Supreme Court’s definition of “lengthy term-of-years” sentences which includes “any sentence that effectively deprives a juvenile offender of any chance of an earlier release and the possibility of leading a more normal adult life.” The brief maintains that life expectancy data is inaccurate as applied to juvenile offenders, and that research on adolescent development and recidivism concludes that juveniles must be given a meaningful opportunity for early released based on consideration of their maturity and rehabilitation.

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