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State Supreme Court Extends Federal Ruling About Juvenile Sentencing

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The Florida Supreme Court has reached a groundbreaking decision about inmates who were sentenced to mandatory life in prison without parole for crimes they committed while they were still kids.

The decision makes 2012's Miller v. Alabama apply retroactively. It was a U.S. Supreme Court decision that ruled mandatory life sentences without the opportunity for release were cruel and unusual.

For the past three years, 201 Florida inmates have been in a kind of limbo. They're inmates who were sentenced to life in prison without parole as juveniles before the Miller ruling.

The Florida Supreme Court has ruled that the federal decision should be applied retroactively, which means those inmates will have a shot at reducing their sentences. South Florida is home to almost a quarter of them.

Paolo Annino is co-director of Florida State University's Public Interest Law Center and has conducted extensive research on the remaining Miller cases. He says this ruling means hope for those inmates.

“And it’s a realistic hope,” says Annino. “It’s a hope that someday they may be released, and when that day is will depend on whether or not they earned it.”

He says the inmates will have to demonstrate a degree of rehabilitation as evidenced by taking advantage of prison recourses, like earning their GEDs.

Inmates will have two years to apply for resentencing, at which point they’ll make their case for release.