Johnson v. State, 215 So.3d 1237 (Fla. 2017) (Appeal from Post-Graham Resentencing) (Post-Montgomery) – Defendant, age 17 at the time of the crimes, pleaded guilty to one count of armed burglary, three counts of armed kidnapping, one court of attempted first-degree murder, and one count of sexual battery using force or a weapon. He was sentenced to six concurrent life sentences. After Graham, defendant filed a motion to correct his illegal sentences. In 2012, the trial court set aside his life sentences and held a resentencing hearing. Defendant was resentenced to 100 years in prison for the first count and 40 years on each remaining count, to run concurrently. Defendant appealed the 100-year sentence. The appellate court rejected his appeal, holding that Graham does not apply to term-of-years sentences. The Florida Supreme Court granted review. On review, the Florida Supreme Court held that juvenile nonhomicide offenders are entitled to sentences that provide a meaningful opportunity for early release based on demonstrated maturity and rehabilitation during their natural lifetimes and that gain time fails to meet those requirements.
The court emphasized that Graham and related state jurisprudence focus not on the length of the sentence imposed, but on the status of the offender and the possibility that he or she will be able to grow into a contributing member of society. Thus, as in Kelsey, the court has determined that Graham prohibits juvenile nonhomicide offenders from serving lengthy terms of incarceration without any form of judicial review. And, per Henry, a lengthy term-of-years sentence must provide an opportunity for early release that is (1) meaningful; (2) based on a demonstration of maturity and rehabilitation; and (3) during the defendant’s natural life. Here, the state urged that the availability of gain time provided defendant with the requisite opportunity for early release such that his 100-year sentence did not violate Graham. The Florida Supreme Court disagreed. It explained that gain time—that is, an inmate’s opportunity to earn a sentence reduction through good behavior—generally was not based on a demonstration of maturity and rehabilitation as required. Moreover, by statute, defendant was ineligible for any gain time while he was serving life sentences, and did not accrue any gain time for the first two decades of his sentence. Thus, even with gain time accrual, defendant would not be eligible for release until at least 2052, when he would be 80 years old. This exceeded his life expectancy. Defendant’s sentence, therefore, failed to provide a meaningful opportunity for early release based on demonstrated maturity and rehabilitation during his natural life. “Accordingly, irrespective of whether [defendant] receives basic or incentive gain time to shorten his sentence, the application of gain time, alone, is insufficient to satisfy the requirements of Graham, Henry, and Kelsey.”
Moreover, the resentencing that defendant received did not provide the relief required by Henry, which mandates resentencing pursuant to the new juvenile sentencing guidelines. Remanded for resentencing.