Florida Juvenile Defendants Entitled to Bail, High Court Rules

Any minor arrested for a juvenile crime in Florida – no matter how serious – is entitled to bail. The one exception is murder.
That was the ruling handed down recently by the Florida Supreme Court in Treacy v. Lamberti, No. SC12-647, appeal from Fla. 4th DCA 2012.

The ruling has been hailed a victory for the rights of juvenile offenders, whom the assistant public defender in Broward said must be recognized and treated distinctly different than adults – even when he or she has been charged with a violent crime.

This is an important ruling because before, juveniles accused of “life felonies,” that is, those crimes that might net a life sentence, were not automatically entitled to bail. That is the same standard applied to adults. This decision says that unless the juvenile is charged with causing the death of another, he or she is entitled to bail.

The case that spurred this decision had been highly-publicized. In Treacy v. Lamberti, Wayne Treacy is a juvenile from Broward County who was charged as an adult with attempted first-degree murder with a deadly weapon. The defendant was 15 years-old when he was arrested for an attack on a 15-year-old female classmate, whom he knocked to the ground and repeatedly kicked in the head while wearing steel-toed shoes. The two had exchanged a series of insulting text messages prior to the attack, which left the girl with permanent brain injuries.

The defendant was tried as an adult and later sentenced to 20 years in prison.

But prior to his trial, his defense lawyer moved to have his bond set so that he could be free while he awaited trial. However, the judge denied that request, citing the current law.

However, per article I, section 14 of the Florida Constitution, the state allows for pretrial release for any crime that is not a capital offense or doesn’t carry the possibility of a life sentence.

At issue is that per the 2010 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Graham v. Florida, juveniles can’t be sentenced to life without the possibility of parole for non-homicide offenses. (The U.S. Supreme Court also ruled last year in Miller v. Alabama that mandatory life sentences for juveniles are cruel and unusual punishment and therefore unconstitutional.)

The appellate court in this case had previously found that the state’s constitution was only considering the classification of the offense, not the eventual sentence the defendant would receive. So even though there was no chance the juvenile defendant might receive a life sentence at the conclusion of his case, his crime was still considered a “life felony.”

But the Florida Supreme Court disagreed. Writing for the majority, Justice James E.C. Perry stated that because Treacy and juveniles like him can’t be sentenced to life without parole, this means they are entitled to pretrial release “on reasonable conditions.”

The decision doesn’t help Treacy now, unless he somehow has his conviction overturned on appeal. In the event of that happening, he would receive a new trial, along with the right to request a reasonable bail.

However, more than likely, it’s going to serve as a benefit to those whose cases are going before the courts from here on out.

A judge working to determine bail will consider:

–The nature of the offense;
–The weight of the evidence;
–The potential flight risk of the defendant;
–The defendant’s ability to post bond, which is 10 percent of the bail amount.

If you are charged with a crime in Palm Beach or Broward counties, contact the Law Offices of Leifert & Leifert, a Partnership of Former Prosecutors, for a free consultation to discuss your rights. Call 1.888.5.DEFEND.

Additional Resources:
Underage defendants entitled to bail – except in murder cases, Florida Supreme Court rules, Oct. 11, 2013, By Rafael Olmeda, Sun Sentinel
More Blog Entries:
Broward County Youths Can Get a Second Chance, Oct. 4, 2013, Fort Lauderdale Juvenile Defense Lawyer Blog

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