FILE - FL Sen. Jeff Brandes

Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg

The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Criminal and Civil Justice on Tuesday approved the proposed Second Look Act, a measure that could make more than 4,200 incarcerated juveniles eligible for sentence reviews and possible release from prison.

Senate Bill 1308, sponsored by Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, advanced in a 6-1 vote. It has one stop in the Senate Appropriations Committee remaining before a chamber vote and transmittal to the House, where it will face resistance.

That reality was underscored Tuesday when the panel added proposals Brandes had filed as standalone measures into SB 1308 as amendments. Those proposals included sentencing retroactively, conditional medical release and aging inmate release.

Brandes, who has spearheaded the Legislature’s criminal justice reform effort for several years, said the amendments make SB 1308 the Senate’s criminal justice package for the 2020 session.

“The amendment removes certain mandatory minimums, expands forensic evidence (for use in exoneration as well as conviction) and use of the national DNA system,” he said.

SB 1308, or the Second Look Act, would allow those convicted of crimes before they were 25 years old to apply for a sentence review. Those who receive life sentences for murder are excluded.

The U.S. Supreme Court, in Roper v. Simmons, held juveniles convicted of murder cannot receive the death penalty, and in Graham v. Florida and Miller v. Alabama, it mandated the creation of a separate juvenile sentencing doctrine.

In Graham v. Florida, the Court held a juvenile offender may not be sentenced to life in prison for a non-homicide offense “without a meaningful opportunity to obtain release.”

House Bill 7035, adopted by the Legislature in 2014, ensured Florida has a juvenile sentencing scheme for offenses punishable by a life sentence without parole.

SB 1308 expands HB 7035’s provisions by making qualified juvenile offenders eligible for a sentencing review after 25 years if they previously never were convicted of murder or conspiracy to commit murder.

The bill allows for retroactive application.

“If 25 years on the term of imprisonment has already been served by July 1, 2020, the sentence review hearing must be conducted immediately,” it states.

On Feb. 10, the Criminal Justice Impact Conference estimated the bill would have a “significant” impact in reducing juvenile prison beds.

“Per [Department of Corrections], there are currently 4,259 inmates who are potentially eligible for sentencing review under the amended language. It is not known how the courts will respond to those who are potentially eligible, therefore the impact on prison beds cannot be quantified,” the conference wrote. “However, given the large number of inmates currently fitting this criteria, there is expected to be a significant impact.”

The DOC said it would need to notify 5,312 incarcerated young adult offenders who potentially could be eligible for a sentence review, including 37 juveniles who could qualify for the retroactive component.

The bill is opposed by some law enforcement advocates, including the Florida Sheriff’s Association (FSA), which objected in statements and press conferences throughout the session to its juvenile sentence mitigations and the elimination of mandatory minimums for drug possession for youth offenders, allowing judicial discretion.

Brandes said FSA’s argument that minimum-mandatory sentencing provides a “floor” also its objection against Fleming Island Republican state Sen. Ron Bradley’s more expansive Senate Bill 346, which could be approved by the Senate this week.

Law enforcement and prosecutors have discretion, he said, and so should judges, calling minimum-mandatory sentencing a “sword” used “to force people to settle” for unfair sentences.

“Character is not static,” Brandes said. “Sometimes justice demands a second chance.”

– The Center Square