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Juvenile Justice Debate Continues As Teen Serves 70-Year Sentence

Is a 70 year sentence without parole for a 14-year-old effectively the same as life in prison? Jacksonville’s Shimeek Gridine is a plaintiff in a lawsuit before the Florida Supreme Court that will decide whether his harsh sentence violates the federal constitution.

Gridine was 14 when he and another boy attempted to rob a man in 2009. Gridine fired a shotgun, hitting the man’s head and shoulder, but not seriously wounding him.

He was sentenced to 70 years without parole after being tried as an adult and pleading guilty to attempted murder and robbery.

Melissa Ross spoke with professor Stephen Harper of the Florida International University School of Law about the potential need for reform in Florida’s juvenile justice system.

Harper referenced Graham v. Florida and Miller v. Alabama, two U.S. Supreme Court cases dealing with the juvenile justice system.

The 2010 Graham v. Florida decision states that offenders cannot be sentenced to life imprisonment without parole for non-homicide offenses, and the Miller v. Alabama case had a similar ruling.

“Graham does not require a person to be released," Harper said, "but what it does do is creates an opportunity for the juvenile to demonstrate that he’s been rehabilitated and he’s more mature.”

He explained that, according to the U.S. Supreme Court, children are different.

“They are more impressionable, they are more rehabilitatable, and so culpability and blameworthiness is diminished to a substantial degree by reason of youth and immaturity,” he said.

On the other hand, victims and victims’ families don’t necessarily care about the offender's age.

As one First Coast Connect listener put it on Twitter, “If you commit an adult crime, you deserve an adult punishment.”

Cindy, a caller from Riverside, referred to sentencing in Jacksonville as, “The harshest and least forgiving of rehabilitative systems that we have in the country.”

Harper attributed some of this to a huge crime wave in the 1990’s causing Florida law to change and become very harsh, very quickly.

“The adult system was getting more punitive and more kids were getting sent into the adult system,” he said.

Harper predicted that the court will rule in Gridine v. Florida in the next few months.

You can follow Melissa Ross on Twitter @MelissainJax and Lindsey Kilbride @lindskilbride.

Melissa Ross joined WJCT in 2009 with 20 years of experience in broadcasting, including stints in Cincinnati, Chicago, Orlando and Jacksonville. During her career as a television and radio news anchor and reporter, Melissa has won four regional Emmys for news and feature reporting.
Lindsey Kilbride was WJCT's special projects producer until Aug. 28, 2020. She reported, hosted and produced podcasts like Odd Ball, for which she was honored with a statewide award from the Associated Press, as well as What It's Like. She also produced VOIDCAST, hosted by Void magazine's Matt Shaw, and the ADAPT podcast, hosted by WJCT's Brendan Rivers.