Sentencing a juvenile to prison with possible parole more than a century away is a life sentence no matter what it is called. The Florida Supreme Court correctly recognized last week that such a parole scheme and a life sentence amount to a distinction without a difference and found the system unconstitutional. That tracks the precedent set by the U.S. Supreme Court and should lead to resentencing hearings for hundreds of inmates who were sentenced as juveniles to life with parole.
Florida gradually eliminated parole over the 1980s and ’90s, but it remained an option for first-degree murder sentences until 1994. Under that system, juveniles convicted of first-degree murder were sentenced just like adults were, and being a minor wasn’t a factor. The 1992 conviction of Angelo Atwell for the armed robbery and murder of a high school teacher in Broward County raised the question of young people receiving life sentences with virtually no chance of parole. Atwell was 16 when charged with the crime. Last year, a state board decided he couldn’t be up for parole until 2130 – 140 years after the crime. In reality, it is a life sentence with no chance of parole, which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional for juveniles in a 2012 opinion.
The state’s parole system fails to recognize how children are different from adults.
As Florida Supreme Court Justice Barbara Pariente wrote in the 4-3 majority opinion, the state’s parole system fails to recognize how children are different from adults. She pointed out that Atwell’s age was not considered in tailoring his life sentence and that “the current parole process similarly fails to take into account the offender’s juvenile status at the time of the offense, and effectively forces juvenile offenders to serve disproportionate sentences” like those forbidden by the U.S. Supreme Court.
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The practical impact is that several hundred prison inmates who were sentenced as juveniles and have no realistic hope of parole should be resentenced under current law. State law now requires courts to consider “youth-related sentencing factors” when imposing a sentence from 40 years to life, and the sentence is reviewed after 25 years by a trial judge who can modify it based on several factors. That is the correct approach to both punish juveniles for serious crimes and take into account their circumstances.
Why still sell cars with killer air bags?
From the New York Times:
Some 100 million vehicles with defective Takata air bags have been recalled around the world, about 60 million of them in the United States, which make it the largest auto recall in history. On Thursday, several companies, including General Motors and Ford, recalled an additional 4 million cars with those air bags, which have been linked to at least 13 deaths worldwide and more than 100 injuries.
Yet even now, four automakers – Fiat Chrysler, Toyota, Volkswagen and Mitsubishi – are selling new cars that contain the faulty air bags, according to a new report by the Democrats on the Senate Commerce Committee. And Fiat Chrysler and Toyota have refused to disclose which of their models contain the devices. This is completely unacceptable. At the very least, consumers need to be warned that their new cars will eventually have to be recalled.
These faulty devices are still in use because Takata, which had about 22 percent of the air bag market last year, and other manufacturers are struggling to produce enough of the devices that inflate air bags to meet demand for both the recall and new cars.
Some lawmakers, like Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida, the ranking Democrat on the Commerce Committee, say the safety agency should ban the sale of new cars with defective air bags. It is unclear whether the agency has the legal authority to do so. But it could demand that car companies inform consumers about which new cars have the risky air bag inflaters, so they can avoid buying one with a known defect. This is also important because it can be very hard for manufacturers to reach owners of defective vehicles years later, especially when the cars have been resold.
It’s a bizarre situation when a faulty device is knowingly put into new cars. This can’t give consumers much confidence in this industry or its regulator.