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Post-Conviction Relief for Juvenile Sentenced as an Adult

Today, we won a post-conviction motion for a juvenile client who had been sentenced to 25 years in prison, with a 10 year minimum mandatory sentence. We successfully reduced his sentence to10 years in prison, with no mandatory time – which means we saved him 6 ½ years of prison time.

In 2009, Mr. K was just 16 years old, with an eighth grade education, when he was arrested for armed robbery with a firearm. The State direct filed his case to adult circuit court, and offered his attorney a plea bargain of 10 years in prison. When that offer was not accepted, the State amended the charge to include a 10 year minimum mandatory sentence, pursuant to Florida’s 10-20-Life statute, §775.087(2)(a)1, Fla. Stat., and offered 10 years in prison, mandatory.

Mr. K’s attorney never discussed those plea offers with Mr. K or his family. He advised Mr. K to plead guilty “straight up” to the court, and request a sentencing hearing. He told Mr. K he would not receive more than 10 years in prison, and would likely receive a Youthful Offender Sentence, with a maximum of 4 years in prison and 2 years of probation.

Mr. K had a great deal of mitigation to present to the court at his sentencing hearing. His biological father had gotten him hooked on prescription pain pills at the age of 14. His dad also taught him to commit crimes in order to get money to get the pills. When Mr. K was 16, and incarcerated in a juvenile detention facility, his dad died of a drug overdose.

Mr. K had a loving and supportive mom and stepfather, but they had been unsuccessful in getting him on the right path, due to the influence of his father. At the sentencing hearing, they, and other family members, explained his history to the court. They told the judge that, with the passing of his dad, and with the help of drug rehabilitation and therapy, there was hope for him. They asked the court to impose a Youthful Offender sentence, so that he would have a chance at a successful life.

The State recommended a sentence of 10 years in prison. A probation officer from the Department of Corrections reviewed Mr. K’s background, and his Pre-Sentence Investigation Report, and recommended a sentence of just 3 years in prison.

Sadly, the judge did not listen to the mitigation or follow the recommendations. Instead, she sentenced Mr. K to 25 years in prison, with 10 years mandatory.

After the sentencing hearing, Mr. K’s attorney filed an appeal. In the meantime, his family hired another attorney to file a Rule 3.850 Motion to Withdraw Plea, because his attorney had been ineffective for not conveying the 10 year plea offer from the State, and for telling him he would not receive more than 10 years at a sentencing hearing.

The trial court scheduled a hearing on the motion, and granted it. However, rather than sentencing Mr. K to the 10 years the State recommended, the court would only permit Mr. K to plead to a new sentence of 15 years in prison, with 10 years mandatory. This meant Mr. K would spend at least 14 years in prison.

Seven years later, after Mr. K had spent 8 years in prison, his family hired Fallgatter & Catlin to see if we could determine a way to reduce his sentence. We reviewed the records (including the appeal file) and transcripts from his case, and the law regarding ineffective assistance of counsel. According to the United States and Florida Supreme Courts in Lafler v. Cooper, 566 U.S. 156 (2012) and Alcorn v. State, 121 So.3d 419 (Fla. 2013), if a defendant receives ineffective assistance of counsel, he is entitled to be restored to the sentence he would have received, but for that ineffective assistance. This meant Mr. K was entitled to be sentenced to the 10 years in prison the State had originally offered.

Initially, we were not sure how we could bring this issue back before the court, because a Rule 3.850 motion must normally be filed within 2 years of the sentencing, or within 2 years of newly discovered evidence. We were several years beyond those deadlines, because the sentences has been imposed in 2009, and there was no newly discovered evidence.

After further research, Mr. Fallgatter discovered a procedural remedy. According to the Florida Rules of Appellate Procedure, when Mr. K’s first attorney filed an appeal of the original sentence, and that appeal was docketed, the lower court lost jurisdiction over the case. Therefore, the trial court did not have jurisdiction to hear the motion filed by his second attorney, or to impose the new 15 year sentence. However, because the motion had been filed within 2 years of the original sentencing, it was now ripe to be ruled upon.

The State agreed with Mr. Fallgatter’s analysis, and we filed a new Consent Motion to Withdraw Plea, and restore the 10 year offer. Today, the court granted our Motion, and reduced Mr. K’s sentence to 10 years in prison, with no mandatory time. Mr. K’s family, especially his mom, is overjoyed with this result. After being incarcerated for more than 8 years, Mr. K will be released this year, and should be home in time to celebrate his 25th birthday with his family this October – as well as many more birthdays, Thanksgivings, Christmases and many other holidays.

Success stories like this make us proud of the dedicated work we do for our clients every day!