News from Tallahassee for 3/28/15

Lawmakers seek limits to criminally charging youth as adults posted on 3/24/15

by Michael Auslen | Tampa Bay Times

TALLAHASSEE — When he was 16, Miguel Marino was arrested for breaking into an unoccupied home in Hillsborough County.

A prosecutor charged him as an adult, and Marino was sentenced to house arrest and four years of probation, his mother, Maria Marino, said. When he violated his probation, despite being a juvenile when he committed the crime, he was sentenced to prison, as if he were an adult.

"My son committed a serious mistake, and I know he should be punished for it," Maria Marino said in a Florida House hearing last week. "But he should have been handled by the juvenile justice system."

Marino's story isn't unique. In Florida, prosecutors have wide discretion to move juvenile cases to adult court, including for nonviolent felonies. This has led to minors spending time in a correctional system under investigation for mistreating and neglecting inmates.

Rep. Katie Edwards, D-Plantation, is sponsoring a House bill that would limit prosecutorial discretion under the state's "direct file" statute. It cleared its first committee last week with just one opponent, Rep. Dave Kerner, D-Lake Worth, a former special prosecutor.

In the Senate on Monday, a committee approved a version of the bill sponsored by Sen. Thad Altman, R-Melbourne.

"Why on Earth would I want to send a 15-, 16- or 17-year-old kid who's committed petty theft or is there for a nonviolent drug offense into the state prison system?" Edwards said. "I've essentially put that child at risk for a lifetime of lawlessness."

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State Supreme Court Extends Federal Ruling About Juvenile Sentencing posted on 3/23/15

by WILSON SAYRE | WUSF

The Florida Supreme Court has reached a groundbreaking decision about inmates who were sentenced to mandatory life in prison without parole for crimes they committed while they were still kids.

The decision makes 2012's Miller v. Alabama apply retroactively. It was a U.S. Supreme Court decision that ruled mandatory life sentences without the opportunity for release were cruel and unusual.

For the past three years, 201 Florida inmates have been in a kind of limbo. They're inmates who were sentenced to life in prison without parole as juveniles before the Miller ruling.

The Florida Supreme Court has ruled that the federal decision should be applied retroactively, which means those inmates will have a shot at reducing their sentences. South Florida is home to almost a quarter of them.

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Bill Allowing Victims To Secretly Record Abusers Passes Florida House posted on 3/23/15

by Sascha Cordner | WFSU

A bill allowing victims of sexual and physical abuse to secretly record their attackers to use as evidence in court passed the Florida House.

Originally, the bill only allowed for an exemption from Florida’s two-party consent law if the person was a victim of physical force or violence. But, Rep. Jared Moskowitz (D-Coral Springs) recently changed the bill on the House floor to include another exception.

“This amendment is a clarifying amendment so that it allows for unlawful sexual acts, so that’s clear,” said Moskowitz. “It also aligns us more with the Senate Bill.”

And, the measure passed the House 115-1 Wednesday. Meanwhile, its Senate companion has two more committee stops to go before it heads to the Senate floor. Still, even with the new language, it differs from the House bill in that it creates a more narrow exemption for those under the age of 18.

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Obamacare's Fate Rests With 2 Justices posted on 3/5/15

by AP

The Supreme Court argument over subsidies that help millions of people afford their health insurance suggests that the Obama administration has two chances to attract one critical vote.

The justices will gather in private Friday to cast their votes in the case, which has a direct impact on the 1.6 million Floridians who purchased plans on the federal HealthCare.gov marketplace. More than 90 percent received financial help that is at the center of the lawsuit.

The outcome after Wednesday's argument appears to be in the hands of two conservative justices — one who voted with the court's four liberals to uphold the law in 2012 and the other who joins the liberals more often, but who would have killed the whole thing three years ago.

If Justice Anthony Kennedy had his way in 2012, there would be no health care case because there would be no Affordable Care Act. Kennedy, whose vote often is decisive in cases that divide the court's liberals and conservatives, was one of four dissenters who would have struck down the entire law.

But on Wednesday, Kennedy at least left open the possibility that he would not vote the same way again because of a legal concept known as constitutional avoidance. The idea is that judges should avoid interpreting a law in a way that raises constitutional problems if there's any other reasonable way to view it.

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Boost for bill that would let gun owners open-carry in evacuations posted on 3/5/15

by JIM Turner | NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA

TALLAHASSEE — A National Rifle Association-supported measure that failed to win legislative approval a year ago appears to have a clear shot of advancing now that it has the backing of the Florida Sheriffs Association.

House and Senate committees Wednesday approved similar bills (SB 290 and HB 493) that would allow legal gun owners to carry their guns without concealed-weapons licenses during the first 48 hours after emergency evacuation orders are given.

A version of the proposal, which didn’t include the evacuation time frame or other new language, died in the Senate last year amid a contentious debate.

Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, representing the Florida Sheriffs Association, said Wednesday his organization has altered its stance due to the new provisions. Along with the 48-hour time frame, the new version allows people to carry concealed weapons without licenses as long as they are “in the act of evacuating,” regardless of their locations.

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