Wednesday, February 21, 2018
Editorials

Measuring justice for the young

Any parent knows that children are different from adults. They lack the same level of judgment and impulse control, and can easily fall subject to the sway of adults and peers. Monday's U.S. Supreme Court ruling was the latest in a series of fair-minded decisions taking note of these differences and adjusting criminal sentencing law. The ruling bars states such as Florida from imposing mandatory life sentences without the possibility of parole on juveniles convicted of homicide. The ruling means judges' hands will no longer be tied and they can mete out just sentences with full consideration of the accused's age. An estimated 225 convicted murderers in Florida who committed their crimes as children could seek reconsideration of their sentences. But that inconvenience is worth the benefit of moving the state's criminal justice system toward more sound and proportional sentences for child offenders.

The 5-4 ruling split along the court's traditional ideological lines, with moderate Justice Anthony Kennedy joining the four-justice liberal bloc. The decision involved two cases in which the perpetrators were only 14 years old when the homicides occurred. In one case, Evan Miller beat an Alabama man with a baseball bat. The man later died of his injuries and smoke inhalation from a fire Miller helped set. Miller had an abusive childhood, spent time in foster care and made four suicide attempts, the first at age 6. The other case involved Kuntrell Jackson, who participated in an armed robbery of an Arkansas video store. One of his associates shot and killed a clerk and Jackson was convicted of felony murder for being part of the robbery.

Both cases called out for some consideration of the boys' ages and circumstances before sentencing them to spend the remainder of their days in a prison cell. But the indifference of mandatory sentencing leaves no room for reasonable discretion. Florida adopted mandatory life sentences for first-degree murder in 1994. Justice Elena Kagan, writing for the majority, meticulously laid out the commonsense and scientific reasons why juveniles should be treated differently. She noted the hallmarks of childhood are "immaturity, impetuosity, and failure to appreciate risks and consequences." She said children cannot usually extricate themselves from their home environment "no matter how brutal or dysfunctional," and yet over time they are more likely to be redeemed. Her opinion closely tracked earlier high court rulings. They included a 2010 case from Jacksonville that ended the sentencing of minors to life without the possibility of parole in nonhomicide cases. Florida abolished parole in 1983 and has had to resentence many of the 115 defendants affected. In another ruling in 2005, the court barred the death penalty for murderers under 18.

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi's office expressed disappointment with the ruling, failing to recognize the measure of justice it provides. Letting judges take youth into account when sentencing for homicide won't necessarily mean lighter sentences, but they will be possible when warranted.

Comments
Editorial: Listen to Marjory Stoneman Douglas students demanding change

Editorial: Listen to Marjory Stoneman Douglas students demanding change

Students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School are traveling to the state capital today and declaring "never again.íí A prominent Florida Republican fundraiser vows he wonít raise another nickel until his party approves new gun controls. Across F...
Published: 02/19/18

Editorial: No more doubt about Russian meddling in election

The latest indictment by the Justice Department special counsel, Robert Mueller, refutes President Donald Trumpís claims that Russian interference in the 2016 election was a Democratic hoax. The indictment details the lengths Russian conspirators too...
Published: 02/19/18

Another voice: Tips should belong to workers, not their bosses

The Trump administration is under fire for proposing a Labor Department regulation that could result in hotel and restaurant employers dipping into the tips customers leave for their employees, depriving the nationís 14 million hard-working restauran...
Published: 02/18/18
Updated: 02/20/18
Editorial: Trumpís rising deficits and misplaced priorities

Editorial: Trumpís rising deficits and misplaced priorities

Itís not popular in Washington or virtually anywhere else these days to express concern about the rising federal deficit. Congressional Republicans who used to be deficit hawks first voted to cut taxes by $1.5 trillion over the next decade, then rais...
Published: 02/17/18
Editorial: Buckhorn should not appeal verdict in firefighterís case

Editorial: Buckhorn should not appeal verdict in firefighterís case

The city of Tampa should have taken Tanja Vidovic seriously from the start when the Tampa firefighter complained about her treatment in the workplace. Now that a jury and judge have spoken, itís time for City Hall to cut its losses, learn from its mi...
Published: 02/15/18
Updated: 02/16/18
Editorial: CareerSource troubles mount as public trust drops

Editorial: CareerSource troubles mount as public trust drops

The dark cloud enveloping Tampa Bayís job placement centers keeps growing. There are accusations of forged documents, evidence of nepotism and concerns about grossly inflated performance numbers that could be tied to receiving more public money and b...
Published: 02/15/18
Updated: 02/16/18
Editorials: Prayers and platitudes after shootings arenít enough

Editorials: Prayers and platitudes after shootings arenít enough

Even before the victims of another mass shooting at another public school were identified, Gov. Rick Scott, Attorney General Pam Bondi, state legislators and members of Congress rushed to South Florida or to social media to offer their thoughts and p...
Published: 02/15/18
Editorial: DCF review should get to the bottom of Hillsborough foster care issues

Editorial: DCF review should get to the bottom of Hillsborough foster care issues

The Florida Department of Children and Families is right to call for a timely and "comprehensive" review of Hillsborough Countyís foster care system. Though the probe is a reaction to a recent case involving a child who was left unattended, the revie...
Published: 02/14/18

A Washington Post editorial: Modernize 911 calling before it becomes an emergency

This Friday marks the 50th anniversary of the first 911 emergency call placed in the United States. Since then, uncounted lives have been saved and people helped. It has been a great accomplishment of government.But even as an estimated 240 million 9...
Published: 02/13/18
Updated: 02/14/18
Editorial: Scott, Cabinet cannot be trusted on felonsí voting rights

Editorial: Scott, Cabinet cannot be trusted on felonsí voting rights

Gov. Rick Scott always has been grudging and imperious about restoring the voting rights of felons, requiring them to wait for years before begging the governor and Cabinet to be recognized again as citizens. That arrogance is on full display in a le...
Published: 02/13/18