Florida Supreme Court Unanimously Decides Miller v. Alabama Is Retroactive


The Florida Supreme Court today unanimously held that the United States Supreme Court’s decision barring mandatory death-in-prison sentences for juveniles applies retroactively to juveniles whose sentences were imposed years ago.

Since the United States Supreme Court struck down mandatory life-without-parole sentences for juvenile offenders in Miller v. Alabama in 2012, most state courts have held that the decision applies to people already serving the banned sentence. Florida’s highest court now joins the supreme courts of Nebraska, New Hampshire, Illinois, Mississippi, Iowa, Massachusetts, Texas, and Wyoming, as well as federal courts across the country, in recognizing that Miller is fully retroactive.

In Falcon v. State, the court applied Florida’s test for retroactivity and concluded that the rule in Miller is a “development of fundamental significance” and therefore must be applied retroactively. The court wrote it would reach the same conclusion under the more widely used test for retroactivity in Teague v. Lane.

“[O]ur conclusion finds support in the recent trend of courts across the country holding that Miller applies retroactively,” the court noted. The Florida Supreme Court reasoned that Miller is retroactive because it “placed beyond the authority of the state the power” to impose mandatory life-without-parole sentences on juveniles.

The unanimous court further observed that the “patent unfairness of depriving indistinguishable juvenile offenders of their liberty for the rest of their lives, based solely on when their cases were decided, weighs heavily in favor of applying” Miller retroactively.