Florida High Court Rules Juveniles Cannot Be Denied Pretrial Release in Florida – Treacy v. Lamberti

October 16, 2013 by David S. Seltzer

Under Florida’s constitution, no criminal defendant can be denied pretrial release unless he or she is facing the death penalty or life without possibility of parole. That provision triggered an interesting decision from the Florida Supreme Court last week in Treacy v. Lamberti. Wayne Treacy is a juvenile charged as an adult in Broward County with attempted first-degree murder. He requested that the court set bond in his case, but the court denied it. On appeal, he argued that because the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Graham v. Florida that juveniles cannot be sentenced to life without possibility of parole, the state constitution requires that he be released before trial. The Fourth District Court of Appeal disagreed, but the Florida Supreme Court quashed that decision and held that defendants in Tracy’s shoes are entitled to bond.

Treacy was 15 at the time of his arrest for attempted murder in March of 2010. In May of 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court held in Graham that no juvenile defendant may be sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. The next month, Treacy moved for the court to set bond, but the court denied this, saying his charge was “clearly an ‘offense punishable by life imprisonment’” and Graham didn’t change the statute with respect to his right to bond. He then petitioned the Fourth District Court of Appeal for a writ of habeas corpus. The court denied his petition without an opinion, but later granted a similar request. After Treacy renewed his request, the court denied it with an opinion, reasoning that the state Constitution considers how the offense is classified, not the ultimate penalty. It also said the issue could be avoided if the Legislature created parole for juveniles sentenced to life.

Treacy appealed to the Florida high court, which reversed the Fourth District. The court found no reason not to apply a plain reading of the state constitution, which says “unless charged with... an offense punishable by life imprisonment...” Floridians must be granted pretrial release. And the state concedes that under Florida’s current situation and Graham, Treacy cannot be punished by life imprisonment for attempted first-degree murder. Thus, he and others like him are eligible for pretrial release on conditions that reasonably protect the community, the Supreme Court said. It rejected the argument that the classification of the offense should guide the court rather than the available punishment, saying this is inconsistent with the plain language of the Florida constitution.

This case means juveniles accused of very serious crimes may now be released to their families before trial, which may be a relief to their families. Pretrial release doesn’t affect whether the juvenile will eventually be convicted of the crime, but it create a chance to spend time with loved ones and not with people who might do the juvenile harm, or teach him or her to continue a bad lifestyle. Juvenile detention is sometimes called “criminal finishing school”; the situation is likely even worse for juveniles charged as adults, as Treacy was, and held with adults. And judges are still free to set reasonable conditions on pretrial release for serious offenders, to help keep the public safe.

Seltzer Law, P.A., represents clients accused of serious crimes in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach Counties and across the state of Florida. If you’d like to talk to us about your rights and your legal options, call us anytime—24 hours a day and seven days a week—at 1-888-THE-DEFENSE (1-888-843-3333) or send us a message online.

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