Graham v. Florida

Decision Date17 May 2010
Docket NumberNo. 08–7412.,08–7412.
Citation176 L.Ed.2d 825,130 S.Ct. 2011,560 U.S. 48
PartiesTerrance Jamar GRAHAM, Petitioner, v. FLORIDA.
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

560 U.S. 48
130 S.Ct. 2011
176 L.Ed.2d 825

Terrance Jamar GRAHAM, Petitioner,

No. 08–7412.

Supreme Court of the United States

Argued Nov. 9, 2009.
Decided May 17, 2010.

As Modified July 6, 2010.

Bryan S. Gowdy, appointed by this Court, Jacksonville, FL, for petitioner.

Scott D. Makar, Solicitor General, Tallahassee, FL, for respondent.

Drew S. Days, III, Brian R. Matsui, Seth M. Galanter, Morrison & Foerster LLP, Washington, DC, George C. Harris, Morrison & Foerster LLP, San Francisco, CA, Bryan S. Gowdy, Counsel of Record, John S. Mills, Rebecca Bowen Creed, Jessie L. Harrell, Mills Creed & Gowdy, P.A., Jacksonville, FL, for petitioner.

Bill McCollum, Attorney General of Florida, Scott D. Makar, Solicitor General, Counsel of Record, Louis F. Hubener, Chief Deputy Solicitor General, Timothy D. Osterhaus, Craig D. Feiser, Courtney Brewer, Ronald A. Lathan, Deputy Solicitors General, Tallahassee, FL, for respondent.


Justice KENNEDY delivered the opinion of the Court.

560 U.S. 52

The issue before the Court is whether the Constitution permits a juvenile offender to be sentenced to life in prison

560 U.S. 53


130 S.Ct. 2018

parole for a nonhomicide crime. The sentence was imposed by the State of Florida. Petitioner challenges the sentence under the Eighth Amendment's Cruel and Unusual Punishments Clause, made applicable to the States by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Robinson v. California, 370 U.S. 660, 82 S.Ct. 1417, 8 L.Ed.2d 758 (1962).


Petitioner is Terrance Jamar Graham. He was born on January 6, 1987. Graham's parents were addicted to crack cocaine, and their drug use persisted in his early years. Graham was diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in elementary school. He began drinking alcohol and using tobacco at age 9 and smoked marijuana at age 13.

In July 2003, when Graham was age 16, he and three other school-age youths attempted to rob a barbeque restaurant in Jacksonville, Florida. One youth, who worked at the restaurant, left the back door unlocked just before closing time. Graham and another youth, wearing masks, entered through the unlocked door. Graham's masked accomplice twice struck the restaurant manager in the back of the head with a metal bar. When the manager started yelling at the assailant and Graham, the two youths ran out and escaped in a car driven by the third accomplice. The restaurant manager required stitches for his head injury. No money was taken.

Graham was arrested for the robbery attempt. Under Florida law, it is within a prosecutor's discretion whether to charge 16– and 17–year–olds as adults or juveniles for most felony crimes. Fla. Stat. § 985.227(1)(b) (2003) (subsequently renumbered at § 985.557(1)(b) (2007)). Graham's prosecutor elected to charge Graham as an adult. The charges against Graham were armed burglary with assault or battery, a first-degree felony carrying a maximum penalty of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole, §§ 810.02(1)(b), (2)(a) (2003); and attempted armed robbery, a second-degree

560 U.S. 54

felony carrying a maximum penalty of 15 years' imprisonment, §§ 812.13(2)(b), 777.04(1), (4)(a), 775.082(3)(c).

On December 18, 2003, Graham pleaded guilty to both charges under a plea agreement. Graham wrote a letter to the trial court. After reciting “this is my first and last time getting in trouble,” he continued “I've decided to turn my life around.” App. 379–380. Graham said “I made a promise to God and myself that if I get a second chance, I'm going to do whatever it takes to get to the [National Football League].” Id., at 380.

The trial court accepted the plea agreement. The court withheld adjudication of guilt as to both charges and sentenced Graham to concurrent 3–year terms of probation. Graham was required to spend the first 12 months of his probation in the county jail, but he received credit for the time he had served awaiting trial, and was released on June 25, 2004.

Less than 6 months later, on the night of December 2, 2004, Graham again was arrested. The State's case was as follows: Earlier that evening, Graham participated in a home invasion robbery. His two accomplices were Meigo Bailey and Kirkland Lawrence, both 20–year–old men. According to the State, at 7 p.m. that night, Graham, Bailey, and Lawrence knocked on the door of the home where Carlos Rodriguez lived. Graham, followed by Bailey and Lawrence, forcibly entered the home and held a pistol to Rodriguez's chest. For the next 30 minutes, the three held Rodriguez and another man, a friend of Rodriguez, at gunpoint while they ransacked the home searching for money. Before leaving, Graham and his accomplices

130 S.Ct. 2019

barricaded Rodriguez and his friend inside a closet.

The State further alleged that Graham, Bailey, and Lawrence, later the same evening, attempted a second robbery, during which Bailey was shot. Graham, who had borrowed his father's car, drove Bailey and Lawrence to the hospital and left them there. As Graham drove away, a police sergeant

560 U.S. 55

signaled him to stop. Graham continued at a high speed but crashed into a telephone pole. He tried to flee on foot but was apprehended. Three handguns were found in his car.

When detectives interviewed Graham, he denied involvement in the crimes. He said he encountered Bailey and Lawrence only after Bailey had been shot. One of the detectives told Graham that the victims of the home invasion had identified him. He asked Graham, “Aside from the two robberies tonight how many more were you involved in?” Graham responded, “Two to three before tonight.” Id., at 160. The night that Graham allegedly committed the robbery, he was 34 days short of his 18th birthday.

On December 13, 2004, Graham's probation officer filed with the trial court an affidavit asserting that Graham had violated the conditions of his probation by possessing a firearm, committing crimes, and associating with persons engaged in criminal activity. The trial court held hearings on Graham's violations about a year later, in December 2005 and January 2006. The judge who presided was not the same judge who had accepted Graham's guilty plea to the earlier offenses.

Graham maintained that he had no involvement in the home invasion robbery; but, even after the court underscored that the admission could expose him to a life sentence on the earlier charges, he admitted violating probation conditions by fleeing. The State presented evidence related to the home invasion, including testimony from the victims. The trial court noted that Graham, in admitting his attempt to avoid arrest, had acknowledged violating his probation. The court further found that Graham had violated his probation by committing a home invasion robbery, by possessing a firearm, and by associating with persons engaged in criminal activity.

The trial court held a sentencing hearing. Under Florida law the minimum sentence Graham could receive absent a

560 U.S. 56

downward departure by the judge was 5 years' imprisonment. The maximum was life imprisonment. Graham's attorney requested the minimum nondeparture sentence of 5 years. A presentence report prepared by the Florida Department of Corrections recommended that Graham receive an even lower sentence—at most 4 years' imprisonment. The State recommended that Graham receive 30 years on the armed burglary count and 15 years on the attempted armed robbery count.

After hearing Graham's testimony, the trial court explained the sentence it was about to pronounce:

“Mr. Graham, as I look back on your case, yours is really candidly a sad situation. You had, as far as I can tell, you have quite a family structure. You had a lot of people who wanted to try and help you get your life turned around including the court system, and you had a judge who took the step to try and give you direction through his probation order to give you a chance to get back onto track. And at the time you seemed through your letters that that is exactly what you wanted to do. And I don't know why it is that you threw your life away. I don't know why.
“But you did, and that is what is so sad about this today is that you have actually been given a chance to get
130 S.Ct. 2020
through this, the original charge, which were very serious charges to begin with .... The attempted robbery with a weapon was a very serious charge.

. . . . .

“[I]n a very short period of time you were back before the Court on a violation of this probation, and then here you are two years later standing before me, literally the—facing a life sentence as to—up to life as to count 1 and up to 15 years as to count 2.
“And I don't understand why you would be given such a great opportunity to do something with your life and
560 U.S. 57
why you would throw it away. The only thing that I can rationalize is that you decided that this is how you were going to lead your life and that there is nothing that we can do for you. And as the state pointed out, that this is an escalating pattern of criminal conduct on your part and that we can't help you any further. We can't do anything to deter you. This is the way you are going to lead your life, and I don't know why you are going to. You've made that decision. I have no idea. But, evidently, that is what you decided to do.
“So then it becomes a focus, if I can't do anything to help you, if I can't do anything to get you back on the right path, then I have to start focusing on the community and trying to protect the community from your actions. And, unfortunately, that is where we are today is I don't see where I can do anything to help you any further. You've evidently decided this is the direction you're going to take in life, and it's unfortunate that you made that choice.
“I have reviewed the statute. I don't see where any further juvenile sanctions would be appropriate. I don't see where any youthful offender sanctions would be appropriate. Given your escalating pattern of criminal conduct, it is apparent to the

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