Plaintiff in Supreme Court Case Receives Earlier Release

March 6, 2024 Criminal Defense, News & Announcements

The defendant in a landmark case for juvenile cases in Florida is finally getting released after spending decades behind bars. Terrance Graham is now 37-years-old, nearly 20 years after he was sentenced to life in prison without parole. Despite his case reaching the Supreme Court and changing the landscape of maximum sentencing for juvenile offenders, Graham remained in prison.

Now a judge in Duval County has announced the early release of Graham, so long as he meets several conditions. This page covers the details of the infamous Supreme Court case and how it changed Florida’s sentencing.

Terrance Graham Case

Jacksonville native Terrance Graham was arrested in 2003 when he was only 16-years-old for an attempted robbery of a local restaurant. Despite not being involved in any of the violence in the attempted robbery incident, Graham was charged as an adult. Florida allows the prosecutor’s discretion as to whether they wish to charge a 16 or 17-year-old as an adult. Graham pleaded guilty to first-degree armed burglary, along with charges for assault and battery.

In his plea agreement, Graham wrote a letter to the trial court claiming that this was his last time getting in trouble with the law. The trial court accepted the plea and the court withheld adjudication of guilt, and Graham was sentenced to a concurrent three years of probation. The first 12 months of probation were meant to be served in jail; however, Graham was given credit for time served waiting for trial.

Graham was released in 2004, only to be arrested six months later on charges of home invasion robbery. The State claimed that Graham, along with two other accomplices, forcibly entered the home of Carlos Rodriguez and held him and another man at gunpoint while searching the home for money or valuable goods. The victims were barricaded in a closet before the three suspects ran out.

The three were accused of an attempted second robbery, in which one of the accomplices was shot. Graham dropped the injured accomplice off at the hospital and was signaled by a police sergeant to pull over. Graham sped off instead, crashing into a telephone pole and getting apprehended by police.

The case details provided by Cornell Law state: “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 court had found that through his involvement in the home invasion robbery, by possessing a firearm, by associating with people engaged in criminal activity, and by fleeing a police officer, Graham’s probation terms had been violated.

At 17-years-old, Graham had become eligible for a sentence of life in prison due to his two violent convictions. Even absent a downward departure, the minimum sentence Graham could receive at the time was five years. Instead, Graham received the maximum sentence of life in prison without parole in 2006, when he was 19-years-old.

Graham vs Florida

Graham’s defense attorney, Bryan Gowdy, had asked the court for a five-year sentence but his client received the maximum of 30 years. Not willing to accept this sentence, Gowdy filed an appeal for Graham’s case that reached the Supreme Court. Titled Graham v. Florida, the case ended up being a historic decision for juvenile cases.

The first motion filed was to challenge Graham’s sentence under the Eighth Amendment, which states: “Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishment inflicted.” The motion was denied due to the trial court’s failure to make a ruling on it within 60 days. The sentencing decision was affirmed by the First District Court of Appeals in Florida. The Court concluded that the offenses were committed by a person who was nearly 18, and that Graham had already rejected his second chance by committing another offense.

The case was brought to the Supreme Court in 2010. In their decision, the Supreme Court found that it is “grossly disproportionate” and therefore unconstitutional for any judge or jury to impose a life sentence without parole for a minor. The only exception the Supreme Court found was in cases that involved homicide.

The Supreme court held that Graham’s sentence was in violation of the Eighth Amendment’s Cruel and Unusual Punishment clause. Graham’s case established new guidelines when sentencing minors. There were 128 offenders whose cases received a chance for resentencing, with some of them getting released due to the changes made after the Graham case. However, Graham didn’t receive the same initial outcome.

In 2012, Graham was resentenced to 25 years in prison—still a somewhat strict sentence. His release was set for August 2026.

Duval County Decision

In a 2024 decision, a judge in Duval County ruled that Graham would have his 25-year sentence reduced. He will now be released under community control, which is a stricter version of probation, for a two-year period. After that, Graham will be set to serve standard probation for a period of three years. Graham is also being set up with the organization Prisoners of Christ, which helps individuals returning to society after prison find jobs, housing, and receiving mental health resources.

Part of the help Graham received was from the advocate group PleadThe8th, which he co-founded. Jessica Richardson, one of the social workers with the group, explained that while Graham should have been held accountable for the offenses, it shouldn’t have been for that long of a sentence.

“In my opinion, his punishment was excessive,” Richardson said. “Both times, Graham’s score sheet is 60 months. That’s five years. A mandatory minimum for possession of a gun is 10 years. So five years, 10 years, life without parole. That’s a little excessive.”

Richardson and Graham are now looking to help others in the community. Graham’s defense attorney Bryan Gowdy said he is grateful for his client’s release and is praying for his success as he re-enters the community.

Importance of Criminal Defense for Juveniles

There was a misconception that juveniles accused of criminal acts will not face as severe punishment as adults. However, Graham vs Florida highlighted the extremely harsh penalties some State Attorneys seek to impose on juvenile defendants.

Under Florida Statute Section 985.557, a minor between the ages of 14 or 15 can only be tried as an adult for certain felony offenses that are violent in nature. A minor between the ages of 16 or 17 may be tried as an adult for any felony offense when in the prosecution’s judgement and discretion the public interest requires adult sanctions to be considered.

In both instances, a minor cannot be sentenced to life in prison without parole for any offense that does not involve homicide. The rule changes made after Graham vs. Florida have remained in the Florida legislation to prevent juveniles from receiving cruel and unusual punishment.

However, that does not mean juvenile cases should be taken lightly. Depending on the delinquent act a minor has been accused of, there is still a lengthy list of consequences they could face. In addition to fines and penalties under Florida law, minors accused of criminal acts can lose their enrollment status at a higher education program, force them to lose out on scholarships or eligibility for financial aid, and have a mark on their criminal permanent record.

Working with a defense attorney has immense benefits for a juvenile case. First, you will have the knowledge and expertise of a legal professional on your side. If you are confused about the charges, you face and their potential penalties, a lawyer can help explain them to you. Additionally, your attorney can help establish any defenses that can help win your case. If your case requires a student code of conduct hearing at a Florida university, a defense attorney can represent you and speak on your behalf.

Contact Pumphrey Law Firm

Are you a minor who has been taken into custody for an alleged delinquent act? You should know that even though you are under 18, there could be serious implications if you are found guilty of the offense. Your personal life can get turned upside down before you even have the chance to get started as an adult.

If you are the parent of a minor who is being accused of an unlawful act, take these allegations seriously and consider hiring legal representatives for your child’s case. The defense lawyers at Pumphrey Law have a deep understanding of Florida’s laws. We have decades of combined experience representing adults and juveniles who are wrongfully accused of crimes. Our goal is to protect your rights, educate you during the legal process, and fight for the best outcome for your criminal case. If you need criminal defense in Leon County or the surrounding North Florida region, contact our attorneys at (850) 681-7777 or send us a message online. We will provide you with a free consultation to go over the juvenile case.

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