“A 70-year sentence imposed upon a 14-year-old is just as cruel and unusual as a sentence of life without parole,” Shimeek’s public defender, Gail Anderson, argued before the Florida court in September. “Mr. Gridine will most likely die in prison.”
Shimeek Gridine was fourteen years old when a Florida state court judge sentenced him to 70 years in prison. Shimeek pled guilty to attempted murder and robbery as an adult. His attorneys are now in the process of appealing this sentence.
The United States Supreme Court has issued decisions in recent years alleviating some of the harsh penalties prescribed to young offenders. For example, in 2005 the Court held that offenders under 18 years old were not eligible for the death penalty (Roper v. Simmons). In 2010 the Court ruled it was also unconstitutional to sentence an offender under 18 years old to life without the possibility of parole in non-murder cases (Grahm v. Florida).
However, the problem in Shimeek’s case is he was sentenced to 70 years without the possibility of parole. Under his current sentence he will remain in prison until well into his 80’s, he essentially received a life sentence… without the label.
While there is certainly something to be said in favor of punishing any individual to the level deemed sufficient to match his or her crime, there seems to be a strong argument against sentencing a teenager to essentially a life term. I certainly do not mean to suggest that offenders under 18 do not commit serious crimes that should be punished accordingly. But I do not agree that a 14 year old boy should receive a de facto life sentence. Structuring punishments in such a way is far too harsh, and arguably is ineffective. One of the main goals behind punishing individuals is the idea that he or she will be rehabilitated through his or her incarceration so that one day they may re-enter society. Punishing a youth to this level does not comport with the goals of punishment in that way. In Shikeem’s case, there is no point to try and re-habilitate him while he is in prison because he now faces living his entire life behind bars for a crime he committed as a teenager.
There has to be a more effective and just way to punish youth for their criminal conduct.