Tag Archives: graham

Thoughts about Ashley Toye on Dr. Phil

Ashley Toye

Ashley Toye Mug Shot

I want to give credit to Dr. Phil for a thoughtful show on a complex and emotional issue Yesterday’s show discussed the sentencing of Ashley Toye for her involvement in the murders of two teenagers, known locally as the Cash Feenz cases. He did a good job of presenting arguments from both sides, interviewing family members of both Ms. Toye and of the victims. He also got comments from Ms. Toye appellate attorney, Stu Pepper, and Samantha Syoen who is the communications director for the State Attorney’s Office here in Lee County. The show struggled a bit when he went to the screen and started listing bullet points of the arguments. I think the points on both sides were valid, but he was trying to distill a very complex and reasoned discussion into too short a period of time.

More importantly, I’m glad the discussion is being debated on the sentencing of Juveniles. The Supreme Court mandated that States cannot automatically sentence juveniles to life without parole, as was the case for Ms. Toye. However, under current Florida law, Ms. Toye’s sentence cannot be changed. Dr. Phil is not advocating that it must be changed, he is rather making an argument that a hearing should be held to determine if the sentence is appropriate. The Supreme Court found such automatic sentences to be unconstitutional, it would follow that such a hearing should be held. Perhaps a life sentence is appropriate, but the factors are not currently allowed to be analyzed. Both Dr. Phil, and his legal consultant Sunny Hostin, stated on the show that they feel that it would be appropriate to hold such a hearing. Crimcourts agrees that a sentencing hearing weighing all factors is a good idea, and automatic sentences always run the risk of disproportionate injustice. Perhaps the sentence is just in this case, but we cannot know that without considering the evidence and making an informed ruling.

On a side note, Stu Pepper’s movie, The Cover Up, is being shown on the Lifetime Movie network Sunday at 6 am. I’ve seen it, and it is worth watching- set your DVR!


Ashley Toye – Cash Feenz case update

Ashley Toye

Ashley Toye mug shot

Ashley Toye, the girlfriend of Cash Feenz ringleader Kemar Johnson, had her motion for new sentence considered, and denied a few days ago.  I missed the hearing, unfortunately, but Matt Grant from Fox4 news was there with the details.  Ms. Toye’s case is interesting, as she was a juvenile at the time of the offense, and was sentenced to a mandatory life sentence, in spite of the fact that she was not involved in the actual killing.  Recent Supreme Court decisions cast that automatic life sentence into doubt.  However, a judge in Miami has ruled that the ruling is not retroactive, and Ms. Toye’s judge ruled that the sentence would stand.  Ms. Toye’s attorney, Stu Pepper, intends to continue trying to get her sentence reconsidered.

Off the cuff, it strikes me that even if the ruling isn’t retroactive, it would still hold that if the sentence was unconstitutional, Ms. Toye’s sentence would also be unconstitutional, regardless of the timing of the ruling.  Mr. Pepper has a long road in front of him, as the courts all over the country are dealing with how to handle the Supreme Court’s rulings regarding juvenile sentencing.

Apparently Ms. Toye will be profiled tonight on Fox4, including an interview in jail.  I can’t find the promo online, but I presume it will be during the 10 o’clock newscast.

For more reading, check out the Sentencing Law and Policy blog, which has had extensive coverage of the Graham and Miller ramifications.  Additionally, we have discussed it a few times here on Crimcourts.

Fort Myers effects from Supreme Court ruling on Juveniles

A good follow-up from the News-Press regarding the recent Supreme Court ruling abolishing automatic mandatory-life sentences for juveniles.  These case were already being re-litigated following the Graham v. Florida ruling a couple of years ago.  The judge must hold a new sentencing hearing for the defendants mentioned here (from the Cash Feenz killings case).  I agree with David Brener’s take in the article- Washington may still get a life sentence, based on his participation in the case, but that Toye probably should be given a reduction.  She was a relatively minor-participant, was under the duress of her controlling, abusive boyfriend at the time, and was very much a juvenile in her mental state.  No one disagrees that she deserves severe punishment, but does she warrant the same punishment of the older boys who masterminded and carried out the killings?  Some would say yes, but the Supreme Court seems to be sending a message that it may not make sense, depending on circumstances.

Supreme Court rules against automatic mandatory life sentences for juveniles

The Supreme Court issued several important rulings today, but the one that most impacts criminal law is the decision that bars mandatory life without parole for minors.  This decision is not a surprise, as it’s in line with other recent decisions that mandate that those who commit offenses while under 18 should be treated differently.  It extends the Graham v. Florida ruling, which restricts automatic life sentences for non-homicides to include homicides.

2 Key Points:

  1. This decision doesn’t mean that minors can’t be sentenced to life without parole.  (I say minors, because sometimes minors can be treated as juveniles, but charged as adults, regardless of the infirmities of age.)  It instead limits statutes from requiring automatic life sentences for minors.  That is, it is unconstitutional for states to require that minors be sentenced to life without parole. It appears to leave open the possibility that states may still allow a judge to sentence them to life after review upon sentence, contrary to many headlines that I have already seen.
  2. This ruling will have the most effect in Florida, which has already had the greatest upheaval since the Graham decision I mentioned above.  That’s because Florida leads the nation in juveniles sentenced to life for non-homicides.  This FSU study is a couple of years old, but the numbers have only just started to correct since Graham.  Florida’s numbers are high for several reasons.  One reason is the high number of minimum/mandatory sentences in Florida, and due to the fact that it extends to felony murder cases.  For instance, the 16-year-old in a car when a drug deal goes bad, or the 14-year-old whose big brother makes him a lookout for a burglary could be facing mandatory life without parole if someone is killed during the commission, even if it’s one of the criminals.  Another reason is that judges in Florida are not given a cap or high-end sentencing range.  This means a hanging judge can max out anyone who doesn’t take a plea bargain.  Most don’t, but across the state, there are some that impose a ‘trial penalty’- a harsher sentence for exercising the constitutional right to trial. 

Florida is already in the process of reviewing mandatory sentences for minors.  I am generally a proponent of having some outlet so that a judge can make a review and determine what sentence is appropriate.  Mandatories that allow for no discretion inherently run the risk of leading to unjust results.