It’s Time for Florida to Stop Trying Juveniles as Adults for Minor Crimes
We previously discussed widespread corruption and abuse in the Florida juvenile justice system. Florida leads the nation in charging children and teens as adults, where three-quarters of these children are African-American or Hispanic. Between 2016-2018, the number of children transferred to the adult system was between 900 and more than 1,000, each year.
Bill Introduced To Take Discretion Away From Prosecutors
Fortunately, there may be some glimmer of bipartisan hope from the state legislature: There is currently a measure–HB 575–that will help push back against prosecutorial overreach and instead allow a judge to determine whether or not prosecutors could charge a juvenile as an adult via providing the youth with an evidentiary hearing within 30 days. If the judge said no (where the standard would be whether it is necessary to prosecute that child in adult court in order to protect the community), that case would then, instead, return to the juvenile system.
The judge would consider the following factors in making this decision:
- The child’s maturity, including any failure to appreciate risks and consequences, intellectual capacity, mental and emotional health;
- The child’s record and previous history, including any history of trauma, abuse, or neglect, any previous convictions and sentences as an adult;
- The nature of the alleged offense and the child’s participation in it;
- The likelihood of reasonable rehabilitation of the child;
- Cost-effective alternatives available to held the child and whether they can obtain them in the juvenile justice system; and
- Whether the child’s best interests would be served by prosecuting them in juvenile court.
The bill also does more: it prevents juveniles from being held in adult jails until the judges made a decision and juveniles could not be automatically remanded to adult court. This would affect thousands of youths in Florida, as over the last 10 years, more than 15,000 have been charged in Florida adult courts. What’s more, most of these children are children of color; specifically, 67 percent of the children arrested. Most of those tried in adult court have also been accused of very minor offenses. This phenomenon has been occurring due to a procedure known as “direct file,“ which allows prosecutors discretion to get around the state minimum age requirement for adult prosecution and charges.
This intervention could make the difference between life or death in terms of a young person being punished for life and plunged into deeper criminality by that one mistake, or, instead, being able to finish school and find a job.
Contact Our Florida Juvenile Crime Defense Attorneys
Although HB 575 has been approved by the Criminal Justice Subcommittee, it has not yet been scheduled for additional committee votes, and state Senate has also not yet created a companion bill. It is currently in the Justice Appropriations Subcommittee.
If you are a juvenile who could be facing charges as an adult, contact our experienced Orlando criminal defense attorneys at the Baez Law Firm today to find out how we can help.