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Will A 17-Year-Old Be Charged As An Adult In Florida?


Every parent knows that teenagers can get themselves into trouble. According to data from the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice, there are more than 30,000 arrests made of minors annually in Florida. What happens when a 17-year-old is arrested? Will they be charged as an adult? As a baseline, the answer is “no”—however, prosecutors do have some discretion to charge a 17-year-old (or 15/16 year old) as an adult in Florida when the circumstances warrant it. Below, our Orlando juvenile justice attorney highlights what parents should understand about how 17-year-olds are handled in Florida’s criminal justice system.

A 17-Year-Old is Still Eligible for Juvenile Justice in Florida 

In the state of Florida, the legal age of adulthood is 18. While an 18-year-old will be charged as an adult, 17-year-olds are generally still subject to the juvenile justice system. It is designed to handle criminal behavior in minors, prioritizing rehabilitation over punitive measures.. The Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) in Florida provides interventions, treatment, and rehabilitative services to such offenders in a bid to reduce future criminal behavior. Florida’s Juvenile Justice System is rooted in the ‘best interest of the child’ doctrine—emphasizing the need to provide appropriate and individualized responses to youth offenders.

Prosecutors Have Discretionary Options for an Adult Charge for 21 Specified Felonies 

Nonetheless, Florida prosecutors do have the discretionary power to charge a 17-year-old as an adult under the Florida Direct File Statute for certain specified serious felonies. As per Florida law, there are 21 specified felony offenses that allow for a juvenile to be tried in an adult court if the prosecutor decides to do so. Some of the notable examples of these felonies include:

  • Sexual battery;
  • Robbery;
  • Armed burglary;
  • Grand theft;
  • Using/displaying a firearm in a felony;
  • Manslaughter; and
  • Murder. 

To be clear, state prosecutors do not have to charge a 17-year-old as an adult in these cases. For example, a 17-year-old facing a grand theft charge will not always be charged as an adult in Florida. Prosecutors must consider a wide range of different factors—including the specific allegations and the juveniles previous record of offenses, or lack thereof—when determining whether or not an adult charge is warranted. 

Keeping a Juvenile Out of Adult Court is Key to Protecting their Rights and their Future 

The decision to charge a juvenile as an adult carries significant implications. Not only does it subject the minor to adult penalties, including incarceration, but it also exposes them to the potentially harmful influences of the adult criminal justice system. This can significantly impede their chances of rehabilitation and social integration. As such, efforts to keep a 17-year-old out of adult court are paramount. Having experienced legal representation can help to negotiate or challenge a decision to direct a file, arguing for the case to remain within the juvenile justice system. 

Call Our Orlando, FL Juvenile Criminal Defense Lawyer Today

At The Baez Law Firm, we handle the full range of juvenile justice cases. If you or your loved one was arrested and charged with a crime as a 17-year-old, we are here to help. Contact us today for a fully confidential initial legal consultation. From our Orlando law office, we represent juveniles throughout Central Florida.



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