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Florida: Leader in Most Number of Juveniles Charged As Adults in the United States

The fate of juveniles in the criminal justice system in Florida has been up in the air for ages; with an adult, there is a certain consistency in the way in which the criminal justice system deals with them. Juveniles and their cases, however, are unpredictable where the juvenile who is currently in the process of being charged may not know what their future holds. In Florida, there is a procedure known as a “direct file” which provides the prosecutor in a criminal proceeding with the option to determine whether the juvenile will be charged as an adult or will be charged as a juvenile. The ramifications of being charged as an adult can be staggering; the sentencing difference between a juvenile and an adult for the same crime could be the difference between decades. This type of uncertainty provides the prosecutor, who is already in an adversarial position to the juvenile, to determine the extent of maturity of the juvenile, even if the prosecutor has little more to go on than a few meetings.

Slender Man Case and Children Charged: A State Comparison

In the Slender Man stabbing case in Wisconsin, where two 12-year-old girls stabbed their friend 19 times to satisfy the whims of a fictionalized, Internet character known as Slender Man, the court determined to charge the two girls as adults in the case. If these girls were to have been charged as juveniles in Wisconsin, the two girls would have been out into the public by age 18 with no further supervision made by the criminal justice system. Being charged as adults, however, the two girls will not only serve their sentences in a juvenile institution until they are 18, but then will be transferred to spend their remaining sentence (whatever the jury determines in a later proceeding) in an adult institution. According to Wisconsin law, being charged as adults means that the girls could face up to 65 years in a state facility. Wisconsin law provides that children 10 years of age or older may be charged as adults, while Florida provides that the children must be at least 14 years old.

Florida “Juveniles As Adults” Statistics

Florida is the state with the most number of children who have been charged as adults in a state criminal justice system. In Florida, 98 percent of the children who wind up being charged as adults are charged that way because of the “direct file” system. Statistics further demonstrate that “direct file” has a racial element to it; black youths have a transfer rate of 51 percent while white youths only have a 24 percent transfer rate.

Florida Bills to Limit “Direct File” Power of Prosecutors

Florida is currently in the process of passing two legislative bills that would limit “direct files” by passing the power to transfer these juveniles from the prosecutors to judges. This would reduce the number of children who are charged as adults, and take away the power of prosecutors to leverage the transfer of the youths into the adult system for a guilty plea. In addition, bills will also attempt to limit the scope of the type of offenses where the juvenile may be charged as an adult so that the transfer of the youth to the adult system will be only for violent or highly dangerous crimes, rather than nonviolent offenses. For example, the bill will limit 14 or 15-year-old children to be charged as adults for murder, manslaughter, and sexual assault. Once the teenager is 16 or 17, he/she may be charged for other offenses like weapon charges, arson, injury or harm resulting from DUIs, and the like.

Experienced Criminal Defense Attorney in Fort Lauderdale

With so much unpredictability in the juvenile criminal justice system, it may be hard to determine whether your child will receive a harsh, adult punishment, or a lighter sentence due to his/her age and immaturity. An experienced criminal defense attorney like Kevin J. Kulik can help you and your child understand the details of a juvenile criminal proceeding. Contact Kevin J. Kulik today for a free and confidential consultation in the Fort Lauderdale area.

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