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Prosecutor’s Full Discretionary Power to Charge Juveniles as Adults Reviewed

The decision whether or not to try juveniles as adults has been in the hands of prosecutors since 1994. As a result of this “direct file” law, Florida prosecutors are given full discretion to determine which juveniles will be tried as adults, without judicial review or supervision. Between 2012 and 2013, more than 98 percent of 1,500 juvenile cases where sent directly to adult courts without any sort of judicial review. A report published by the Human Rights Watch evaluated and estimated the effect that “direct file” law has on juveniles in the Florida criminal justice system.

The Evolution of the “Direct File” Law

Prosecutors before 1994 did not have this discretionary power to charge children as adults without some sort of oversight. A special hearing was required, where both sides were permitted the opportunity to state their case for why the juvenile should or should not be charged as an adult. The juvenile’s history and the circumstances of the case would be considered before the juvenile could be charged as an adult.

After 1994, prosecutors were given the power to offer “direct commitments” which were included in plea deals offered to juveniles forcing them into accepting certain deals rather than being charged as adults. In one report, it was estimated that from 2009 until present, more than 800 juveniles were threatened with being charged as an adult before they accepted the plea deals offered to them by the prosecutors. For prosecutors, being charged as an adult is one type of bargaining chip that they can use with very little judicial intervention.

The Purpose of the “Direct File” Law

The purpose of the direct file power given to prosecutors was as part of a crack down on juvenile violent crimes, in hopes that the fear of being tried as an adult would be a deterrent. Many felt that the “revolving door” of the juvenile system was ineffectual and many kids were given many free passes to commit felonies with little to no consequences. The current system in place, however, has shown that, between 2012 and 2013, many of the juveniles involved in direct transfer, almost 60 percent, were accused of nonviolent crimes.

Current Florida “Direct File” Law

Florida’s current criminal transfer laws dictate that age of the child and past criminal offenses are relevant in the assessment for whether the child should be charged as an adult.

  • For a child who is 14 or 15 years old at the time the offense was committed, it is up to the state attorney’s discretion to direct file or not. One factor for considering whether to direct file the case is whether the offense committed was violent such as arson, sexual battery, murder, manslaughter, etc.
  • For a child who is 16 or 17 years of age at the time of the offense, and has been charged with committing a felony in the past, and is currently charged with a violent crime against another in the present case, the state attorney must mandatorily direct file the case with the Court.
  • Certain felonies, like carjacking where someone is seriously injured or killed, are a mandatory direct file regardless of the age of the defendant.
  • Finally, once a child has been charged as an adult through the direct file process, he or she will always be considered and charged as an adult for any subsequent crimes committed.

Criminal Attorney in the Fort Lauderdale Area

It is important that teenagers, just like adults, understand the law and the legal consequences of their actions. Children and teenagers are especially vulnerable to making bad decisions as a result of peer pressure and their immaturity and inability to fully analyze the consequences of their actions. If your child has been charged with an offense, they will require legal counsel to help them not let one mistake ruin the rest of their life. Kevin J. Kulik will be able to help inform you and your child of the next steps in the legal process. Please contact the office of Kevin J. Kulik today for a free and confidential consultation of your case.

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