Florida Leads Nation in Charging Children as Adults

South Florida prosecutors recently announced they would be charging a Fort Lauderdale teen as an adult for his alleged role in an attempted robbery that resulted in the fatal shooting of a construction worker at a convenience store. The state attorney’s office said the 17-year-old suspect reportedly shot the 33-year-old construction worker, who had just exchanged a $100 bill for several $20 bills. The two reportedly started “tussling” when the suspect held the worker at gunpoint, and the suspect in turn fired at least three shots, killing the worker, police said. teen

When teens are charged as adults, it’s via a process known as “direct file,” spelled out in F.S. 985.557. The statute allows that any child who is 14 or 15 at the time of an alleged offense may be subject to a “discretionary direct file” (the discretion being that of the state attorney’s office) for certain felony offenses, including (but not limited to) murder, sexual battery, kidnapping, stalking, child abuse, aggravated battery or armed burglary. A child who is 16 or 17 may be subject to a mandatory direct file if they have previously been adjudicated delinquent for one of these felonies or if the current offense is a “forcible felony” or if the the offense involved possession of a firearm/ destructive device and/ or involved discharge of that weapon.

So while some of these matters may be out of prosecutors’ hands via statute, the fact remains that Florida transfers more children out of the juvenile justice system and into adult court than any other state. The Human Rights Watch reported on this fact in a 2014 investigation. Ninety-eight percent of children who end up in the adult court system do so as a result of the direct file statute, which does not require prosecutors to get any input from a judge. 

As our Fort Lauderdale juvenile defense lawyers know, the juvenile system is supposed to be different from the adult system in that it focuses on rehabilitation, rather than punishment. The idea is that our youth has the potential to be reformed. Unfortunately, not only are too many Florida juveniles not given these second chances, but the impact is unfairly skewed against poor and minority communities.

Between 2003 and 2008, Florida transferred juveniles to the adult criminal justice system at a rate that was twice as high as the state with the second-highest transfer rate and five times higher than the average rate in a dozen other states.

Black youths (and black males in particular) are especially vulnerable here. While black males account for 27 percent of those who enter the juvenile justice system, they account for half of all those who are transferred into the adult court system. Meanwhile, white male youths comprise 28 percent of those who enter the juvenile justice system, but they comprise slightly less than a quarter of those who are transferred to the adult court system.

The report also showed that black male youths are much more likely than their white male counterparts to be charged as adults for drug-related felonies and violent offenses that aren’t murder.

We also know there are a fair amount of these cases in which prosecutors will use the threat of filing adult charges in order to wrestle a guilty plea from a juvenile defendant. It’s a pretty common tactic, and it can be effective, given that so many of Florida’s criminal laws come with minimum mandatory prison sentences.

This is why juvenile offenders need to be well-represented by an experienced criminal defense attorney.

Call Fort Lauderdale Criminal Defense Attorney Richard Ansara at (954) 761-4011. Serving Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties.

Additional Resources:

Teen charged as adult in fatal shooting during robbery attempt, Jan. 10, 2016, By Linda Trischitta, The Sun-Sentinel

More Blog Entries:

Florida Mom Turns in Teen Son After Police Chase, March 11, 2016, Fort Lauderdale Juvenile Defense Lawyer Blog