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.
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. Continue reading