The state of Florida sends more juveniles through the adult court system than does any other state in the country. In 2018 alone, the number of children directly filed into the adult court system reached 900. In fact, an 8-year-old child was prosecuted as an adult in Florida.
While every state allows for the transfer of children to adult court in severe circumstances, most of these states use judicial waiver, a process in which a hearing is held to determine whether it is appropriate for a child to be prosecuted in adult court.
Indeed, even the United States Supreme Court said in Roper v. Simmons, “from a moral standpoint it would be misguided to equate the failings of a minor with those of an adult, for a greater possibility exists that a minor's character deficiencies will be reformed.”
Unfortunately, Florida laws mandate the direct file of youth in certain cases, and it is one of only 15 states that allow prosecutors to use discretionary direct file.
What is Direct File?
Direct file allows prosecutors to unilaterally decide to file a criminal case against a minor and place that case in the adult criminal justice system. This type of direct file cannot be appealed or reviewed by a judge, meaning the juvenile's case is sent directly to adult court with no chance for the child or his or her parents to challenge the prosecutor's decision.
This practice is becoming increasingly controversial in the Sunshine State, with factions of lawmakers and members of the justice system hoping to limit or end the practice. However, those who oppose eliminating or limiting the use of direct file believe the juvenile justice system is ill-equipped to handle violent youth.
Young people who commit violent acts have different risk factors and may need different, lengthier interventions than most other juveniles. But with appropriate services, like the programs offered in the juvenile system, young people can experience more successful outcomes than those who serve time in the adult system.
Is Oversight or Legislation Needed to Change the Rule?
Currently, prosecutors have a duty to weigh the benefits of public safety with their option of sending children into the adult system. Without regulation, prosecutors may be allowed to continue to prosecute minors as adults. To avoid this harm, direct file decisions should receive the scrutiny of the court via a hearing.
During their last session, the Florida state legislature introduced legislation that would have created a due process hearing before a judge in which a child whose case has been filed in adult court can request a return to juvenile court.
Contact an Attorney
If you are a minor, or your child in under 18 years old, and has been charged with a crime as an adult, it is critical that you contact an attorney to discuss your options and how your case will progress through the Florida courts.
The professionals at the OA Law Firm believe that young people are important and their futures should be protected. Our attorneys understand the juvenile court system and are ready to talk with you about how to navigate the sometimes complex legal landscape after a young person has been arrested.