Most people have a basic sense of what being “charged as an adult” means. It’s literally when a juvenile is charged in an adult court of law and faces adult sentencing. Adults themselves are charged in criminal courts for their crimes while children are usually charged in family court to answer for theirs. However, some states have begun making it more difficult for prosecutors to charge children as adults without judicial review. Florida is not among these states.
The State of Florida gives prosecutors broad discretion to “direct file” juveniles as adults. This means that they can bypass the process of judicial review. In 2016, several states passed legislation to limit the prosecution’s ability to bypass oversight when filing charges against youth offenders.
North Carolina, California, Louisiana, and Vermont all passed legislation to end the practice of direct filing. Additionally, Arizona, D.C., and Indiana each passed legislation to protect juveniles from adult jails and prisons. Many believe that it is time that Florida enact similar legislation.
Florida Limits the Use of Direct File
In February of 2018, Florida legislators introduced H.B. 509, a bill that hopes to end the practice of direct filing of adult charges against children. It will also end the practice of housing children with adults while awaiting trial and sentencing. Many believe that these practices actually make Florida less safe than taking a rehabilitative approach to juvenile offenses. Intuitively, they end up breeding career criminals. In the early part of 2019, the Florida Congress will have a chance to pass this bill.
What Does H.B. 509 Hope to Achieve
Here in Florida, where we charge more children as adults than any other state, the process for charging a child as an adult involves a prosecutor simply deciding that that’s what they’re going to do. The bill would change this, forcing prosecutors to petition the court to charge a child as an adult.
One thing that would end is a child have a permanent criminal record for crimes they committed as a youth. Youth records are often sealed by the court and this would allow children who commit crimes better opportunities for housing and employment in the future.
In addition, these children would not be housed in adult jails while they’re awaiting sentencing or trial and they would not be sent to adult prisons if convicted. These places tend to be breeding grounds for a life in crime. The education they provide is not the sort of education that a child deserves.
The Racial Factor
There is also evidence that the practice of charging youth offenders as adults disproportionately affects those in the black community. Blacks make up 77% of those charged as adults. A sizeable portion of those who are charged as adults are charged with non-violent offenses.
Talk to a West Palm Beach Criminal Defense Attorney
If you’ve been charged with a crime in West Palm Beach, the Skier Law Firm P.A. can help you navigate the criminal justice system and get a result that you can live with. Give us a call or talk to us online to set up an appointment.