On December 1, 2015 the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee took a hard look at Florida’s direct-file laws and their effects on the lives of juvenile offenders. In the last five years, 12,000 juvenile offenders have ended up in Florida’s adult criminal justice system – 60 percent of them non-violent offenders.
Florida’s juvenile offenders overwhelmingly charged as adults
A juvenile is much more likely to be tried as an adult in certain counties of Florida. This inconsistency is one of the reasons that lawmakers and youth advocates have called for House Bill 129, which seeks to amend Florida’s current “direct-file” process.
There are many reasons to keep juveniles, especially nonviolent ones, out of the adult criminal justice system. Within the juvenile system, young people have access to more support, education, and counseling services. Inside the adult system, many argue, the only education readily available is how to be a better criminal.
Direct-file reform gives new hope to young offenders
Direct-file, as it stands, allows prosecutors alone to make the determination to send juveniles to adult court. Juvenile justices advocates had hoped to put that power in the hands of judges as HB 129 originally called for. However, the bill was amended to leave some power in the hands of state’s attorneys. Lawmakers and juvenile justice reform proponents hope that the new, multi-layered approach will give young offenders more options.
Advocates for direct-file reform say that judges should have jurisdiction instead of state prosecutors, citing that elected officials are bolstered by incarceration rates. Putting the power more squarely in the hands of judges, they assert, brings more transparency and equity to the process.
HB 129, in its revised form, passed among the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee, and has moved on to the Justice Appropriations Subcommittee and will then be passed on to the Judiciary Committee. The final form of the bill is yet to be determined, but there are certainly many who believe this reform is long overdue.
No matter what your age, criminal allegations aren’t child’s play. If you’ve been accused of a crime, you should enlist the services of a reputable criminal lawyer as soon as possible.
A hard look at prosecuting juveniles in adult court, www.floridabar.org, Jan Pudlow, 1 Jan 2016
CS/HB 129 – Juvenile Justice, www.myfloridabar.org