The state of Florida has come under a lot of criticism in recent years for the number of children being charged as adults for any number of crimes. Although there are some safeguards in place to try and be certain this doesn’t happen too often, that simply doesn’t seem to be the case.
Florida has, by far, been trying minors as adults more than any other state in the U.S. A closer look at the ways that this motion can be filed in the courts by prosecutors reveals why.
Charges may be filed in the criminal court instead of juvenile court at the state’s attorney’s judgement and discretion if they think the public’s interest requires it. The minimum age for any felony charge to be heard in criminal court is 16, as long as the accused has had two prior adjudications on their record – and one of those must be a felony. If a 14-year old has been charged with a murder, aggravated battery, sexual assault, robbery, kidnapping, or some other very serious crime, they too can be tried as an adult. In the Direct File process there is no hearing before a judge; no impartial overseer to make sure that justice is being carried out.
The state’s attorney, in some cases, may not seek an indictment, or if they have and the grand jury does not return one, the matter can revert to juvenile court. This possibility may be another problem for the child as it could lead to a plea bargain, where guilt is admitted, so the case doesn’t go to criminal court, even when the child is innocent. In some cases, an innocent child may take that deal and then have a future case sent immediately to criminal court due to their past adjudications.
If a state’s attorney does not make use of the Direct File procedure against a defendant, there still can be a way to have this person charged and tried as an adult. By requesting a discretionary waiver, which is a process that does involve a judge from the juvenile court system, a prosecutor can have the case referred to criminal court.
What does this mean for you and your child?
The courts are always a source of concern and anxiety in any circumstance, but when a child is being charged as an adult the parents are up against a seemingly impossible battle. The charges being brought in criminal court make the possibility of jail time with hardened criminals a reality. The process of going through an arraignment – where this possibility is discussed – can lead parents to make a rash decision where they take the quick plea bargain deal offered before another step has been taken in the court process.
In this situation, it is important to immediately retain an experienced Florida criminal defense attorney. A qualified attorney can break down and explain to you and your family what the terms “direct file” and “discretionary waiver” actually mean, and lay out how each could impact the defendant.
During the discretionary waiver process, there will be findings and statements that a criminal defense attorney can challenge (or support) in an effort to keep the case in juvenile court. In the Melbourne area, the Law Firm of Jeffrey Thompson has this critical and essential experience. Mr. Thompson has been both a Florida prosecutor and a defender, which gives a unique perspective that proves highly beneficial in these difficult cases. If your son or daughter has been charged with a crime, contact our office today for a free consultation.