Is the Florida the Worst State for Young People Accused of Crimes?

Young Criminal in FloridaBeing charged with a crime is scary enough when you’re an adult. When you’re a kid, it’s downright terrifying. Florida has the unfortunate distinction of leading the nation in charging juveniles as adults in the criminal justice system.

The statistics are shocking. If your child has been charged with a crime in Florida, there is no question you need immediate help from a Melbourne juvenile criminal defense attorney.

The stakes are simply too high to handle your case on your own or without experienced criminal defense.

High Rate of Juveniles Charged as Adults

Florida has attracted a lot attention from human rights organizations due to the state’s disproportionately high number of juvenile offenders being prosecuted in the adult criminal justice system.

Consider the following statistics:

  • In the past five years, 12,000 children have been moved from the juvenile to the adult criminal justice system for prosecution
  • Of the 12,000 kids moved to the adult system, more than half were accused of non-violent crimes
  • 98 percent of children prosecuted in the adult system got there because of Florida’s direct file statute, which gives prosecutors complete discretion to move them to the adult system
  • Florida transfers an average of 164.7 per 100,000 juveniles to the adult system each year; the state with the next highest transfer rate is Oregon, which transfers just 95.6 kids per 100,000 to its adult justice system

Florida is such an extreme outlier when it comes to national rates for juvenile transfers, many have called for change, both outside Florida and within the state.

In fact, Florida state lawmakers have proposed a bill that would limit prosecutors’ ability to transfer kids from the juvenile system under Florida’s direct file statute.

What Is Florida’s Direct File Statute?

Under Florida’s direct file statute, state prosecutors have almost unfettered authority to move children from the juvenile system to the adult criminal justice system.

Prosecutors have discretion to transfer a child to the adult system, and they don’t even need a hearing or a judge’s approval to do so.

Lawmakers are still considering the bill aimed at changing the direct file system, but many were disappointed when a provision that would have given judges final decision-making authority was stripped from the proposed law.

It remains to be seen whether the bill will become law. In the meantime, a U.S. Supreme Court ruling has forced Florida courts to reexamine cases in which juveniles were given life sentences.

In Miller v. Alabama in 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that it is unconstitutional for states to impose life sentences without the possibility of parole on juveniles convicted of murder.

Specifically, the Court said that life sentences without parole in this context constitute cruel and unusual punishment.

The Court expanded this ruling in early 2016 when it held that its ruling in Miller v. Alabama should be applied retroactively to convictions handed down before 2012.

As a result of Miller v. Alabama, the Florida Supreme Court was forced to order new sentencing hearings for juveniles sentenced to life in prison without parole for murder convictions. The court’s ruling could impact around 200 people serving prison sentences in Florida.

Call an Aggressive Melbourne Juvenile Criminal Defense Lawyer

If your child has been charged with a crime in Florida, you need to take action right away. Prosecutors in Florida have the ability to move a juvenile’s case to the adult system. This results in extreme sentences for teens. It could also mean a permanent criminal record for your child.

Don’t let your child get caught up in an unfair system. Call a Melbourne juvenile criminal defense lawyer today.