A bill aimed at decreasing the number of juveniles charged as adults is still alive in the Florida Senate, after narrowly passing its first committee Monday.
Under Florida law, a juvenile can be “Direct filed,” if they commit certain crimes. That means prosecutors can try the juvenile in adult court.
West Palm Beach Democratic Senator Bobby Powell says his goal is to cut down on the number of those direct filed in the state. So, he filed a bill aiming to just that.
“What it does is it narrows the list of eligible offenses to only the worst and egregious cases and it allows for a judge to be involved in the decision to transfer a child to adult court,” said Powell. “Under this language, 14 and 15-year-olds would be eligible for direct file for the same offenses that they currently are direct filed for, with the exception of grand theft, grand theft auto, unarmed burglary of an unoccupied dwelling structure, robbery, and aggravated assault without a firearm.”
His bill also creates a detailed system for prosecutors to document their decisions to prosecute juveniles as adults. Sen. Jeff Clemens (D-Lake Worth) says there’s one other particular part he likes.
“One of the things I like best about this is it deletes the term, “direct file,” and, it calls it what it is, which is prosecution of children as adults,” said Clemens. “That’s what we do here in Florida. Direct filing sounds nicer. But, that’s what we’re actually really doing here.”
The Florida Public Defenders Association supports the bill. But, the state’s prosecutors are against the change. Buddy Jacobs with the Florida Prosecuting Attorneys Association says state attorneys are doing a good job using their own discretion to make that determination. And, he says the number of those direct filed has decreased by 47-percent in the last five years.
“In the year 15-16, we reviewed 69,749 arrests,” said Jacobs. “That involved 38,267 young people. Almost 58 percent of those never even saw a juvenile judge. The State Attorney chose alternate resolutions or didn’t file a case at all. Over the last year itself--between last year to this year—we reduced it another six percent. So, now you’re at the 47 percent we’re talking about.”
Jacobs warned lawmakers to be careful about making changes to the current law—given certain statistics.
“If you look at the juvenile justice figures, you see that the juvenile offenses that are creeping up now over the last five years are murder, attempted manslaughter, actually escape from the juvenile facility, and grand theft auto are all creeping back in again,” he added. “This is not necessarily a good time to start changing the ground rules, and we need to have the tools that we have to keep doing the good job we’re doing.”
Still, the measure narrowly passed the Senate Criminal Justice committee 4-3. It does not yet have a House companion. Similar efforts have died in past legislative sessions.
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