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YES on CS/SB 192: Juvenile Justice

Take Action! Tell your Senator to support CS/SB 192!

Last week, the Florida Senate Committee on Criminal Justice reviewed CS/SB 192, a bill that would reform the use of direct file for juveniles charged with felony offenses. Under Florida law, prosecutors have the discretion to charge juveniles accused of certain crimes as adults—a process known as direct file. Senator Bobby Powell (D-District 30) filed a bill to cut down on the number of juveniles direct filed in Florida. His bill also creates a detailed system for prosecutors to document their decisions to prosecute juveniles as adults.

The Florida Senate Amendment came into being as a way to reform how children are prosecuted in the juvenile justice system. Currently, there are three ways in which a child can be prosecuted as an adult: (1) judicial waiver, in which a juvenile court judge waives the juvenile court’s jurisdiction over the child; (2) grand jury indictment; or (3) direct file by the State Attorney’s Office (SAO). Current direct file allows for a prosecutor to charge a child as an adult without any explanation or justification by the SAO or by a judge. This amendment is a response to the concerns of defense attorneys, parents, and the community that the current system is being used inconsistently throughout the state and is not decreasing crime.

Direct File Eligible Crimes

This bill does not eliminate direct file; rather, it narrows the list of offenses eligible for direct file and allows judges to now be a part of the decision-making process. Under the Amendment, 14-year-olds and 15-year-olds would no longer be eligible to be direct filed for the following offenses: grand theft, grand theft auto, burglary of an unoccupied dwelling, robbery, and aggravated assault without a firearm. The Amendment would also add possession of a controlled substance to the list of offenses that 16-year-olds and 17-year-olds could no longer direct filed for. However, even under the terms of the new Amendment, a judicial waiver system would still be available for youths who committed those crimes to be punished in adult court.

Data Collection

Under the Amendment, there will be a requirement for data to be collected regarding who is direct filed. The Amendment places more parameters on the SAO in how this decision is being made, which would provide reporting to see how effective the reform is and whether there is consistency throughout the state. Under the Amendment, data would be collected for youth who qualify for direct file. Some of the complied data will include age, race and ethnicity, gender, circuit and county of residence and of offense, prior adjudicated offenses, prior periods of probation, prior contact with the law, charges, co-defendants, and an extensive history of the child.

Disposition

A child in adult court who is found to have violated the law may be sentenced to adult sanctions, juvenile sanctions, or blended sanctions consisting or both juvenile and adult sanctions. The child’s sentence may include a term of imprisonment, community control, probation, commitment, juvenile probation, or any combination of these. When determining whether to apply adult sanctions or juvenile sanctions, the court can look at various factors. Some of these factors include protection of the community, the extent of the child’s involvement in the crime, peer pressure, whether the crime was violent or premeditated, whether the crime was against a person or property, the characteristics of the child, and prior record.

Passage of the Bill

The Amendment prevents children from losing the civil rights that they never had. The goal is to charge fewer children as adults. The Amendment addresses many of the concerns and creates a balanced approach in punishing youth. This is important because there is a high recidivism rate with children who have been direct filed. This is primarily due to lack of access to rehabilitative programs geared towards children serving in the adult correctional system.

This measure narrowly passed the Senate Criminal Justice committee in a 4-3 vote, and it does not yet have a House companion bill. Similar efforts have been unsuccessful in past legislative sessions. If adopted, Florida will see consistency and transparency in the legal system when youths are charged as adults. This would also help long-term recidivism and decrease the overall crime rate.

Watch the committee meeting here. The text of the bill and two bill analyses and fiscal impact statements are also available for the original filed bill and for the proposed committee substitute.

7 replies
  1. dertonian
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  2. dertonian
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Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] The Daily Commercial has published an editorial in favor of SB 192, a bill that would limit the practice of charging children as adults. Read the editorial and learn more about the bill. […]

  2. […] In this opinion piece, Talitha Hazelton, a former assistant public defender for the 15th Judicial Circuit (Palm Beach County), argues the case for reforming the use of direct file in Florida by passing CS/SB 192. Read the opinion and learn more about CS/SB192. […]

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