Flooding Adult Court with Juvenile Crimes Needs to End
Well over 1,000 young offenders, many of whom committed ‘wobbler’ offenses, were tried in adult courts last year, signaling a need to reform the criminal justice system to divert younger persons into juvenile court more frequently. With House Bill 509, juvenile crimes could have been adjudicated at their own courts, with some trepidation.
Had legislation passed, judges would have been given broader discretion in whether crimes should be tried in adult courts, or remanded to juvenile judges for hearing.
Could another bill be in the works? If not, many believe it should be.
What HB 509 May Have Accomplished
HB 509, which died in the Criminal Justice Subcommittee, revised factors considered for remanding cases to adult court where young teens committed felony offenses. It created an exception to removal of civil rights in determining if children should be tried as adults, while editing the list of crimes that could be ‘direct filed’, or automatically filed in adult court.
With an adult detention system inundated with low-level offenses, adding youth with similarly low crimes creates a massive backlog for courts to wade through efficiently. It may also endanger young persons mixed into the general population of county jails with adults facing harsher sentences.
Opponents of such legislation believe prosecutors will lose power to impose tougher sentences on repeat offenders. Trying young persons as adults often deters further crimes, which sweeping reform would take away.
From 2015-2016, prosecutors direct filed 98% of all felony crimes committed by young persons ages 10-17 in adult court, with the greater portion of these cases segregated to black youth.
Why the Bill Died
Florida, which leads the nation in juvenile case transfers to adult court, has proposed several bills to lower the number of crimes tried in adult court, all to no avail. SB 192 contained the same language as HB 109, although it died during the March 10, 2018 session as well. So, why are these bills – which could divert kids to better programs and housing – being shot down?
For one, prosecutors request much harsher penalties on young persons exhibiting a pattern of unreformed behavior. Stripping that right away may lead to smaller crimes turning into much larger ones. Another reason these bills are dying is lack of bipartisan support in the House, where each bill has made it but halted.
Probation in the adult justice system has much stricter guidelines, a stark contrast from the relaxed juvenile probation system which puts more pressure on parents rather than children.
Has Your Child Been Tried as an Adult?
Reform may be years away, but that shouldn’t stop parents from retaining counsel if their child has committed a felony that calls for commutation to adult court. If direct filed in error, an attorney can potentially get the case remanded back to juvenile court.
If you’re simply wanting the justice system overhauled so children have access to better programs and counseling, exercise your right to vote and speak to your representative about enacting new laws to balance Florida’s court system.
Contact Us Today for Help
If your child has committed an offense that is being transferred to adult court, you need a juvenile crimes attorney on your side. Contact Donald C. Barrett, P.A. in Tampa immediately at 813-280-1201.