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How is the State Attorney’s Office charging juveniles as adults?

Few cases are as challenging to Tampa criminal defense attorneys as minors being charged as adults in Florida courts.  Florida leads the nation in charging juveniles as adults in our criminal justice system.  These cases require a unique understanding of both Florida’s juvenile and adult criminal systems and an early, aggressive approach.

Florida law, specifically Florida Statute Section 985.557 handles the filing of adult charges to juveniles in Florida.  The Statute is titled “Direct filing of an information; discretionary and mandatory criteria”.  As the name implies, there a situations where the State Attorney’s Office must file adult charges and times when they have discretion as to the charges to be filed.

Under subsection (1)(a) of the Statute, the State Attorney’s Office may file adult charges against 14 or 15 year olds for specific enumerated offenses.  The enumerated felonies are primarily the most serious felonies, like murder, sexual battery, robbery and/or the carrying or use a weapon or firearm during the commission of a felony.  Under subsection (1)(b) of the Statute, state attorneys may file adult charges against 16 or 17 year olds when “public interest requires that adult sanctions be considered or imposed.”   The Statute provides that the State cannot file an information on a minor for a misdemeanor offense, “unless the child has had at least two previous adjudications or adjudications withheld for delinquent acts, one of which involved an offense classified as a felony under state law.”

While subsection (2) of the Statute provides for situations, where the State must direct file juveniles to adult court.  The State Attorney must direct file the adult charges in the following situations involving juvenile defendants:

a)      the minor must be 16 or 17 years old and have been previously adjudicated delinquent “for an act classified as a felony, which adjudication was for the commission of, attempt to commit, or conspiracy to commit murder, sexual battery, armed or strong armed robbery, car jacked, home-invasion robbery, aggravated battery, or aggravated assault, and the child is currently charged with a second or subsequent violent crime against a person”;

b)      the minor must be 16 or 17 years old, committing a forcible felony, as defined in s. 776.08 and the child must have been adjudicated delinquent “or had adjudication withheld for three acts classified as felonies each of which occurred at least 45 days apart from each other.”  The state attorney has the discretion not rely on this paragraph if good cause exists;

c)       the minor is alleged to have committed an act involving stealing a car, carjacking or related to theft of a motor vehicle and “while the child was in possession of the stolen motor vehicle the child caused serious bodily injury or death of a person who was not involved in the underlying offense”; or

d)      the minor must be 16 or 17 years old and commit an enumerated offense under Florida’s 10-20-Life Statute.

While we understand the specific language of the Statute is confusing and wordy, the spirit of the Statute is that juveniles are more likely to be prosecuted as adults as the severity of the alleged offense increases, especially when it involves a firearm.  Many State Attorneys around the Tampa Bay Area are extremely aggressive when it comes to the direct filing of adult charges.   This appears to be in response to the increase in juvenile serious violent crime the Tampa Bay Area has experienced in recent years.  Florida’s movement towards increased minimum mandatory sentences have resulted in more mandatory direct file situations for juveniles and increased frequency of charging juveniles as adults.

If you or someone you know has questions concerning the direct filing of juveniles into Florida’s adult court and/or charging juveniles as adults, contact the Tampa criminal defense attorneys of Blumenuaer Hackworth for a free case consultation.  We have handled many of these sorts of cases and have great experience dealing with the unique challenges of these sorts of cases.  Further, we have had success in convincing the State Attorney’s Office to stop from charging juveniles as adults, when we represent juveniles.  If you would like to consult with one of our Tampa criminal defense attorneys, please do not hesitate to use our “contact us now” tab in the upper right hand corner of our website.  We appreciate your time in checking out or Tampa criminal defense attorney blog and look forward to hearing from you.