Escambia County Leads the Nation in Charging Juveniles as Adults
More kids in Florida wind up in adult prisons than in any other state. That’s because in Florida, more kids are prosecuted as adults for felony crimes. Within the state, one county stands out in particular for sending the highest proportion of juveniles to the adult court system: Escambia County in the Florida panhandle.
From 2015-2016, 1,864 Escambia County took in 1,864 juvenile delinquents. Of these, the county directly filed 120 to the adult system. Many activist groups advocate for changing the procedure that sends minors to the adult court system with relative ease. No Place for a Child, a coalition of several groups like the Southern Poverty Law Center, seeks a three-part approach for changing the way kids end up in adult courts and prisons:
- Restore judicial involvement in deciding when a child should be prosecuted as an adult
- Limit the number of offenses that can send a child to the adult court system
- Hold children who have been prosecuted as adults in juvenile facilities
Florida’s Direct File Law
Members of the House and Senate have filed bills to address these issues; yet the biggest concern is Florida’s direct file statute, which allows prosecutors to file charges against youth offenders in the adult criminal justice system without any feedback from a judge. Consequently, fourteen- and fifteen-year-olds can face adult criminal charges for committing, attempting to commit, or conspiring to commit any of nearly twenty felony offenses.
Under direct file, Florida prosecutors can charge sixteen- and seventeen-year-olds who are found guilty of committing any felony offense as adults. Another big issue is the fact that at no point in this process do the juveniles facing adult charges receive an opportunity to protest the charges against them.
No Place for a Child currently seeks the implementation of “fitness hearings.” These hearings would allow juveniles to ask a judge to review their case before it is transferred out of the juvenile justice system.
How Do Juveniles End up in Adult Court in Florida?
The state attorney for the First Judicial Circuit believes that implementing fitness hearings would add more to a judge’s caseload without changing results. Currently, the presiding judge has absolute authority to issue juvenile sanctions instead of adult sanctions at the end of any criminal proceeding involving a juvenile; yet he claims that the majority do not issue juvenile sanctions.
The decision to transfer a minor to the adult system requires input from several authorities. First, the case must be evaluated by a prosecutor, who then sends it to his supervisor, who then sends it to the chief assistant state attorney for review. Each person reviewing the case considers several aspects before deciding if the case is fit for the adult system. Some questions they consider include:
- Was the crime a violent crime?
- Did it involve a weapon?
- What is the juvenile’s criminal history?
- How old is the juvenile?
The bills filed in the Legislature are backed by bipartisan support. The ultimate goal is to help juveniles who engage in criminal activity be rehabilitated as much as possible. Research shows that juveniles who end up in adult jails and prisons often leave hardened criminals rather than kids who look forward to a fresh start. They are also many times more likely to be subjected to physical and sexual abuse.
Keeping Your Child Out of the Justice System
The first and most important step a parent can take to help their child avoid escalating involvement in the criminal justice system is to hire an experienced criminal defense lawyer with a focus on juvenile defense. For over 20 years, defense attorneys at the Umansky Law Firm have helped juveniles and their families in Central Florida overcome the many obstacles that accompany criminal charges. We believe that everyone deserves a second chance, especially young adults who are still maturing. Call our office for a free case review, chat with us online 24/7, or email us for a free consultation.