Jacksonville Juvenile Lawyers Discuss State Attorneys Power

When you hire a Jacksonville juvenile lawyer, one of the first things the attorney does is file a notice of appearance in the case.  Quite often, Jacksonville lawyers will also file a notice that they are participating in discovery.  Once the Duval County prosecutor gives discovery to the defense attorney, the attorney is more equipped to conduct an investigation into the case.  While waiting for discovery, the Jacksonville criminal lawyer will still conduct her own investigation based on the information that her client gives her.  Another important thing that the Jacksonville attorney does is communicate with the state attorney’s office.  If your child is arrested for a juvenile crime, a file is created at the state attorney’s office.  This file will be assigned to a juvenile division in circuit court and an assistant state attorney will be given the case.  This is when the prosecutor makes a decision on whether or not to file the case and what charges to bring.  This is why it is very important for the Jacksonville criminal attorney representing the juvenile to present evidence and mitigation to the state attorney during this time period.

The state attorney’s office has the power to drop or amend the charges, to divert the case, or to file the charges as an adult.  Yesterday, the Florida Times Union wrote an article about Florida prosecutors’ power when making this decision.  The article discussed how Florida state attorneys’ gained great power in juvenile cases.  The article began by establishing the background of events.  In the 1990s, there was a fear that violent crimes committed by teenagers would hurt tourism:

“Florida’s multibillion-dollar tourist industry was near panic. The Florida legislature called an emergency session. ‘Law enforcement, whether it was city police or sheriff’s offices, were screaming to have something done,’ said former Florida Rep. Buzz Ritchie ‘They would pick up a teenager, a child if you will, for doing something that was obviously a felony, but they’re back on the street the next morning.’ What they did was give state attorneys incredible power over the fate of juveniles in the judicial system.”

In 1994, prosecutors were given a new power.  This is known as direct commitments.  This is a form of a plea deal.  In most criminal cases, a plea deal occurs after the Jacksonville criminal defense attorney and the state attorney negotiate the terms.  The Jacksonville lawyer has likely already been given discovery and an opportunity to go through some evidence in the case.  A direct commitment is different.  “When juveniles agree to plea deals, they are often incarcerated without the chance to hear the evidence against them, examine police work or interview witnesses. Also, the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) typically is not given the chance to evaluate the juvenile’s background and needs.”  Matt Shirk is the public defender over the 4th Judicial Circuit which is made up of Duval, Clay, and Nassau County.  “Shirk’s office estimates that more than 800 juveniles in the past five years were first threatened with adult charges before accepting pleas. The Times-Union’s analysis also found a disproportionate number of low-risk youth from the Jacksonville area are being incarcerated, compared to other Florida judicial circuits.”

Prior to the 1994 juvenile law changes, “judges would hold a special hearing, much like a small trial, where both sides would argue their case to decide which court would be best for each contested case.  After this law was changed, state attorneys could send children directly to adult court without that hearing and without a juvenile judge’s go-ahead.”

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