When can the state attorney direct file a case from Jacksonville juvenile delinquent court to adult court? Which Florida juvenile laws apply to directly filing a juvenile case? If your son or daughter has been arrested and is facing charges in Jacksonville juvenile criminal court, these are just a couple of the questions that you may have. The more minor the offense, the less likely that a juvenile will be charged as an adult. The child or teenager’s age will be a factor, along with his or her criminal record.
Florida law gives great discretion to prosecutors with the direct filing option. An assistant state attorney in Jacksonville has the ability to remove a minor’s case from juvenile delinquent court and file the case in adult court pursuant to Section 985.557 of the Florida Statutes. While this discretionary power has statutory limits for minors that are 14 or 15-years-old, the same is not true for 16 and 17-year-olds. Section 985.557(1)(a) applies to 14 and 15-year-old children. This law states:
With respect to any child who was 14 or 15 years of age at the time the alleged offense was committed, the state attorney may file an information when in the state attorney’s judgment and discretion the public interest requires that adult sanctions be considered or imposed and when the offense charged is for the commission of, attempt to commit, or conspiracy to commit:
2. Sexual battery;
5. Aggravated child abuse;
6. Aggravated assault;
7. Aggravated stalking;
10. Unlawful throwing, placing, or discharging of a destructive device or bomb;
11. Armed burglary in violation of s. 810.02(2)(b) or specified burglary of a dwelling or structure in violation of s. 810.02(2)(c), or burglary with an assault or battery in violation of s. 810.02(2)(a);
12. Aggravated battery;
13. Any lewd or lascivious offense committed upon or in the presence of a person less than 16 years of age;
14. Carrying, displaying, using, threatening, or attempting to use a weapon or firearm during the commission of a felony;
15. Grand theft in violation of s. 812.014(2)(a);
16. Possessing or discharging any weapon or firearm on school property in violation of s. 790.115;
17. Home invasion robbery;
18. Carjacking; or
19. Grand theft of a motor vehicle in violation of s. 812.014(2)(c)6. or grand theft of a motor vehicle valued at $20,000 or more in violation of s. 812.014(2)(b) if the child has a previous adjudication for grand theft of a motor vehicle in violation of s. 812.014(2)(c)6. or s. 812.014(2)(b).
What if the juvenile that is arrested in Jacksonville is 16 or 17-years-old? If that is the case, the state attorney’s decision to directly file the case to adult court is not limited as set forth in the paragraph above. Instead, Section 985.557(1)(b) states:
With respect to any child who was 16 or 17 years of age at the time the alleged offense was committed, the state attorney may file an information when in the state attorney’s judgment and discretion the public interest requires that adult sanctions be considered or imposed. However, the state attorney may not file an information on a child charged with a misdemeanor, 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.
When a teenager is 16 years-old or older, the state attorney has the ability to file a felony charge or felony charges in adult court. The prosecutor is not limited to only certain enumerated crimes. The University of Miami Law Review published an article by Kevin Hugulet which clearly articulates the problems surrounding this prosecutorial discreation. The article, entitled Florida’s Direct File Law: How State Attorneys Hold Too Much Power, states:
“Direct file is a statutory provision that allows prosecutors to choose whether a case will be adjudicated in juvenile or adult court. In Florida, direct file is either mandatory—if the juvenile meets certain statutorily enumerated criteria—or discretionary—“when in the state attorney’s judgment and discretion the public interest requires that adult sanctions be considered or imposed.” The decision by a state attorney to use discretion to direct file a child cannot be appealed or reviewed by a judge; the case will simply be filed in adult court and there is nothing the juvenile can do to protest. This process of unfettered prosecutorial power violates the basic tenants of the American adversarial system. Florida state attorneys hold an inordinate amount of power and can coerce children into accepting juvenile plea deals under the threat of long-term adult prison sentences. Further, prosecutors are able to do this before the child has an opportunity for discovery, thus losing the ability to hear any exculpatory or inculpatory evidence or to see a police report. Although a judge in adult court can impose juvenile sanctions in cases of discretionary direct file, there is a presumption that adult sanctions are appropriate because the juvenile is in adult court. Further, once a child has been charged as an adult, they are required to be held pretrial and post-conviction in adult detention facilities.”