Florida is only one of 15 states that give prosecutors discretion via direct-file laws to charge children as adults without a judge’s interference. In total, there are four ways in which a child may be tried as an adult:
- Direct File
- Statutory Exclusion
- Discretionary Judicial Transfer
- Once an Adult, Always an Adult
Florida law allows prosecutors to charge minors that are at least 14 years of age in adult court for the following 19 crimes:
- Sexual battery;
- Aggravated child abuse;
- Aggravated assault;
- Aggravated stalking;
- Unlawful throwing, placing, or discharging of a destructive device or bomb;
- Armed burglary, specified burglary of a dwelling, or burglary with an assault or battery violation;
- Aggravated battery;
- Any lewd or lascivious offense committed upon or in the presence of a person less than 16 years of age;
- Carrying, displaying, using, threatening, or attempting to use a weapon or firearm during the commission of a felony;
- Grand theft of property valued at a minimum of $100,000 or cargo valued at $50,000 or more;
- Possessing or discharging any weapon or firearm on school property;
- Home invasion robbery;
- Carjacking; or
- Grand theft of the third-degree as defined by Florida law.
Prosecutors may also direct file 16- and 17-year-olds who have committed any felony. If the prosecutor chooses not to file the charges in adult court, that does not mean that a child cannot be tried as an adult, but it does provide them additional protections in juvenile court.
Legal Rights In Juvenile Court
In addition to general statutes and case law that protect individuals through a criminal procedure, Florida juvenile court proceedings are governed by the Florida Rules of Juvenile Procedure. Many people understand they have a right to legal counsel during their criminal trial. In juvenile court, individuals have the right to counsel at all stages of their proceedings, including:
- Detention Hearings
- Disposition and Restitution Hearings
- Violation of Parole Hearings
In situations where a juvenile appears in front of the court without counsel, the court is required to advise the child of their rights to court-appointed counsel.
However, Florida does not have a presumption of indigence in juvenile court, meaning that when a juvenile wants a court-appointed attorney, there is generally a $50 application fee. In most cases, the child will be found to be indigent because the standard is based on their financial status, not the financial status of their parent or guardian. Although, a nonindigent parent or guardian is required to provide legal services for a child facing delinquency charges.
Moreover, a juvenile may only waive counsel after they have had a meaningful opportunity to meet with counsel to discuss the child’s rights, the consequences of waiving, and any other factors that would assist the child in deciding to waive their right to counsel or not. To waive counsel after meeting with counsel, the child must do so in writing and submit it to the court before a parent, guardian, or attorney. Even if the child waives counsel early in the process, the assistance of counsel must be offered at each subsequent stage of the proceedings.
Florida law provides that if a child is transferred for criminal prosecution as an adult, the court is required to transfer and certify all felony cases pertaining to the child, regardless of their age, to adult court.
Here, if the child is acquitted of the charge that caused all cases to be transferred to adult court, the child shall only be subject to penalties available before the transfer to adult court. This means that while they may continue to be heard in adult court, the child is only subject to the penalties he would have been subject to in juvenile court.
Discretionary Judicial Transfer
Florida law allows the prosecution to request that any child 14 years or older be transferred to adult court once proceedings have begun in juvenile court. In the following scenarios, the prosecutor must request a transfer to adult court, and the court must grant the transfer.
- If the child is at least 14 years old and has 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, carjacking, home-invasion robbery, aggravated battery, aggravated assault, or burglary with an assault or battery, and the child is currently charged with a second or subsequent violent crime against a person; or
- If the child is at least 14 years old at the time of the commission of at least a fourth felony offense and the child was previously adjudicated delinquent or had adjudication withheld for or was found to have committed, or to have attempted or conspired to commit, three offenses that are felony offenses if committed by an adult, and one or more of such felony offenses involved the use or possession of a firearm or violence against a person.
Once An Adult, Always An Adult
Additionally, any child who has been transferred to or directly filed to adult court and found guilty of the offense or a lesser included offense must be tried as an adult for all subsequent crimes unless they are given a juvenile sanction.
Juvenile Alternative Sanctions Program
The Juvenile Alternative Sanctions Program allows a case to pause while the child is monitored and given a specific amount of time to complete all their sanctions. Sanctions will be assigned based on the infraction and may vary depending on the case but may include the following:
- Community Service Work
- Law Awareness Classes
- Drug Awareness Classes
- Domestic Violence Classes
The child’s process for completing the sanctions is monitored by the Prosecution Alternatives for Youth (P.A.Y.) office. If the child completes their sanctions, P.A.Y. will notify the State Attorney, and the charges will be dropped. However, if the child fails to complete their sanctions within the specified timeframe, the case will be returned to the State Attorney for prosecution. The program’s goal is to give the child a chance at reformation before being sent to juvie or prison.
Juvenile Criminal Defense Attorney
If your child is facing criminal charges, contact the experienced attorneys of the Koberlein Law Offices for help. Our attorneys under the law surrounding the juvenile criminal justice system. Contact us today toll-free at 877.556.2889 or online for a free consultation.