In the criminal court system, a “juvenile” is a minor under the age of eighteen. Generally, juvenile offenders are tried in the juvenile court system, which is separate from the adult system. They are also held in correctional facilities intended specifically for minors. Sometimes, however, a juvenile will be tried as an adult. This can happen when:
- The offense was a serious violent crime, such as aggravated assault or murder.
- The offense was a sexually-motivated crime, such as sexual battery (rape).
- The juvenile has a long criminal history and has not responded to discipline in the juvenile court system.
- The juvenile was previously tried as an adult (once tried as an adult, always tried as an adult).
In all states, including Florida, traditionally once an offender turns 18, he or she is a legal adult and from that day forward will always be tried as an adult. Most of the time, if an offender is under 18, he or she is channeled through the juvenile court system, but every state allows juveniles to be tried as adults though state laws vary.
What Florida’s Law Says
Under Florida law, when juveniles commit certain felony offenses, they can be prosecuted as an adult and their case will be transferred to the adult criminal division. What does it mean to be prosecuted as an adult? It means the juvenile will be treated as an adult; they will not receive special treatment because they are legally, a child. The juvenile offender will go through the same processes and face the same penalties as an adult would if he or she committed the crime.
What if My Child is Found Guilty?
As criminal defense attorneys, we know this is scary for parents. Florida, like Texas and Arizona, has some of the harshest penalties in the nation. Unfortunately, if a minor is found guilty or pleads guilty in adult criminal court, he or she will be sentenced as if they were 18 or older. Again, no special treatment and no leniency because of their age.
Additionally, once a minor is charged as an adult in Florida, if he or she ever commits another state-level crime, they will forever be processed in the adult criminal court system.
Three ways a juvenile’s case is transferred to adult court:
1. Indictment: The state can ask a grand jury to indict a juvenile offender and there is no age minimum for this. Indictments are not for minor offenses; they usually apply to serious cases where a juvenile is under the age of 14 and he or she commits a serious offense that is punishable by death or life imprisonment, such as murder.
2. Waiver: With a waiver, the prosecutor is asking a judge to transfer a child who is at least 14 to the adult criminal court. The judge will review the juvenile’s history, the nature of the crime, and the child’s likelihood of rehabilitating. Once all facts are considered, the judge will grant or deny the prosecutor’s request.
3. Direct File: Direct files are mandatory or discretionary. A direct file is where the prosecutor transfers a juvenile case to the adult court; the juvenile court can do nothing to stop it and no hearing will take place to prevent it. Under state law, when a juvenile age 16 or older break specific laws, he or she will be subject to a mandatory file and there are no exceptions under Florida law.
Discretionary direct files allow prosecutors to file charges against juveniles age 14 or older in the adult court system for certain crimes. It is solely up to the prosecutor to decide whether or not to send a discretionary case to the adult court. Regardless, whenever a Florida prosecutor decides to direct-file a juvenile case, it will be prosecuted in adult court.
Looking for a Brandon criminal attorney to fight your son or daughter’s charges? Contact Thomas & Paulk, P.A. for a free case evaluation.