Proposed Changes in Florida’s Direct File Law

March 26, 2015

Rep. Katie Edwards, D-Plantation, is sponsoring a bill that would limit the instances in which juveniles can be tried as adults in Florida. House Bill 783 would limit the use of “direct file,” or charging a juvenile as an adult. Currently, prosecutors may charge juveniles who are at least fourteen years old as adults, but only for certain crimes. Proponents of the bill say that prosecutors frequently threaten juveniles with being charged as adults to get them to accept plea bargains.

The Bill

Similarly to current law, HB 783 gives prosecutors discretion to try juveniles as adults in some cases, and makes direct file mandatory in others. However, it limits the instances in which direct file is permitted. Under the bill, prosecutors would be permitted to decide whether or not to charge a juvenile as an adult in certain circumstances:

  • For a child aged 14 or 15, if charged for murder, manslaughter, or sexual battery.
  • For a child aged 16 or 17, if charged with any of several offenses, including murder, manslaughter, armed robbery, kidnapping, arson, or weapons charges.

The prosecutor would be able to ask a judge to charge a juvenile aged 14 or older as an adult for any crime. Only a grand jury would be able to charge a juvenile aged 13, and only for charges of murder, manslaughter, or sexual battery. Children under the age of 13 would be required to remain in juvenile court.

Current Law

Florida’s direct file law currently gives prosecutors the ability to charge juveniles as adults without requiring them to consult a judge or setting forth any oversight procedures. In some situations, direct file is discretionary, and the prosecutor may decide whether to charge the juvenile as an adult:

  • For a child who is 14 or 15:
    • When the prosecutor determines that the public interest requires charging the juvenile as an adult, and
    • The juvenile is charged with a violent crime such as arson, kidnapping, sexual battery, aggravated assault, grand theft, manslaughter, or murder.
  • For a child who is 16 or 17:
    • When the juvenile is charged with a felony, or
    • When the juvenile is charged with a misdemeanor and has committed at least two prior crimes, at least one of which was a felony.
  • For a child of any age, if charged with a felony punishable by life imprisonment or death.

Florida law provides that in some cases, direct file is mandatory, and the juvenile must be tried as an adult.

  • For a child who is 16 or 17:
    • When the juvenile is charged with a violent crime and has previously been convicted of a violent crime, such as murder, sexual battery, or carjacking, or
    • When the juvenile is charged with a violent crime and has previously been guilty of at least three felonies, or
    • When the juvenile is charged with a violent crime plus possession of a firearm.
  • All children, no matter their age, if charged with the theft of a motor vehicle where someone was killed or seriously injured.

If a juvenile is tried as an adult, he or she loses the protections of juvenile court and faces adult penalties, including lengthy prison stays. Additionally, once a child has been tried as an adult, he or she must be charged as an adult for any subsequent charges.

If your child has been charged with a crime, the consequences can be serious, especially if he or she is tried as an adult. An experienced criminal law attorney can help you obtain a favorable result for your child. Please contact West Palm Beach criminal defense attorney William Wallshein for a free initial consultation.