December 15, 2018

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JUDICIAL DISCRETION IN THE DIRECT FILING OF JUVENILE OFFENDERS

PENSACOLA CITY COUNCIL PASSES REFORMATION IN THE DIRECT FILING OF JUVENILES
Jim Little, jwlittle@pnj.com    Contributor:  Kevin Robinson
Published 8:52 p.m. CT Feb. 8, 2018  

More than 30 people were at the Pensacola City Council meeting Thursday to show their support for a resolution to oppose prosecuting children as adults.  The City Council voted 6-1 to support a resolution to reform “direct file,” the process that allows state prosecutors to charge a child as an adult, after several members of the audience spoke to the council about the issue. The League of Women Voters of the Pensacola Bay Area (LWV) organized an effort to ask local governments to sign onto the resolution in the hopes of drumming up enough support across the state to urge state legislators to act.

More than 1,100 Florida children were prosecuted as adults in 2016 and 2017, according to No Place for a Child, a coalition of organizations that includes the LWV, the Southern Poverty Law Center and Florida Legal Services.  According to the coalition, 98 percent of those children were prosecuted as adults solely at the discretion of prosecutors without a judge’s input. More than 70 percent of the children convicted in adult court were sentenced to probation, not prison, causing the coalition to question whether the more serious, adult court transfer was necessary in the first place.  Bill Eddins, State Attorney for the First Judicial Circuit, told the News Journal in January that even though juvenile defendants can be charged as adults, a judge still has the ability to sentence them as juveniles.  “This causes me to believe we are making careful, proper decisions about who needs to be transferred,” Eddins said.

Escambia County leads Florida in the number of juveniles who are prosecuted as adults with a rate of one in 20 juveniles charged as adults, while the rest of the state is closer to one in 50.  Councilwoman Sherri Myers urged the council to support the resolution.  “We are incarcerating a lot of people based on disability, race and economic class,” Myers said. “To continue a system of direct file, to me, is immoral. It’s unjust. It’s un-American, and we need to take a stand tonight.”

The resolution supports proposed adjustments to direct file that would allow juvenile offenders to request that a judge review their case and rule whether it merits a transfer to the adult system.  The Florida Constitution Revision Commission — a body convened every 20 years to propose amendments to the state constitution — is also considering a proposal that would mandate a judicial review of direct file transfers.

Councilman P.C. Wu was the lone ‘no’ vote on the resolution because he said it wasn’t the council’s role to pass a resolution on the issue.  “It’s not a question about agreeing or disagreeing with what people have to say,” Wu said. “It’s a question of do I personally feel that it’s an area that we have jurisdiction in.  All we’re doing is simply making a recommendation to the state. We’re not making a law that affects anybody.”

FM Editor comment: Recommendations lead to laws that affect everybody!

 

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