For years, the Miami-Dade County State Attorney's Office has maintained the independent power to determine which juvenile offenders will be transferred or direct filed to adult circuit court for the disposition of their cases. Public Defender and Miami criminal defense lawyer, Carlos J. Martinez, is a strong opponent of the current state of law in Florida and Miami-Dade County regarding the direct filing of juveniles to adult court. In the 1990's, the threat of increased violent juvenile offenders caused Florida's Legislature to grant prosecutor's throughout the state unfettered discretion as to which juveniles should be treated as adults. The legislature passed experimental laws allowing the state prosecutors to direct-file juvenile defendants and removed the circuit judiciary from having any input into the decision making process as to when juveniles were to be treated as adults.
In Miami-Dade County, certain offenses committed by juveniles are direct filed to circuit courts. Generally, juveniles who serious violent crimes such as armed robbery, armed car jacking, home invasion robberies, murder and attempted murder charges are automatically direct filed by the state attorney's office. While each case is supposed to be reviewed based on the facts, the charge itself rather than the facts weighs the most heavily in the decision whether or not to direct file a juvenile case. Typically, marijuana possession, cocaine possession, car burglaries and grand theft are charges not routinely direct filed to adult court. Once juveniles are direct filed to adult court, they face the same penalties as adult offenders. However, experienced attorneys have the ability to argue to circuit court judges why juvenile and youthful offender sanctions are more appropriate sentences for these types of offenders.
Prior to the change in the law in 1994, the court had unfettered discretion in determining which juvenile offenders would be direct filed to adult court. A full-blown hearing was held in juvenile court where state prosecutors would present their case to the judge as to why a direct file was appropriate. The juvenile, represented by a qualified lawyer would argue that juvenile sanctions were more appropriate. The judge would hold mini-trial where victims and witnesses would be permitted to testify in open court. After hearing the evidence, the court would consider the juveniles past history of delinquency and the seriousness of the evidence before entering a ruling. The court would also consider if the juvenile sanctions would be able to protect the general public and rehabilitate the juvenile offender. At present, the state attorneys solely determine what venue they think would be the most appropriate to dispose of the case.
Although the current state of law seems to provide little hope to juvenile offenders charged with serious violent crimes, experienced criminal attorneys will attempt to intervene in the direct filing process. If child is arrested for a serious violent crime, it is imperative to contact a lawyer immediately. Your criminal defense lawyer should contact the assistant state attorney in charge of the direct filing decision and set a meeting where mitigation can be presented in an effort to prevent the direct file from happening. The meeting must occur quickly, as most direct file decisions are made within twenty-one days of the arrest. The reason why it is so important to prevent a direct file at all costs is that the time and location of incarceration is drastically different for adults and juveniles. An adult charged with armed robbery in adult court is facing life in prison while a defendant juvenile court is facing between eighteen and twenty-four months in a juvenile facility. The adult facilities are geared toward punishment, while juvenile facilities are geared toward rehabilitation.
Get Rid of the Direct -File Law,, The Miami Herald, February 7, 2010.