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Florida data shows unfairness of charging kids as adults

When a juvenile commits a crime it is often a case of immature judgment and peer pressure winning out over common sense. Most people, thankfully, grow out of their teenage years and can look back with some disbelief at the things they did as a high school student. But when kids who are accused of juvenile crimes are charged as adults, the consequences can be lifelong and life-altering.

Florida charges more juveniles as adults than any state in the U.S. And data from Palm Beach County, which charges more kids in adult court than most other counties in the state, show the unfairness of the practice. Last year about 135 juveniles were charged as adults in the county. Of those, 80 had no prior records. Ten were charged with the sale of small amounts of marijuana in their high schools.

But the most disturbing statistic of all is that 80 percent of the juveniles charged last year in Palm Beach County were minorities. Sixty-five percent were African-American, despite the fact that only 30% of the juveniles in the county are black.

The purpose of the juvenile law system is rehabilitation, not punishment. It is based on the idea that juveniles should not spend the rest of their lives living with the long-term consequences of a poor decision they made when they lacked the maturity and judgment of an adult.

The U.S. Supreme Court has recognized the unfairness of treating juveniles like adults in ruling that it is unconstitutional to send a juvenile offender to prison for life without parole. Justice Elena Kagan noted that in contrast to adults, juveniles have a very good chance of getting their lives back on track as they grow up.

When a juvenile faces criminal charges in Florida the first priority of the defense must be to make sure the case stays where it belongs - in juvenile court. In that way, the alleged offender may be able to someday put their youthful mistakes behind them and make a productive, law-abiding life for themselves.

Source: Palm Beach Post, "Kids charged as adults: Palm Beach County ranks high in U.S.," Jane Musgrave, March 3, 2013

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Andrew M. Coffey has been recognized as a Board Certified Civil Trial lawyer by the Florida Bar. Certification is the highest level of recognition by The Florida Bar of the competency and experience of attorneys in the areas of law approved for certification by the Supreme Court of Florida.

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