The line between being considered an adult or a juvenile can be very thin for teenagers in Florida, and especially when they are involved in a criminal issue of any type. Serious crimes that are committed by teenagers under the age of 18 can be filed as though the defendant is an adult as determined by the state Attorney General. Florida has actually maintained one of the strictest legal positions in the nation, as even 14-year old minors could be charged as adults.
The state of Florida amended its criminal law statutes in 2019 by limiting the state power to charge minors as adults. The current problem is that the enacted legislation left in place the power to “direct file” a charge via the Attorney General’s office against certain juveniles age 14 or older for specific serious charges or at age 17 for a misdemeanor if they have a prior felony. The new legislation will remove the AG’s direct file authority for defendants under 17 years of age.
The ultimate problem
Criminal law professionals throughout the state have been in favor of this removal of power for the Attorney General ever since the authority was granted to deter car hijackings, homicide by teens, and other serious crimes. The ultimate result was numerous individual situations where very young convicted juvenile defendants were incarcerated with hardened adult prisoners doing serious time for their crimes. The reports of harassment and personal attack, including rape, were such that the legislature felt it was time to alter the power of the Attorney General.
Florida Attorney General advocates have actually stated for the record their opposition to the proposed legislation. However, the argument had nothing to do with rehabilitation of the defendant, but rather that the AG is an elected official that can be removed after four years by voters if they do not like their on-the-job performance.