FL Senate Bill 1498 Refiled to Protect Juveniles in the Justice System

February 8, 2022 Criminal Defense

State Senator Bobby Powell, a democrat representing Senate District 30 in West Palm Beach, recently refiled Senate Bill 1498, a bill that gives voice and the opportunity for change to his concerns regarding the process that allows the state to bypass the juvenile criminal system and be charged as adults instead of minors.

What Does the Bill Say?

The bill is a refiling of earlier legislation discussing the same issue that never passed fully. The bill hopes to amend Florida Statute 985.265 “Detention transfer and release; education; adult jails.” The amendment would prohibit correctional facilities used to detain adults from holding a minor who has been transferred from juvenile to adult court for criminal prosecution before a hearing is held to determine whether the minor should be prosecuted as an adult. This amendment could be bypassed if the minor waives their right to the hearing. Furthermore, the bill would change or limit, a prosecutor’s discretion to direct file a minor to adult adjudication. Additionally, it would require the court to advise the minor and/or their guardian(s) regarding the minor’s rights to a due process hearing to assess the prosecutor’s filing of an information that would transfer the minor to adult court. The bill would also ban the discretionary direct file transfer of minors up to fifteen years old, amongst other reforms outlined in the bill. Finally, a sixteen or seventeen-year-old minor can only be direct filed into adult court if they committed a forcible felony.

The Timeline of the Bill

SB 1498 was refiled on January 5, 2022, in the Senate. On January 12, 2022,  SB 1498 was referred to the Criminal Justice Senate Committee and the Appropriations Subcommittee on Criminal and Civil Justice, and the general Appropriations Senate Committee. It was then introduced or pre-filed on January 18, 2022. If passed, the bill would be effective on July 1, 2022.

Its sister bill, House Bill 1027 “Direct Filing of an Information” was filed jointly by democratic State Representative James Bush, representing Florida House District 109, and State Representative Kevin Chambliss, representing Florida House District 117. It also concerns the direct filing of an information and prohibits a minor who has been transferred to adult court for prosecution due to a direct file from being held in an adult correctional facility before the due process hearing to determine whether the child will be prosecuted as an adult. HB 1027 has the same current of reform underlying its filing as SB 1498 but includes that the judge must conduct a hearing and consider specific factors and information in making the finding to try the minor as an adult.

The Story Behind the Bill

Prompting Powell to refile the bill was a fourteen-year-old boy who direct-filed as an adult in Florida’s criminal system and has been there for almost a decade. He discusses that Florida leads the United States in the rate of juveniles tried as adults due to direct filings. This is due to the broad discretion given to prosecutors to bypass the juvenile criminal system and transfer the minors directly into the adult criminal system. This bill was originally filed, and not passed, nine years ago, and during that time Powell laments how many children were “condemned in adult courts,” “sent to adult prisons,” and “stripped of ever having a second chance for offenses that, in most cases, were not violent.”

How Are Minors Transferred to Adult Court?

Powell discusses this process as he outlines the purpose of the bill, revealing that under Florida law, there are three ways a child can be tried as an adult:

  • Judicial Waiver
  • Grand Jury Indictment
  • Direct File

Direct file is the most common method, and it rests completely on the discretion of the state attorney, which means that each prosecutor has the sole authority to transfer a minor into the adult judicial system. In fact, about 98% of the minors transferred into adult court are done through a completely discretionary direct file. No judge approval is required, meaning a fourteen-year-old can be directly pushed into the adult system without a hearing, or any other process to establish the maneuver is necessary. As a result, large disparities exist when it comes to minors being adjudicated as adults, with this disparity hinging on the unchecked attitudes of prosecutors. Since these prosecutors do not need to explain their decision in a hearing, the decision could even rest of the color of a child’s skin, their gender, their socioeconomic status, amongst other factors. Data coming from Florida’s Department of Juvenile Justice has revealed that most of the minors transferred to the adult system were Black. Once the decision has been made to try a minor as an adult, they are immediately transferred to adult correctional facilities, and the decision made solely by the prosecutor cannot be revoked or repealed by a judge.

What Can the Public Do?

Powell reveals that public education might be the answer. When asked what can be done to engage the public on this issue, Powell responded:

The public needs to understand that a one-size-fits-all approach typically doesn’t work when trying to solve societal problems, especially when we’re dealing with kids too young and still too immature to realize the seriousness of their mistakes. That’s not to say there should be no consequences. Of course, there should be. And children need to learn accountability. That’s how they learn and grow into responsible adults. But to place the future of these kids in the hands of a lone state attorney far too often condemns them to indefinite punishment, their lives permanently anchored to a ball and chain. For the sake of our communities, and for the sake of our children, we have to do better.

Tallahassee Criminal Defense Attorney

Juvenile offenses must be taken seriously since they have the ability to affect a child’s life and safety forever. If you or a loved one has been charged with a juvenile offense that could result in the transfer to the adult judicial system, contact a qualified Tallahassee criminal defense attorney today to discuss your options. Don Pumphrey and the members of the legal team at Pumphrey Law Firm have decades of experience defending juvenile defendants against state criminal charges and will ensure everything is done to protect the liberties of the minor. Contact Pumphrey Law Firm today at (850) 681-7777 or send an online message to discuss your case during an open and free consultation with an attorney in our legal team.

This article was written by Gabi D’Esposito 

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