New Bill Would Extend 21-Day Holds for Violent Juvenile Offenders
March 3, 2022 Don Pumphrey, Jr. Criminal Defense, Juvenile Offenses Social Share
Newly proposed bill SB 7040 and its companion bill HB 7029 are both titled “Time Limitations for Preadjudicatory Juvenile Detention Care.” Both center on amending and creating new conditions and procedures when it comes to detaining juveniles. The portions of the bills gaining the most attention are their proposed amendments to Section 985.26 of the Florida Statutes, which governs the length of detention for juveniles.
What Does the Current Statute Say?
As it stands, Section 985.26(2)(a) provides that “a child may not be held in detention care under a special detention order for more than 21 days unless an adjudicatory hearing for the case has been commenced in good faith by the court.” The statute also states that:
Upon good cause being shown that the nature of the charge requires additional time for the prosecution or defense of the case, the court may extend the length of detention for an additional nine days if the child is charged with an offense that would be, if committed by an adult, a capital felony, a life felony, a felony of the first-degree, or a felony of the second degree involving violence against any individual.
Therefore, after a juvenile is arrested, they must either be given a trial within the 21-day period or released from custody.
Why is the Current Statute Contested?
So, why are lawmakers seeking to amend this statute? Law enforcement officials argue that these provisions are far too lenient and ultimately force judges to release juveniles who may be considered dangerous or a flight risk back into the community after 21 days. According to the Florida Sheriff’s Association, it takes on average 100 days for a case to go from arrest to trial, and in jurisdictions with heavier caseloads, a case can take 230 days to reach trial. Volusia County Sheriff Mike Chitwood called this frequent occurrence a game of “catch and release” that is wreaking havoc on the juvenile justice system, resulting in juveniles being released after 21 days into the public where they often re-offend. Supporters of the proposed bills cite tragic cases like the one of Dillen Murray, who, in 2018 at the age of 16, beat his 15-year-old friend Giovanni Diaz to death with a baseball bat. Murray had three previous battery charges but was released back into the public. Many law enforcement officials argue that this case, along with many other similar cases, shows the current juvenile justice system fails to properly stop serious, repeat, juvenile offenders.
Furthermore, law enforcement argues that the nine-day extension within the current statute rarely applies and that judges should be given more discretion to decide if the juvenile should be detained longer. St Petersburg Police Department Chief Anthony Holloway stated that this constant catch and release allows there to be little accountability for serious, repeat juvenile offenders, which also does a disservice to them “when they turn 18, [as] that’s when life hits them and it’s too late.” After hearing numerous complaints from law enforcement officers, Governor Ron DeSantis said he was open to working with lawmakers to review the current law and take suggestions, resulting in SB 7040.
The Proposed Changes
The revision to Section 985.26 would include the following key bolded changes:
Upon good cause being shown the nature of the charge requires additional time for the prosecution of the case or upon the totality of the circumstances, including the preservation of public safety, warranting an extension, the court may extend the length of secure detention care for up to 21 days if the child is charged with an offense that, if committed by an adult, would be a capital felony, a life felony, a felony of the first or second degree, or a felony of the third degree involving violence against any individual. The court may continue to extend the period of secure detention care in increments of up to 21 days by conducting a hearing before the expiration of the current period to determine the need for continuing the secure detention care of the child. At the hearing, the court must make the required findings in writing to extend the period of secure detention care. If the court extends the time period for secure detention care, it must ensure that the adjudicatory hearing for the case commences as soon as reasonably possible considering the totality of the circumstances, and it must prioritize the efficient disposition of the cases in which the child has served 60 or more days in secure detention care.
These changes mean that after 21 days, the court must hold a hearing before a judge to determine if public safety warrants detaining the juvenile for another 21 days. If the judge chooses to do so, they must explain the reasons why in writing. This process can continue until the juvenile faces trial. In addition, the detention would also apply to juveniles convicted of a third-degree felony, rather than just a first or second-degree felony offense.
Opposition to the Bills
Many are opposed to giving judges the discretion that would allow juveniles to be detained for potentially long periods of time until they face trial. Carlos Martinez, a representative for the Florida Public Defenders Association, believes the current system is working just fine, and detaining juveniles longer would lead to an increase in crime. He reiterated this belief, stating, “felony arrests are down 34 percent since 2018 with the current system we have.”
SB 7040 has passed both its house and senate committees and is heading to the floor, and it is expected that the bill will soon be signed into law by Gov. DeSantis.
Written by Sarah Kamide