Thursday, June 21, 2018
Editorials

Editorial: Limit discretion on filing adult charges against juveniles

Prosecutors in Florida are charging juveniles as adults far more often than they should. Embracing a practice called direct filing, prosecutors can file adult criminal charges on children as young as 14 without the consent of a judge. This gives prosecutors too much leeway and exposes youths to the adult criminal justice system before they are fully able to navigate it. The Legislature should reset the standards for prosecutorial discretion in this area and establish a middle ground that both adequately punishes juveniles and seeks to rehabilitate them.

The Tampa Bay Times' Anna Phillips reported this week that the number of juveniles facing adult-level charges in Hillsborough County rose from 101 in 2013-14 to 124 the next fiscal year. The total number in Hillsborough is higher than in more heavily populated areas in Florida such as Miami-Dade and Broward counties. Criminal justice experts in Hillsborough say a spate of gun violence is likely responsible for the uptick.

Supporters of a movement to ensure that juveniles are not introduced into the adult criminal justice system too soon say that the spike in juveniles facing adult charges is due in part to prosecutors' ability to bypass judges and directly file adult charges against young offenders. State law allows juveniles 14 and older to be charged as an adult through direct filing by prosecutors, an indictment by a grand jury or a judicial waiver. Critics of direct filing correctly assert that abusing the practice can lead to overcharging or be used as a threat to make juvenile offenders accept plea deals. Both situations could be avoided if juveniles had access to a judge before they were charged.

A bill sponsored by Rep. Kathleen Peters, R-South Pasadena, HB 129, and a similar bill in the Senate would restrict prosecutors' ability to directly charge juveniles as adults. The bill would replace the current system with a two-tiered approach based on a juvenile's age and offense. In the first tier, for example, the state attorney could direct file a juvenile who is 16 to 17 years old and accused of committing one of 17 specific offenses, including murder, manslaughter and armed robbery. Youths between 14 and 15 could be direct filed only if they stood accused of a shorter list of offenses.

Predictably, prosecutors do not want to cede any ground on their direct filing authority. While most of them likely use at least some discretion before charging juveniles as adults, there are exceptions, demonstrating the need for judicial involvement in the earliest stages of a criminal case. At risk is the potential to saddle juveniles with adult charges that, even if they are found not guilty, create an adult arrest record that could impact their ability to obtain employment, housing, loans and more.

Without question, some criminal charges against juveniles should be heard in adult court. But even in the face of the most egregious charges, juveniles are not adults. Their cognitive and emotional development puts them at a disadvantage in the adult criminal justice system. Judges can help to bridge the divide.

The direct file bill before the Legislature presents a reasonable compromise that would neither handcuff prosecutors nor leave judges powerless to intervene. The purpose of imposing juvenile sanctions is to effectively punish young offenders while giving them an opportunity for rehabilitation. Direct filing adult charges — even employed by careful prosecutors — too often robs juveniles of a second chance.

Comments
Editorial: Congress should ban splitting kids, parents

Editorial: Congress should ban splitting kids, parents

The shocking scenes of immigrant children crying after being taken from their parents at the border exposed a new level of cruelty by the Trump administration, and though the president reversed course Wednesday, Congress needs to end the shameful pra...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Editorial: A court victory for protecting Florida’s environment

Editorial: A court victory for protecting Florida’s environment

A Tallahassee judge has affirmed the overwhelming intent of Florida voters by ruling that state lawmakers have failed to comply with a constitutional amendment that is supposed to provide a specific pot of money to buy and preserve endangered lands. ...
Published: 06/18/18
Updated: 06/20/18
Editorial: Trump should stop taking children away from parents at the border

Editorial: Trump should stop taking children away from parents at the border

Innocent children should not be used as political pawns. That is exactly what the Trump administration is doing by cruelly prying young children away from their parents as these desperate families cross the Mexican border in search of a safer, better...
Published: 06/17/18
Updated: 06/19/18

Editorial: ATF should get tougher on gun dealers who violate the law

Gun dealers who break the law by turning a blind eye to federal licensing rules are as dangerous to society as people who have no right to a possess a firearm in the first place. Yet a recent report shows that the federal agency responsible for polic...
Published: 06/17/18
Updated: 06/18/18
Editorial: Encouraging private citizens to step up on transit

Editorial: Encouraging private citizens to step up on transit

The new grass-roots effort to put a transportation package before Hillsborough County voters in November faces a tough slog. Voters rejected a similar effort in 2010, and another in 2016 by elected officials never made it from the gate. But the lates...
Published: 06/15/18
Editorial: 40 years later, honoring remarkable legacy of Nelson Poynter

Editorial: 40 years later, honoring remarkable legacy of Nelson Poynter

Forty years ago today, Nelson Poynter died. He was the last individual to own this newspaper, and to keep the Times connected to this community, he did something remarkable. He gave it away.In his last years, Mr. Poynter recognized that sooner or lat...
Published: 06/15/18

There was no FBI anti-Trump conspiracy

The Justice Department released Thursday the highly anticipated report on the FBI’s handling of the Hillary Clinton email probe and other sensitive issues in the 2016 election. It is not the report President Donald Trump wanted. But there is enough i...
Published: 06/14/18
Updated: 06/15/18

Voter purge may be legal, but it’s also suppression

The Supreme Court’s ruling last Monday to allow Ohio’s purging of its voter rolls is difficult to dispute legally. While federal law prohibits removing citizens from voter rolls simply because they haven’t voted, Ohio’s purge is slightly different. T...
Published: 06/14/18
Updated: 06/15/18

Editorial: Free rides will serve as a test of whether the streetcar is serious transportation

Who wouldn’t jump at the chance to ride for free?This fall, the TECO Streetcar Line eliminates its $2.50-a-ride-fare, providing the best opportunity yet to see whether the system’s vintage streetcar replicas can serve as a legitimate transportation a...
Published: 06/14/18
Updated: 06/15/18

AT&T and the case for digital innovation

A good way to guarantee you’ll be wrong about something is to predict the future of technology. As in, "One day, we’ll all …" Experts can hazard guesses about artificial intelligence, driverless cars or the death of cable television, but technologica...
Published: 06/14/18