Florida lawmakers push bill to limit children tried in adult court


State representatives in the Florida House are pushing for House Bill 509, a law to prevent juveniles from being tried as adults.

The bill would revise the factors that a court must consider before deciding whether a child will be sent to adult court, while also limiting the list of crimes that would send a juvenile to adult court. It will be spoken about at a session certifying bills and making motions to reconsider.

More than 1,000 children were prosecuted as adults in Florida last year.
Rep. Sean Shaw, D-Tampa, sponsored the bill and explains that more elements would be considered in court by a judge if the legislation passes.

"So a prosecutor does it now," Shaw explains. "Under this bill, a judge would be involved. A judge would weigh the circumstances, the evidence and the case-by-case basis, be involved in the decision to charge a juvenile as an adult, which I don't think is too much to ask."

Current law allows prosecutors to move juveniles to adult court under a "direct file" process that has accounted for more than 10,000 transfers since 2011.

Those in favor of the bill believe the current process can affect a child long-term without proper access to education and creating future issues in finding housing and employment. Opponents of the bill say it takes power away from prosecutors to deal with repeat offenders.

But, Shaw says trying kids as adults early is a major determinant of committing more crimes.

"You've heard all these statistics about … when a juvenile interacts with the criminal justice system at a young age, they are much higher risk to re-offend, to have continued interactions with the criminal justice system in the future," he says.

Florida has the highest number of adult transfers reported of any state. In 2015 and 2016, 98 percent of children from 10 to 17 years of age were prosecuted without the overview of a judge.

Studies show black youth are disproportionately affected by Florida's policies allowing the shifting of juveniles to adult court.

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