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The Beacon

The Student Newspaper of MAST Academy, since 1991.
The Student News Site of MAST Academy

The Beacon

The Beacon

Senior Issue 2024
June 5, 2024

On the prosecution of minors in Florida

By Lea Rabaron
Staff Writer

The flaws of the Florida Legislature concerning the prosecution of minors have become increasingly apparent. Through their willful ignorance and corrupt tendencies, our legislature has neglected and condemned thousands of youths deserving of fair trials to a life of unjust confinement. The borderline autocratic powers of the criminal prosecutors of Florida have allowed for more children between the ages of 14 and 17 to be charged as adults than anywhere else in the country through the process of direct file. 

Direct file is a statutory provision that allows prosecutors to decide whether a case will be adjudicated in a juvenile or adult court. This decision can either be mandatory or discretionary. A mandatory direct file is based on the gravity of the crime committed by a child, which is determined by an enumerated list, while a discretionary direct file is based entirely on a prosecutor’s wishes and demands, and allows them to make the indisputable decision of a child’s fate in court. According to the current Florida laws, this decision made by the prosecutor cannot be appealed or reviewed by a judge due to the immunity they have from wrongful prosecution, giving the prosecutor an unchecked amount of power. 

Consequently, over thirteen thousand children have been prosecuted as adults in Florida, 904 of those children between the years of 2017 to 2018. This outrageous process demonstrates the absolute heedlessness of the Florida Legislature towards the inherent differences between the mental processes of an adult and a child. Additionally, the prosecution of a child in an adult system means that the child is prone to consequences such as being sent to adult correctional facilities instead of juvenile detention centers. To deprive a child of necessities such as education and counseling, especially after they have committed a criminal act, is utterly inhumane since the child is denied any chance at rehabilitation even before having reached adulthood. 

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In certain cases, a child’s crime might be a cry for help, but because of direct file, assistance is never provided to them, and they are instead found abandoned in the isolated cells of adult penitentiaries. Ironically enough, under Florida statute, minors are deemed unable to purchase alcohol, emancipate, and legally sue, but are considered mature enough to endure the unbearably harsh conditions of prisons, where they are put at greater risk of sexual and physical violence, increased trauma, and suicide. 

Many bills have been introduced to help these prosecuted children over the course of the last four years, but none have been successfully passed due to the belief that this type of prosecution can serve as a ‘wake-up call’ for young offenders, when its effects are entirely contrarian. Financially, it is less efficient for Florida to change its laws on the prosecution of minors since more funding would have to be put towards departments of juvenile justice; however, the moral aspects of the situation substantially outweigh the financial burdens that would come with a reform of the Florida justice system.  

Based on the United Nations’ laws on the Rights of the Child, Florida’s Juvenile Transfer laws are severely out of line on an international level. The U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child was made to ensure that-“in all actions concerning children, whether undertaken by public or private social welfare institutions, courts of law, administrative authorities or legislative bodies, the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration”. This right has been blatantly disregarded by Florida Legislation, as children are still being sent to adult confinement centers rather than juvenile correctional facilities against their best interest. In Article 6, the Convention also states that every child has the “inherent right to life,” which encompasses a right to a future, especially on the subject of youth who have yet to determine their role in society. 

If you examine the website of the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice, the words “Our Children, Our Future” are italicized at the top of the page, clearly establishing that the purpose of the department is to rehabilitate our troubled youth in order to preserve their future and promote the betterment of society. In allowing juveniles to be convicted through adult legal systems, our State’s legislature has completely shut its eyes to the well-being of distressed children and has turned its back on the special needs of juveniles.

The inequitable process of discretionary direct filing should be repealed, or at the very least, reviewed by the Florida Legislature. The purpose of the correctional system, at least when concerning minors, should be to educate and aid them throughout this developmental stage, rather than to completely seclude them from society. 

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On the prosecution of minors in Florida