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When Youth are Charged as Adults


During the get tough era in Florida, between 2006 and 2011, nearly 16,000 youth under age 18 were charged as adults in Florida courtrooms. The idea was that, whether the crime was violent or not, “super-predators” were emerging from the ranks of juvenile offenders, and they needed to be handled with swift and harsh justice. Florida statute 985.556 allows for individuals as young as 14 to be tried as adults under certain circumstances. Although pushing kids into the adult system has slowed down recently, there are still thousands of juveniles facing adult consequences for inane choices they’ve made. If you are the parent of such a child, you are likely concerned about what the future holds for an adolescent who is sentenced to serve time in an adult facility. It is crucial that you discuss your concerns early and completely with an experienced local attorney in order to fight for the best options for your child.

The Process 

State attorneys were granted the discretion to move juvenile cases into adult court without ever presenting any facts to a judge. Known as the direct file process, prosecutors were looking to balance the rehabilitative process with some old-fashioned punishment. They were tired of dealing with repeat juvenile offenders who believed there were no real consequences for their illegal behaviors. Getting a case direct filed would be a wake-up call for offenders, according to prosecutors. And what are the most common charges that lead to a direct file?

  • Auto theft;
  • Burglary;
  • Delinquent in possession of a firearm.


According to the U.S. Department of Justice, Florida’s rate of direct file cases is significantly higher than other states, and boys of color are sent to prison at a disproportionate rate, regardless if the offense was a first or a recurring one. But that isn’t the only criticism of the system.

Arguably, putting kids in the adult system isn’t doing them or society any favors. The data on recidivism is inconclusive due to inconsistent reporting. However, advocates for juvenile justice contend that sending teens to adult prisons undercuts the mission of rehabilitation that permeates the juvenile system.

Finally, research on brain development indicates that physiological changes are still occurring in the brain up to age 25. Some question whether adult rules and punishments can ever be fair or effective for younger criminals.

Recent Shifts 

Recent thinking has focused more on the individual needs of children in the juvenile system, and looks at family background, education, mental health, and physical health. Direct file cases have decreased by more than 50 percent in the past five years. Nonetheless, Florida cases far outpace what’s happening across the country, and, for the kids who do end up in the adult system, things can be tough. Whether they are imprisoned or sentenced to parole, they are strapped with felony charges that will follow them for life.

Justice for your Child 

If your child is charged with a crime, you will need an experienced attorney to investigate and defend the case.  Attorney Deric Zacca at the office of Deric Zacca, P.A. in Fort Lauderdale is a Florida Bar Board Certified Lawyer with over 20 years of experience in criminal litigation.  Schedule a consultation with him at the Fort Lauderdale office today.