SHOCKING VIDEO! Florida Is Arbitrarily Prosecuting Children As Adults: Human Rights Watch

A disturbing newly released report by Human Rights Watch (HRW) has found the state of Florida to be unfairly and arbitrarily prosecuting hundreds of children as adults, with devastating and harmful life-long consequences.

The 110-page document entitled, “Branded for Life: Florida’s Prosecution of Children as Adults under its 'Direct File' Statute,” reveals that it is state practice for prosecutors to be given unfettered discretion to decide which children to prosecute in adult courts, under what is known as the “direct file statute.”   

The controversial law, a remnant of an overreaction to a nationwide rise in juvenile crime in the 1980s which has long subsided, allows no opportunity for review or to challenge the prosecutors’ decision, regardless of how unsuitable or improper the case may be for an adult criminal court. 

Between 2012 and 2013, HRW found that 98 percent of the 1,500 cases of children charged as adults were brought by prosecutors under the direct file law.  What’s more, 60 percent of children tried as an adult had been accused of non-violent offenses.

As a result, those that are convicted are branded for life with an adult felony record for what are often low-level crimes, which significantly impacts on their ability to find employment and participate as a meaningful member in society .

“The children caught up in the ‘direct file’ law cannot legally vote, drink, or buy cigarettes in the state of Florida,” author of the report Alba Morales said in a press release. “Yet they can be tried as adults with no judge evaluating that decision, and branded as felons for life.

While it is important for children who commit crimes to be held accountable, HRW says prosecuting children in adult courts is not only unnecessary and harmful but actually increases the rates of those youth that re-offend compared to those children kept in the juvenile justice system.

This is because the juvenile justice system is intended to rehabilitate while the adult criminal justice system is designed to punish and excessively punitive.  Consequently, these kids tried as adults lose access to vital age-appropriate education only available in the juvenile justice program and are more susceptible to physical violence, which impacts on their emotional and mental frame of mind.

In conducting their research, Human Rights Watch spoke to over 100 youth (and their family members) charged directly in adult courts by Florida’s prosecutors who overwhelming expressed feeling abandoned and confused by the entire system. Among those youth tried in adult courts were: a 16-year-old boy for stealing two laptops; a 17-year-old charged for burglary for stealing a printer; a 15-year-old who faced a 25 year prison sentence for assault as well as countless wrongful arrests which impacted upon future employment prospects.

Florida has also come under fire for its overly harsh sentencing and imposition of adult punishments on youth, which human rights advocates say is rife with inconsistencies and racial bias.  The state transfers more children out of the juvenile justice system and into adult courts than any other state in the United States. 

This is despite the fact that he Supreme Court has consistently found that children are highly capable of rehabilitation and their capacity to change and diminished culpability should be taken to account when imposing convictions, HRW said.

“The same child, accused of the same offense, may receive vastly different treatment based on nothing more than which prosecutor is in charge of their case,” Morales said. “These decisions should be handled by Florida’s juvenile judges, who can ensure fair treatment, not by prosecutors who have a vested interest in getting defendants to plead guilty or in punitive outcomes.” 

HRW is subsequently calling on the state of Florida to repeal the direct file statute and enact a statutory presumption instead that all youth under 17 remain in the juvenile criminal justice system.

Watch the HRW coverage of the heartfelt plight of convicted Florida teens in the adult criminal justice system:

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