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Donate Now Go. Opinion By The Rev. William Barnwell June 12, By Nicholas Chrastil June 12, By Michael Isaac Stein June 6, By Michael Isaac Stein June 3, By Michael Isaac Stein May 15, By Nicholas Chrastil May 15, Judge rejects argument that cameras are used for terrorism prevention. By Charles Maldonado May 6, The prosecutor charged Oliver directly in adult court. Oliver pled guilty and was sentenced to probation. On December 31, , year-old Kenneth Ray Stephens and two friends stole a gun from a parked car.

At the time of his arrest, he was an honor roll student and member of the football team.

Definition of Juvenile Delinquency

No judge had the power to review the decision to charge Kenneth in adult court. Facing a year maximum sentence on the attempted murder charge, Kenneth eventually pled to aggravated assault in exchange for a year sentence. The Florida Department of Corrections has listed his release date as January 2, It also allows prosecutors to directly charge and year-olds in adult court for any of 19 enumerated felonies—California is the only state with a longer list of felonies that make a year-old eligible for adult court.

Prosecutors must also charge a child in adult court when she was previously charged and sentenced as an adult. Stealing a car is a third degree felony, [64] punishable by up to five years in prison. Direct file has almost entirely displaced judicial waiver in Florida, as the data below shows. The vast majority of those cases— In , that figure was Each year, an average of 3.

While the overall number of transfers has decreased by Over the last five years, property felonies and violent felonies each accounted for 39 percent of charges for which youth were sent to adult court. The vast majority— Less than 1 percent of the girls who enter the juvenile justice system are sent to adult court compared with nearly 5 percent of boys. In sheer numbers, there are over 13 times more male youth transferred than females. There are only 2. We were not able to assess the extent to which the differences in transfer rates for girls were due to the nature of the offenses for which they were arrested or other factors.

Figure 2, below, shows that children are prosecuted in adult court approximately as often for property crimes as they are for violent felonies. In other words, transfer to adult court is not limited to the most heinous crimes. This finding is consistent with a study conducted in Florida in the late s that concluded that the children directly charged in adult court were not consistently the most serious offenders.

Our analysis reveals that black boys make up White boys make up 28 percent of children received by the juvenile justice system, but account for only A simple explanation for this racial disparity might be that the crimes of black boys are more serious than the crimes of white boys. To that end, we analyzed for this report whether black and white youth arrested for similar crimes are transferred to adult court at similar rates.


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For some crimes, such as murder and property crimes, the transfer rates do seem to be similar see Appendix B. For others, however, there is a marked disparity. Black boys, for example, are significantly more likely than white boys to be transferred to adult court after being arrested for violent offenses other than murder: from fiscal year to fiscal year , In the graph below, if black and white arrests were transferred at similar rates, the circuits should be clustered close to both slightly above and slightly below the line.

Yet, every circuit lies below the line, indicating that each and every circuit in the state transfers black youth arrested for violent felonies at higher rates than white youth arrested for violent felonies. The graph shows that the 17th Circuit lies closest to the line, indicating that although it transfers black youth arrested for violent felonies to adult courts at higher rates than white youth, the rates are very close to each other.

Department of Justice - Prosecution Code

The 16th Circuit lies furthest from the line, indicating the largest racial disparity for violent felony arrest transfer rates. We found similar racial disparities in drug felony arrests.


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In the graph below, every circuit lies below the line, indicating that each circuit transfers to adult court black youth that have been arrested for drug felonies at higher rates than white youth arrested for drug felonies. We find the highest disparity in the circuit that transfers the second highest number of drug felony arrests in the state: the 13th Circuit transferred 8.

For both the violent felony and drug felony racial disparity analyses, the available data do not allow us to more closely examine the nature of the offenses e. It is axiomatic that children are in the process of growing up, both physically and mentally. Their developing identities make young people, including those convicted of crimes, excellent candidates for rehabilitation: they are far more able than adults to learn new skills, embrace new values, and re-embark on a new, law-abiding life.

Justice is best served when these rehabilitative principles, at the core of human rights standards, are also central to the process afforded children accused of breaking the law. The justice system must take into account both the gravity of the charged crime as well as the culpability or blameworthiness of the offender.

The question of culpability is part of what separates children from adults. While children can commit acts as violent and deadly as those adults commit, their blameworthiness is different by virtue of their immaturity. Their punishment, and the adjudicative process to which they are subjected, should acknowledge that substantial difference.

International law recognizes these differences and expresses a strong preference for using juvenile courts to deal with cases of children accused of breaking the law. Children may know right from wrong: proponents of transfer provisions for children correctly point out that most children can tell us that it is wrong to steal. But by virtue of their immaturity, children have less developed capacities than adults to control their impulses, to use reason to guide their behavior, and to think about the consequences of their conduct.

Branded for Life

Psychological research confirms what every adult knows: children, including teenagers, act more irrationally and immaturely than adults. Psychologists have long attributed the differences between adults and children to either cognitive or psychosocial differences. Cognitive theories suggest that children simply think differently than adults, while psychosocial explanations propose that children lack social and emotional capabilities that are better developed in adults. A large body of research has established that adolescent thinking is present-oriented and tends to either ignore or discount future outcomes and implications.

Psychological research also consistently demonstrates that children have a greater tendency than adults to make decisions based on emotions, such as anger or fear, rather than logic and reason. Neuroscientists using magnetic resonance imaging MRI to study the brain are now providing a physiological explanation for the features of childhood that developmental psychologists—as well as parents and teachers—have identified for years. These MRI studies reveal that children have physiologically less-developed means of controlling themselves.

A key difference between adolescent and adult brains concerns the frontal lobe. Throughout puberty, the frontal lobe undergoes substantial transformations that increase the individual's ability to undertake decision-making that projects into the future and to weigh rationally the consequences of a particular course of action. These cell and neural developments in the brain provide an anatomical basis for concluding that youth up to age 18 are, on average, less responsible for criminal acts than adults.

It can preclude an overwhelming tendency for action…. It also allows us to consciously control our tendency to have impulsive behavior.

In addition, because their frontal lobe functions poorly, adolescents tend to use a part of the brain called the amygdala during their decision-making. Many of the youth directly charged in adult court interviewed for this report were, in retrospect, acutely aware of the ways in which their young age and lack of maturity affected their decision-making capabilities at the time of their crimes.

Luke R. I think about things before I do them. The idea that teenagers are in the process of maturing and able to be rehabilitated was also mentioned repeatedly. Parents and family members agreed. Stephanie G. They need some guidance. When Matthew N. According to the police report, the couple who lived in the house called when they heard what sounded like someone trying to get in through the back door.

When police arrived at the scene, Matthew and the two other perpetrators were walking towards the car they had parked in the driveway. Matthew had been arrested before for burglary, trespass, and vandalism and was on juvenile probation at the time of the break-in. He and his co-defendants both adults in the printer case all eventually pled guilty. Matthew received an adult felony conviction and was sentenced to two years of house arrest followed by one year of probation.

Matthew was surprised to have been charged directly in adult court. The experience of adult court was stressful for Matthew.

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To him, it seemed like the judge played less of a role in adult court than in juvenile court. Being in Orange County Jail, where he was incarcerated for five months before pleading guilty, was even more stressful for Matthew. The corrections officers, he said,. I missed just being able to walk outside. At the time of his interview with Human Rights Watch, Matthew was serving the house arrest part of his sentence. He was attending college and lamented the decisions he had made that had led to his arrest.

The direct file law does not adequately take into account the best interests of the child, is difficult for children to understand, and produces arbitrary results. So perfunctory is the process that many young people Human Rights Watch spoke to had no idea what was happening until they were taken from juvenile detention to adult jail. Langston T. Kingston S. I first heard the words direct file at my bond hearing over the TV [many bond hearings are conducted over television feeds between the courthouse and the jail].

As a result, practices vary widely. For example:. Judges and defense attorneys throughout the state describe direct file decisions as haphazard. The case proceeded in juvenile court, but, after the defendant turned down several pleas and requested a trial, the prosecutor announced that they were once again reviewing whether the case should be directly charged in adult court.

Other lawyers described the system as valuing consistency over individualization by subjecting all crimes within certain categories to direct charge in adult court. Teenagers themselves were much less clear about what charges could land a person in adult court.