In a follow-up to December's story about a Homestead teenager who may be tried as an adult for a shooting on a school bus, the State Attorney's Office in Miami-Dade County has decided to direct file the teenager, or formally charge him with a crime in adult court.
The direct file process occurs when the State Attorney's Office charges a juvenile (someone under 18) with a felony in Circuit Court (adult court). Rather than facing only juvenile sanctions, the direct filed juvenile faces the full brunt of the criminal justice system when charged as an adult.
Juvenile criminal defense often entails avoiding the dreaded direct file if possible. If a defense attorney intervenes early enough, sometimes alternative sanctions can be put in place (such as placement in a juvenile facility) that may prevent a kid from going through adult jail, adult court, and ultimately adult prison.
I'm not suggesting that a direct file was avoidable in this case given the heavy media coverage, but now that this shooting suspect is on his way to adult court, he faces mandatory prison time under Florida's 10-20-Life law since a firearm was used during the commission of his crime. In juvenile court, 10-20-Life does not apply.
The juvenile suspect may still be sentenced as a juvenile or possibly a youthful offender if the court deems such a sentence appropriate.
Eric Matheny is a criminal defense attorney serving Miami-Dade and Broward.