A juvenile direct file means that a juvenile has been charged as an adult and will face adult penalties for their alleged crimes.
Florida law prescribes both mandatory and discretionary direct files. This means that there are times when the State Attorney’s Office must file adult charges, and there are times when the State Attorney’s Office may file adult charges.
Florida law states that a child who is at least 14 at the time of their offense can be direct filed for charges such as murder, sexual battery, robbery, and aggravated assault. This is known as a discretionary direct file and it is up to the prosecutor.
A mandatory direct file requires that the child be at least 16 at the time of their offense and have a prior juvenile adjudication for a serious crime such as murder, robbery, or aggravated assault (just to name a few). If the 16 year-old child has a prior adjudication for a serious felony, the State Attorney must send them to adult court for any new charges.
The State must also direct file for 16 year-olds who are charged with serious felonies such as murder, aggravated assault, or robbery, and during their crime they possessed a firearm, discharged a firearm, or caused great bodily harm or death with a firearm.
By filing a direct file petition with the juvenile court, a child’s case is removed from juvenile court and sent to “adult” court, or Circuit Court where felonies are handled. They may be eligible for juvenile sanctions or even youthful offender sentencing in adult court, but they still face the statutory maximums for the crimes. In juvenile court, children only face juvenile penalties.
Direct file cases require very early intervention. In certain situations, it may be possible to avoid the filing of adult charges by negotiating a juvenile resolution to the case. This is known as a “staffing” and should be attended by a juvenile criminal defense attorney. With the right approach, many direct file cases can remain in juvenile court, which is the goal with any direct file case.
Eric Matheny is a juvenile attorney representing clients in Miami-Dade and Broward juvenile court.