Leon County
Board of County Commissioners

Agenda Item#24
 
October 23, 2018
To: Honorable Chairman and Members of the Board
  
From: Vincent S. Long, County Administrator
  
Title: Overview of the ‘No Place for a Child’ Campaign and Resolution
  

 

 

Review and Approval: Vincent S. Long, County Administrator
Department/Division
Review and Approval:
Alan Rosenzweig, Deputy County Administrator
Wanda Hunter, Assistant County Administrator
Lead Staff/
Project Team:
Andrew Johnson, Assistant to the County Administrator
Heather Peeples, Special Projects Coordinator
Nicki Paden, Management Analyst

 

 


Statement of Issue: 

As requested at the September 24, 2018 meeting, this item provides an overview of the ‘No Place for a Child’ Campaign and seeks the Board’s consideration of a Resolution in support of efforts to limit the prosecution of minors as adults.

Fiscal Impact:   

This item has no fiscal impact.

Staff Recommendation: 

Option #3:       Board direction.           

 

 

Report and Discussion

Background: 

During the September 24, 2018 meeting, the Board requested an agenda item on the ‘No Place for a Child’ Coalition’s juvenile justice reform campaign and a resolution in support of their efforts to limit the prosecution of minors as adults for Board consideration.

 

The ‘No Place for a Child’ Coalition is a diverse alliance of advocacy organizations seeking reforms to reduce the transfer and prosecution of minors in the adult justice system.  As part of this effort, the ‘No Place for a Child’ Campaign seeks revisions to Florida Statutes to limit the State Attorney’s discretion to “direct file,” or file charges against a juvenile directly in adult criminal court, and create judicial oversight in juvenile cases.  The direct filing process is described in greater detail in the Analysis section below.  In preparation of the 2019 Legislative Session, the Coalition is continuing to advocate for direct file reform across the state in an effort to gain support of legislation to: 

 

As requested by the Board, this item provides an overview of the ‘No Place for a Child’ Campaign and input from the State Attorney’s Office and Leon County Sheriff’s Office.  In addition, attached is a proposed Resolution in support of the ‘No Place for a Child’ Coalition’s Campaign for Board consideration (Attachment #1).

Analysis:

Currently, Florida is one of 13 states that allow juveniles to be prosecuted as adults for criminal offenses and is one of three states that do not allow a juvenile court judge to participate in this process.  Since 2009, over 14,000 juveniles have been prosecuted as adults in Florida – 98% of these cases were transferred via direct file.  Florida Statutes (Chapter 985, Part X) grant the State Attorney sole discretion to direct file cases in their judicial circuit as a method to transfer juveniles for criminal prosecution as an adult.  Under current law, the State Attorney can direct file juveniles as young as 14 to adult courts without opportunity for review or appeal by a judge.

In June 2018, the Florida Office of Economic and Demographic Research released its most recent Criminal Justice County Profiles which indicated that 874 juvenile arrests were made in Leon County during FY 2016-2017.  Of these arrests, 31 were direct filed to adult courts – 2.1% of the 1,467 juveniles direct filed statewide in that year.  In the Second Judicial Circuit, which encompasses Leon County and five surrounding counties, approximately 76% of direct files that year were cases from Leon County.

Included for the Board’s consideration is a Resolution in support of the ‘No Place for a Child’ Coalition’s Campaign.  Specifically, the Resolution urges the Florida Legislature to adopt legislation requiring a fitness hearing before a juvenile court judge for any and all prosecution of children under the age of 18 and require that children prosecuted as adults be held in juvenile facilities.  Currently, both Escambia County and the City of Pensacola have adopted similar resolutions.  If approved by the Board, the Resolution will be transmitted to the Speaker of the House, the Senate President, and all members of our Legislative delegation.

 

Per the Board’s direction, staff sought input from both the State Attorney’s Office and Leon County Sheriff’s Office (LCSO).  General Counsel for LCSO indicated that the Sheriff did not have any input on this matter.  The State Attorney’s Office offers the following statement:

 

The State Attorney does not support this initiative and has assessed that the direct file process is a very important tool that should remain in place.  Recognizing that criminal justice is a complex system with various nuances within each case, the responsible State Attorney must maintain discretion to address each case differently.  Removing this discretion may compromise the State’s ability to hold the offender accountable.

 

An all-encompassing approach as proposed by the ‘No Place For A Child’ Coalition would allow youth offenders who commit heinous acts, such as mass school shootings or sexual assault against a child, to receive little punishment for their offense; as a youth offender can only be  incarcerated until the age of 21.  For example, a 17 year old who commits such an act could be released after serving only four years and may not have had adequate time for rehabilitation.

 

In addition, this initiative may place an unnecessary burden on juvenile crime victims and witnesses who would consequentially be required to give testimony in court twice: once at a fitness hearing to determine if the offender should be charged as a minor and again during the trial phase.  In addition to concerns about possible revictimization, the State Attorney fears that this initiative may make witnesses, such as teachers and other youth leaders, reluctant to speak to prosecutors for fear of exposing themselves to legal or professional retribution.

 

With 20 elected State Attorneys responsive to their communities, the State Attorney strongly believes that the office is better positioned to represent the victims and the State.

 

State Attorney Jack Campbell plans to attend the Board’s October 23, 2018 meeting to speak to this issue and answer any questions the Board may have. 

 

Options:         

  1. Accept the status report on the “No Place for a Child” Campaign and take no further action.
  2. Accept the status report and adopt the Resolution in support of the ‘No Place for a Child’ Coalition’s Campaign (Attachment #1).
  3. Board direction. 

 

Recommendation:

Board direction

Attachment:

  1. Draft resolution