Rep. Katie Edwards (D- Plantation) has taken on an issue which has been a bugaboo for years for progressives across the state. Trying minors as adults is not something that should be a regular part of a prosecutors arsenal, but it has become standard operating procedure in some parts of Florida.
The Criminal Justice and Juvenile Justice systems have employed relatively draconian penalties in this state through the years. Last year, Rep. Edwards successfully pushed for aggressive reforms in how Florida sentences prescription drug trafficking.
HB 783 would restore the ability of judges to decide which juvenile cases that are eligible for transfer to adult court should be tried there. Under current law, prosecutors have the sole discretion to decide which cases end up in adult court.
“The current system is like a football game with no referee,” Edwards said. “This legislation would limit the offenses that are eligible for transfer to only the most egregious, and provides much needed sentencing reform.”
Rep. Edwards was motivated to file the bill after learning that juvenile transfer rates vary greatly by county. According to 2014 data from the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice, a child charged with a felony offense was almost twice as likely to be tried as an adult in Duval or Hillsborough County compared with a child charged with a felony in Miami-Dade County. The problem lies in a system that allows prosecutors to be the sole arbiter of whether a child’s case ends up in adult court.
“The same child, accused of the same offense, may receive vastly different treatment depending on which circuit they are charged in,” Edwards said. “That’s not fair. We need to develop a system where the facts of an individual child’s case are the deciding factor, not which circuit they are in.”
Other provisions in the bill require that children awaiting trail be held in juvenile facilities, even if they have been charged as adults, where they can receive child-appropriate services including adequate education. Current law requires that children charged as adults be transferred to adult jail pending a decision on their charges.
Edwards has very quietly charted an independent and progressive leadership course on issues of criminal justice. These are issues of fundamental importance to many on the left throughout the state though at times they may not be considered “sexy” enough for the TV cameras and newspapers. But it is these sorts of issues where Democrats must stand stronger and taller in the future.