November 10, 2017

Juvenile Justice: Should Florida's Juvenile Age Be Raised?

Posted in Blog |

In Florida, the juvenile justice system is the system in which most youth offenders are tried and face consequences. An Okaloosa County juvenile attorney can represent young people in this system and help them to get the most favorable outcomes possible based on the specifics of their circumstances. 

The juvenile justice system differs in important ways from the criminal justice system in which adults are tried and sentenced to face consequences upon conviction.  The juvenile justice system takes the needs of young offenders into account, as these offenders are often not as culpable as older adults and they often have a substantial chance of being successfully rehabilitated.

While the juvenile justice system provides more flexibility in penalties and a stronger focus on the circumstances of an offender’s situation than generally occurs for adult offenders, not every young person is able to have their case decided within the juvenile system. The cut-off age in Florida for someone to be considered a juvenile offender is 18. However, many social justice advocates believe that the juvenile age should be raised.  WMNF recently discussed the possibility of raising the juvenile age with experts, including professors and those who work pro bono on various types of advocacy projects.

Should the Juvenile Age Be Raised in Florida?

There are several arguments that are made in favor of expanding the maximum age for defendants to be tried in the juvenile justice system.  One of the big arguments is that modern brain science has demonstrated that there is no difference in the development of the brain between someone who is 17-years-old and someone who is 20-years old. 

This research on brain science has actually been used before in court cases. For example, in an Illinois appellate court case in which a defendant appealed his sentence, the court determined that designating a person as an “adult” after age 18 was arbitrary in light of research in both neurobiology and developmental psychology that shows the brain does not finish its development until the mid-20’s.  

The Illinois court pointed out that several European countries have responded to this brain science by expanding the age for juvenile justice, including Sweden where young adults can be tried in juvenile courts until their 25th birthday.  The appellate court ordered a new sentencing hearing for the defendant. 

Since offenders who are 18 but whose brains are still not fully developed may have difficulty making decisions the way adults with mature brains do, advocates argue that it is arbitrary and unfair to make 18 the cutoff for being tried in juvenile court. Many offenders who would have gotten much lighter sentences had they committed a crime just days before turning 18 end up finding themselves facing life sentences and growing up in prison with no hopes of rehabilitation — at great cost to both taxpayers and to those individuals who are not given a real chance at life.

Florida has made changes to the law based on issues related to maturity before when it raised the drinking age to 21 from 18 in the 1980’s, so there is precedent for modification and perhaps some day in the future, the laws will change and offenders will be able to be tried as juveniles for longer. 

No matter what age an offender is, however, it is important for any young adults who are involved in criminal cases to be represented by an Okaloosa County juvenile attorney who can help them to protect their rights.

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