By now most people know the story of the 16 year old boy who threatened to blow up his high school in Tampa, Florida and along with killing more than 32 people. A Hillsborough County judge just sentenced him to 15 years in adult prison. He is now 18 years old, which means he will be in the general population of the Florida Department of Corrections.
Since he committed the crime when he was only 16 and due to the severity of the crimes charged, the Hillsborough County State Attorney made the decision to file the charges in adult court. The Florida legislature, in their infinite wisdom, givse the State Attorney the option in most juvenile cases, if the child is over the age of 14, to file charges in adult court. Clearly we can all see the problem with this. Adult sanctions are meant for punishment only, no one cares about rehabilitation. What happens to a 16 year old kid who’s sent to prison for 15 years? Potentially, the kid could become a productive member of society afterward – but it’s doubtful and I’ve never seen it happen.
In this case, the kid pled open in court, which means there was not a negotiated plea with the prosecutor. From a criminal defense attorney standpoint, this is VERY risky. Especially in a high profile case. The judge recoginizes that EVERYONE will be watching what she does and she will be scrutinized by the press and the public. In this economy, judges will not run the risk of losing their jobs. And Florida LOVES to talk about being TOUGH ON CRIME. In fact, Florida is one of the few states that more often than not, transfer children into adult court for prosecution.
In my experience, a good criminal defense attorney can make the argument to the State Attorney PRIOR TO FILING CHARGES, to keep the case in juvenile court. I don’t think any criminal defense attorney could have kept this case in juvenile court because of the seriousness of the allegations and the potential (whether real or bravado of a 16 year old kid) for diasater was so high. Imagine if they didn’t take this kid seriously, and he somehow got out of these charges, only to plot and actually carry out his threats at a later date.