A Miami grand jury may decide today with whether to indict a 14-year-old middle school student for first-degree murder in the throat-slashing death of a classmate, the Miami Herald reports. Such a decision would transfer Michael Hernandez to the adult courts, the path traveled by Lionel Tate, who was found guilty of murder at 14 and was sentenced to life in prison without parole.
Lawmakers and prosecutors have called for changing Florida laws that give judges no options in such cases; no reforms have been enacted. “I just don’t think we want our kids to go to jail for the rest of their lives,” said Richard Rosenbaum, the Fort Lauderdale attorney who helped Tate overturn the conviction and win his freedom this year.
In the new case, prosecutors will likely argue they have evidence that Hernandez planned the murder of Jamie Gough, 14, in a school bathroom. If the grand jury refuses to indict Hernandez, the case could stay in the juvenile system or prosecutors could charge him with a lesser crime in the adult system, such as manslaughter.
Ken Padowitz, who prosecuted Tate, says it is frustrating that reforms haven’t been enacted: “The juvenile system is broken and until they fix it, there are certain crimes where kids have to be tried as adults. But we need to have some sanity about it.” Convicting a 14-year-old for first-degree-murder in the juvenile system doesn’t afford enough punishment, he said. Tate, for example, could have received as few as six months in custody.
Padowitz said the laws need to allow flexibility to prosecute a juvenile charged with a brutal crime as an adult without locking him up for life. “Tiffany’s Law,” named for Tate’s victim, would give judges discretion when sentencing a young teen convicted of a crime that mandates a life sentence.