In 1993, nine tourists visiting Florida died violently, several at the hands of gun-wielding teenagers. Florida's multibillion-dollar tourist industry was near panic. The legislature called an emergency session, recalls the Florida Times-Union. “Law enforcement, whether it was city police or sheriff's offices, were screaming to have something done,” said former Rep. Buzz Ritchie. What they did was give prosecutors incredible power over the fate of juveniles in the judicial system. Public Defender Matt Shirk and private lawyers say State Attorney Angela Corey, whose circuit includes Jacksonville, has used that power to threaten juveniles with being sent to adult court if they don't accept record-staining direct commitments to juvenile-incarceration facilities.
Corey said juvenile cases are handled no differently from adult cases. Shirk said state law needs to be changed to provide checks and balances. Direct commitments — the power given to prosecutors in 1994 — are usually plea deals. When juveniles agree to plea deals, they are often incarcerated without the chance to hear the evidence against them, examine police work or interview witnesses. Also, the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice typically is not given the chance to evaluate the juvenile's background and needs. Shirk's office estimates that more than 800 juveniles in the past five years were first threatened with adult charges before accepting pleas.