Three teens on the trial docket at a recent Tampa juvenile court session failed to appear, says the St. Petersburg Times. By week’s end, 39 more young defendants will have skipped their court dates. Prosecutors say the failure-to-appear rate for juveniles has been as high as 60 percent in recent years – worse than any of the other 19 judicial circuits in Florida. In 2005’s first seven months, the Public Defender’s Office handled 3,911 juvenile cases. In nearly 1,200 instances, juveniles represented by that office failed to appear for scheduled hearing and trial dates.
Prosecutors say repeat offenders skip court dates because they realize they can do so without serious consequences. Unlike adult defendants who miss court, juveniles can’t be charged criminally with failure to appear. State Attorney Mark Ober’s office is trying to counter the trend by “fast-tracking” some cases to trial. Cases that used to take a few months to get to a judge are being resolved before the young defendants leave their 21 days of detention. “It is one of the few tools we have to successfully prosecute the kids,” said Patti Pieri, chief of the juvenile division for the State Attorney’s Office. In Florida, juveniles are responsible for one in four violent crimes, according to the Department of Juvenile Justice. Just 14 percent of juveniles are responsible for 42 percent of all crimes committed statewide.