Should Prosecutors Be Able to File Juvenile Cases in Adult Courts?

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California prosecutors’ use of “direct filing” of cases against juveniles in adult courts is assessed by The Atlantic. In 2000, California voters approved Proposition 21, a measure that gave district attorneys the right to “direct file” in adult courts juvenile offenders who committed felonies and other serious crimes like murder and sex offenses. In all, 15 states and Washington, D.C., have such a mechanism in place. In 2014, 393 young people were direct filed and tried in state adult courts. Some 88 percent of juveniles tried in adult court were convicted.

Deciding to direct file a young person circumvents the role of a judge, who would otherwise conduct a “fitness hearing” to determine where an offending youth should be tried. “With direct file, there’s no opportunity … to go before a judge to make that very important decision on whether or not a child should be prosecuted as an adult,” said Nisha Ajmani, of the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice, who opposes the practice. “A judge should really be the party making that decision after a fair, thorough, and neutral process,” Ajmani said, warning that district attorneys subject to elections often want to appear tough on crime to ensure their political viability. The Atlantic

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