NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Federal "Prosecutorial Discretion" To Try Juveniles As Adults

September 30, 1999

Federal law calls for judges to decide whether a juvenile should be treated as an adult in federal court. But if a provision in the juvenile crime bill awaiting action in Congress passes, the prosecutorial discretion allowed to district attorneys in 14 states and the District of Columbia would also be given to federal prosecutors.

In Florida, the first state to give prosecutors that power in 1981, a report from the Justice Policy Institute found that:

  • Florida prosecutors referred some 7,000 juveniles to adult court in 1995, nearly as many as the 9,700 juveniles nationwide that judges ordered to be treated as adults.
  • Most of the juveniles were charged with nonviolent offense, and only 29 percent were charged with violent crimes.
  • Youths tried as adults were more likely to commit another crime than those sent to the juvenile system, and to do so twice as fast after their release as those handled in the juvenile system.

However, Stu VanMeveren, president of the National District Attorneys Association, says that in most states the juveniles diverted to adult court are repeat offenders or are charged with violent crimes. "In past years, we'd see 16-or 17-year-olds committing crimes that 13- and 14-year-olds are committing now."

Source: Gary Fields, "Report Critical of Prosecutors' Power over Youths," USA Today, September 30, 1999; Vincent Schiraldi and Jason Ziedenberg, "The Florida Experiment: An Analysis of the Impact of Granting Prosecutors Discretion to Try Juveniles as Adults," September 1999, Justice Policy Institute, Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice, 2208 Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue, S.E., Washington, D.C. 20020, (202) 678-9282.


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