16-year-old Kiera Wilmot, a student at Bartow High School in Polk County, Florida, has been arrested and charged as an adult for a concoction of household chemicals she mixed together on school grounds that caused a minor explosion. No damage was reported other than the bottle she mixed the chemicals in exploding. Wilmot said she combined toilet bowl cleaner and aluminum foil in an 8-ounce bottle at the urging of a fellow classmate. To her surprise, the top popped off and the concoction began to smoke, followed by a small explosion. Wilmot is regarded as an excellent student by her principal and stated Wilmot has never been in trouble.
Wilmot has been charged as an adult with possessing or discharging weapons or firearms on school property” and “making, possessing, throwing, projecting, placing, or discharging any destructive device,” both felonies under Florida law. The prosecutor was not bound by Florida law to dole out these severe charges.
There are four main processes by which juvenile defendants in Jacksonville can be transferred to criminal court:
– Judicial Waiver: Juvenile court judges have the ability to transfer juveniles to criminal court, usually taking account of age and the severity of the offense
– Prosecutorial Discretion: Prosecutors have the authority to file cases in juvenile court or criminal court jurisdiction
– Statutory Exclusion: Certain laws may require certain categories of juvenile offenders to appear in criminal court based on a particular age or the type of offense
– Once waived/always waived: Certain laws may require juveniles to be tried in criminal court if any previous charges were removed to criminal court.
Prosecutors maintain a critical role in determining the forum of prosecution. In addition to direct file legislation, prosecutors may charge a youth with an offense mandating statutory exclusion and transfer to adult court. NCJJ observed that prosecutorial discretion in the absence of guidelines for the exercise of that discretion can result in inconsistent treatment of juvenile offenders and urged legislation providing uniform prosecutorial guidelines.
In Florida, prosecutors may file charges directly in criminal court against any juvenile age 16 or older who commits a felony, any juvenile age 14 or older who commits a violent felony or burglary, and any juvenile who commits a homicide. In addition, juvenile court judges may waive to criminal court any juvenile age 14 or older based on certain findings.
There are many problems that a juvenile may face as a result of being transferred to criminal court. Prosecution in criminal court exposes the accused juvenile to the same penalties as adults under the charge. They may face a life or death sentence depending on the severity of the charge, a possibly long prison sentence, where the juvenile is exposed to the many dangers of prison life, as well as having a permanent criminal record that one may or may not be able to have sealed or expunged.
The benefit of juvenile proceedings is that if the case is adjudicated in juvenile proceedings, the juvenile must be released at age 21, as well as receive rehabilitative treatment in a juvenile facility, and may be allowed to have their juvenile records expunged. None of these options are so easily available or guarantee-able if one or one’s child’s case is moved to criminal court.
Adolescents are involved in incidents like this every day on school grounds. Not every one of those juveniles were intending harm others and are simply exploring chemical combustion processes. One in a situation like this should obtain an experienced Jacksonville juvenile crimes defense attorney to fight the case and ensure one’s rights and defenses are known and protected.
The Forbess Law Firm has been aiding clients who face criminal charges in Jacksonville for years and are here to provide aggressive criminal defense to anyone accused of a crime. If you or a loved one require a Jacksonville criminal defense lawyer, contact our firm today. We are available through our website or by calling us at 904-634-0900.
Additional Source: In Florida, High School Student Kiera Wilmot’s Curiosity Is a Crime?!, Rebecca McCray, ACLU Criminal Law Reform Project