By Rose Hernandez
It would be remiss of me to start discussing the legal issues at play here without first offering my condolences to the families of the child who passed away and the child accused of the death. The Palm Beach County State Attorney said his Office has discretion in deciding whether to charge the child as an adult, and he is right. There are only two circumstances where the State Attorney is required to charge a Child as an adult, but for those to apply, the Child would have to have been previously adjudicated delinquent for a very serious felony, like murder or carjacking; or he would have to have been previously adjudicated delinquent of at least three prior felonies. § 985.556(3), Fla. Stat. (2022). However, because the accused child was 17 years old at the time of the alleged offense, the only criteria the State needs to support their decision to charge him as an adult is, “in the state attorney’s judgment and discretion the public interest requires that adult sanctions be considered or imposed.” § 985.557(1)(b), Fla. Stat. (2022). Once the State decides they want to charge a Child as an adult, they must file a motion and the court must conduct a hearing on the motion. The court must consider several factors, including the seriousness of the current offense, the Child’s maturity, and his prior criminal history. To challenge the State’s decision to charge a Child as an adult, it is important to work with legal counsel early on to collect mitigation to show the Child’s case should stay in the juvenile court system.
If the Child’s case is transferred to adult court, the first matter to address would be the Child’s release. Rule 3.131(a), Florida Rules of Criminal Procedure, provides, “[u]nless charged with a capital offense or an offense punishable by life imprisonment and the proof of guilt is evident or the presumption is great, every person charged with a crime or violation of municipal or county ordinance shall be entitled to pretrial release on reasonable conditions.” So, the Child is entitled to pretrial release unless the State can show the proof of the Child’s guilt is evident and the presumption of his guilt is great. That is a very high burden to meet, it is higher than “beyond a reasonable doubt,” which is the burden of proof required to find someone guilty at trial. So, if the Court tries to deny the Child bond, it is important for legal counsel to immediately file a bond motion and request a hearing on the matter.
Regarding the evidence in this case, there are a lot of unanswered questions. For example, how long was the child’s body laying in the grass? Did the body’s proximity to water affect its decomposition? How does that affect the medical examiner’s autopsy? I would want to know what the medical examiner cites as the cause of death and the accuracy of that assessment. Other questions that remain unanswered – how did the child’s body get to the location where it was found? Did the child live nearby? Did the accused Child live nearby? I would like to know the State’s theory on how the body ended up where it did, and the evidence the State has to prove it. I would like to know if there is any surveillance footage of the incident itself or the transport of the body. However, there are still more unanswered questions – How did these two children know each other? What was their history? Did they have altercations in the past? What were those altercations about? This kind of information is important because it can help shed some light on both children’s state of minds when the alleged offenses occurred. More importantly, it can help legal counsel determine whether there is a viable self-defense argument here. If the child was acting in self-defense, legal counsel can file a Motion to Dismiss the charges, because people who act in self-defense are immune to prosecution. Hopefully, these questions and many more will be answered as the case runs its course, not only for the sake of these two children, but for the sake of their families who have no choice now but to pick up the pieces.
If you or a family member find yourself charged with a crime, do not hesitate to contact the experienced lawyers of The Smith and Eulo law firm at 352-WIN-4YOU for your FREE consultation.