Direct File

Statutes in 15 States define a category of cases in which the prosecutor may determine whether to proceed initially in juvenile or criminal court. Typically, these direct file provisions give both juvenile and adult criminal courts the power to hear cases involving certain offenses or age/offense categories, leaving it up to the prosecutor to make discretionary decisions about where to file them.

Of course, prosecutors often have considerable discretionary powers in this area even in the absence of formal statutory authority. In their charging decisions, for instance, they may sometimes, in effect, choose the forum in which the case will be heard. What distinguishes direct file authority is that it rests on the juvenile and criminal courts’ concurrent jurisdiction over a given type of case.

Again, as is the case with other transfer mechanisms, there is wide variation among the States regarding criteria for direct file treatment, with some emphasizing offense categories, others the age of the juvenile involved, and still others the extent and seriousness of the juvenile’s offending history. Generally, the minimum level of offense seriousness necessary to trigger direct file appears to be lower than that required for statutory exclusion or mandatory or presumptive waiver. Arkansas authorizes direct file treatment of a large range of offenses (including soliciting a minor to join a street gang), evidently trusting its prosecutors to make appropriate filing and resource allocation decisions. Florida allows even misdemeanors to be prosecuted in criminal court if the child involved is at least 16 and has a sufficiently serious record.

Table: Direct File: Minimum Age and Offense Criteria, 1997

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Trying Juveniles as Adults in Criminal Court: An Analysis of State Transfer Provisions December 1998