TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Florida law allows most teenage offenders back on the street unless their trial begins within three weeks of their arrest, but cases are rarely resolved in that time frame. Several law enforcement officials tell 8 On Your Side when those young criminals are released, some pick up right where they left off.
In spring of 2018, authorities said an angry 16-year-old Dillen Murray lured his friend Giovanni Diaz into a wooded area in Polk County and beat him to death with a baseball bat. Diaz was with a girl Murray loved, according to Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd.
Diaz, the first-born child of Nikki McNabb, was dead at just 15 years-old.
“Time doesn’t help you. It doesn’t help you heal,” McNabb said. “It teaches you how to cope.”
At a news conference shortly after the murder, the Polk County sheriff pointed out Murray’s multiple prior batteries.
“He’s a juvenile. What do you think the outcome was? Nothing,” Sheriff Judd said.
Judd laid blame partly on Florida’s flawed juvenile justice system.
He told reporters that Diaz had never been in any trouble.
“I honestly think it could’ve been prevented, had they put him in some kind of camp to teach him to show him how to deal with his anger,” McNabb said.
8 On Your Side revealed earlier this year that, according to law enforcement, the system fails to stop serious, repeat, teen offenders.
“The phrase we use is catch and release. Catch them and release them,” Volusia County Sheriff Mike Chitwood said.
Part of the problem with “catch and release” is the 21-day hold, according to law enforcement officials.
By law, the state can only hold most juveniles a maximum of 21 days before trial. When those three weeks are up, the court effectively loses control. The juvenile is released into the community, and able to potentially reoffend, as the case slowly makes its way through the system.
State Sen. Jeff Brandes of St. Petersburg is the vice chair of the Criminal Justice Committee. Investigative reporter Mahsa Saeidi asked if he could do anything about the formula.
“Sure, of course we can,” he said.
Sen. Brandes said he worked with Florida sheriffs to establish the 21-day hold.
“This was something that the sheriffs had asked for,” he said. “It was an important tool that they told us that they needed.”
But now law enforcement calls it catch and release.
“I am absolutely open to giving judges more discretion beyond the 21 days,” Brandes said.
The senator said the system should focus on the kids in the deep end, getting them proper resources to stop the downward spiral.
“When we send them back home, they’re going back home to utter chaos,” he said.
In some instances, the law allows for a nine-day extension or more but law enforcement said the extension rarely applies.
If you have been impacted by the state’s juvenile justice system, please send a detailed email to Investigator Mahsa Saeidi at MSaeidi@WFLA.com