In 2015, at the age of 15, Taylor Lawrance was charged as an adult for her role in an armed robbery of a house in Lake Hamilton. She received a 10-year prison term.
LAKELAND – Taylor Lawrance was 15 when she and a group of friends broke into a house on Lake Hamilton in 2015 and stole clothes and a PlayStation from another teenager.
Taylor had texted one of her friends who was armed with a shotgun to enter the house while she was talking to the victim.
Hours later, the teenager was handcuffed.
Prosecutors chose to file the case directly, which meant Lawrance was convicted of an adult in 2016. She received 10 years in prison followed by 10 years probation for not objecting to a home burglary while armed with a firearm, robbery with a firearm, and unlawful use of a two-way communication device.
Taylor law enforcement continues to resonate today with her mother, Kim Lawrance of Winter Haven, as she and dozens of others plan to gather in Tallahassee to end the prosecution of Florida children as adults.
“Let’s save it for the worst of the worst,” Lawrance said, arguing that prosecutors shouldn’t have sole power to bring juvenile cases to adult courts.
Three bills were tabled that year that would make it difficult for prosecutors. The bills would provide for a judge hearing at which a child can apply to return to juvenile justice.
Other bills would increase the age of eligible children for a transfer and remove mandatory transfers.
Prosecutor Brian Haas said he opposed any bill that would deprive prosecutors of the ability to decide whether to charge a child as an adult.
“The decision to charge a child with an adult crime is one of the most important decisions we make here,” said Haas. “There is a small percentage of youth who commit violent, dangerous crimes and which endanger our community, and the youth system is incapable of handling these cases.”
Haas said charges against children as adults are no longer as common as they used to be, accounting for less than two percent of all juvenile cases. In 2012, 159 youths were indicted as adults in the 10th District Court, which includes Polk, Highlands and Hardee Counties. Those numbers fell 55 percent to 71 in 2018.
And he pointed out that juvenile sanctions were still available to judges in adult courts.
The Senate version of the bill, submitted by West Palm Beach Democrat Bobby Powell, has found its way into a criminal and civil justice subcommittee. The first reading of the house version of the bill took place on March 5th.
Defense attorney Rex Dimmig said it wasn’t the first time law changes had been made. Last year Dimmig said the bill didn’t make it through a committee.
Dimmig and Haas agreed that the mandatory filings for juveniles should be removed, giving prosecutors the power to determine whether an indictment should be brought in an adult or juvenile court.
Currently, adolescents aged 16 or 17 who are charged with serious crimes such as murder, sexual violence, robbery, arson and exacerbated child abuse must be charged as adults. In addition, any juvenile who causes serious bodily harm in the possession of a stolen vehicle must be charged as an adult.
“I am not against this being removed and our prosecutors being given this discretion,” said Haas.
Dimmig emphasized that changes should go further.
“Even after the prosecutor’s filing, the court should be able to review and decide whether it is appropriate or should be referred to a juvenile court,” said Dimmig. “Only the case of a child in an adult court raises questions about whether they will be able to go to college, get a job, or get housing.”
Lawrance said there are other ways than imprisoning teenagers for crimes that are not “the worst of the worst”. The incarceration had a major impact on the elder Lawrance.
Since her daughter was sentenced, she has received a Masters in Criminal Justice and often speaks in prisons when she is not visiting her daughter.
Taylor, who turns 19 on Saturday, is expected to be fired from the Florida Women’s Reception Center in 2025. According to her mother, before the arrest she had had no problems other than a fight at school.
“You and four other children made a huge mistake,” Lawrance said. “I just feel so unfair.”
John Chambliss can be reached at [email protected] or 863-802-7588