Facing a criminal trial as a child can be daunting. This is a crucial time in a child’s life and the fact that they have somehow ended up arrested and facing time in detention (jail for children) can be overwhelming. Legal representation in juvenile cases is much different from the adult court system. The factors used to evaluate a juvenile and his or her risk to re-offend will determine whether or not they are held in secure detention prior to trial or released to their parents. There is no right to a jury when a juvenile is brought to trial and many judges have no problem rendering a guilty verdict when evidence is scarce though legally sufficient. Winning these cases requires competent knowledge of current case law and knowledge of Juvenile procedures.
In some cases, the prosecution (the State) may make a plea offer to resolve the case rather than going to trial. The plea offer may require probation, community service, a curfew, and other sanctions. If no plea deal is accepted, the juvenile has the right to go to trial. If the juvenile is found guilty at trial or pleas guilty or no contest without a set plea agreement, a “staffing” may occur. The staffing is done by the Department of Juvenile Justice and a team of people including members form the department, attorneys, parents, and sometimes the child will discuss what punishment or services the juvenile needs. A predisposition report will contain the recommendations of the department and the Judge will consider this report in making a final determination regarding the case and sentence. Juvenile court is NOT intended to be a slap on the wrist and there can be heavy sanctions imposed which can affect the rest of a person’s life.
As a Juvenile Attorney, I provide independent legal counsel and advise for my underage clients. I am obligated by Florida Law to be loyal to the client and to represent their legal rights. I have several years of experience dealing with juvenile cases. In addition to getting the best result for the children and teens I represent, I strive to teach them about the legal system and how important it is to change the current situation or behavior which landed them in the criminal justice system. I truly believe that intervention, education, and redirection at this point in a child’s life can significantly benefit the child or teen in obtaining a brighter future.
Consequences For Juveniles
Juveniles face penalties that range from a warning or probation to placement in what’s called a “commitment program.” Programs range from short term to long-term and the amount of security at the facilities varies depending on the program level. A more serious offense or an offender who has previous criminal history will face higher penalties, longer detention, and more secure detention with fewer privileges. Very specific criteria are required to put a child into secure commitment.
Juveniles can also be charged as adults even if they are still under age 18. This is known as “direct file” and the juvenile will be held in the adult jail until the case is resolved. This typically occurs in more serious cases, cases involving guns or firearms, or cases where the offender is close to age 18.
Alternatives To Formal Prosecution In Juvenile Court
Teen Court is a program designed to divert less serious cases away from the formal Juvenile Court system. The program is usually initiated after a youth has been arrested or given an initial court date. It typically is available to first-time offenders between the ages of 10 and 17 and gives them a second chance, while at the same time holding the child accountable for their actions. The way it works is that the Juvenile Defendant will explain his or her involvement in the offense to a group of peers who act as a jury. Other youths may act as a clerk of court attorney, or prosecutor. The jury does not determine innocence or guilt, but rather evaluates the offense and returns with a sentence that fits. Guilt must be admitted and the youth must be willing to accept the sentence imposed. The sentence may include a letter of apology, a curfew, community service hours and it will always include mandatory service as a juror in a future case. The greatest benefit of this program is that when the sanctions are successfully completed, the original charges are dismissed and no criminal record is made. If the sanctions are not completed, the case will go back to the State Attorney’s office and be set for trial. The program is also beneficial to kids because it gives them insight and experience into the legal system, it builds confidence and enhances public speaking skills, and the community service hours can apply to Bright Futures Scholarship requirements.
Civil Citation Program
This program is designed to give first-time juvenile misdemeanor offenders the opportunity to participate in intervention services at the earliest stage of delinquency. If eligible, the juvenile is immediately given sanctions (before going to court) and if successfully completed, they will not be prosecuted. This program varies slightly from county to county but typically the juvenile will not end up with a criminal record if all the sanctions and objectives are completed. Sanctions usually include counseling for substance abuse, community service, and a letter of apology. Cases that involve the use of a firearm, gang involvement, animal cruelty, sex crimes, and crimes involving fire setting are usually not eligible. The program is administered by the Juvenile Assessment Center and a Juvenile Probation Officer will determine if the child is eligible. A common complaint I encounter in dealing with these cases is a lack of communication or miscommunication which causes the child to be expelled from the program and put back into the formal prosecution track.
Operation Right Track (Seminole County)
This is a preventative program is administered by the Seminole County Sheriff’s Office and is a two-day initiative designed to offer parents an avenue of intervention for youth on the edge of delinquency. To qualify, youths must be between ages 10 and 17, have no physical limitations, and speak English. The youths will attend and participate in physical exercises and attend a series of classes including “Developing 12 keys of Character” and “Decisions and Consequences.” Parents will attend a class on parenting with a drill instructor. The second day is the Parent-Teen challenge which includes exercises designed to improve communication between parents and the youths. Parents will have an orientation and will be filled in on all the aspects of the program. The fee is $70.00 which is non-refundable.