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Florida’s Juvenile Justice System

Florida’s criminal justice system treats children and teens differently from adults.  If your child is charged with a juvenile offense, he or she will enter Florida’s juvenile justice system.  The Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) focuses on rehabilitation above punishment.  Read on for an overview of the juvenile justice process.

Juvenile Court proceedings

The juvenile courts have jurisdiction over the prosecution of all defendants under 19 years old charged with felonies and misdemeanors, with the exception of some minor traffic offenses.  The website for the DJJ offers a general guide to what happens when a juvenile is arrested.

If a child or teen is arrested for a crime, she will be sent to a Juvenile Assessment Center, where she will be booked and fingerprinted.  She will be administered a Detention Risk Assessment Instrument (DRAI), which offers a standardized method to determine whether detention is necessary.  If detention is unneeded, she will be released to her parents or guardian, but if the DRAI indicates detention is warranted, she will be sent to a Juvenile Detention Center (JDC).

Within 24 hours, she will receive a detention hearing before a judge.  A juvenile is entitled to have an lawyer at this hearing.  (Note that children in the juvenile justice system have most of the same rights that adults do in criminal court.)  The judge reviews the accusations against her, the DRAI, and various placement options.  After this hearing, the child may be released to her parents or guardian, with or without conditions or supervision, or may be returned to the JDC.

Thereafter, the state lawyer determines whether to file formal charges.  If charges are filed, they take the form of a “Delinquency Petition.”  Another court hearing follows, called an arraignment.  Here, the child enters a plea of guilty, not guilty, or no contest.  If she pleads not guilty, a trial will be held.

If the arrest is her first and the crime she is charged with is nonviolent, she may be eligible for a Pre-Trial Intervention program (PTI).  Whether or not she is given the option of PTI is within the state lawyer’s discretion.  If she successfully completes PTI, the charges will be dismissed and she will have no juvenile record.  In Florida’s 9th Judicial Circuit, covering Orange and Osceola Counties, the Teen Court program operates as a voluntary diversion program that expedites the cases of first-time misdemeanor offenders.

If a juvenile pleads guilty or no contest, or is convicted after a trial, the likely result is probation.  She will be assigned to a Juvenile Probation Officer and required to fulfill certain conditions of probation, which may include:

  • Attending school full time, with no unexcused absences or suspensions;
  • Avoiding contact with certain persons deemed to be bad influences;
  • Participating in family or individual counseling;
  • Submitting to random drug or alcohol testing;
  • Making restitution to any victims; or
  • Performing community service work.

Juveniles in adult court

Depending on the crime a juvenile is charged with, the state lawyer may decide to charge her as an adult, submitting her to adult criminal court.  According to a Human Rights Watch report, Florida leads the country in the number of children charged as adults. Some blame this on Florida’s “direct file” system, which allows prosecutors to charge children as adults without a hearing or input from a judge.  If a child is charged as an adult, she will be transferred from juvenile detention to county jail, and thereafter undergo the same process as an adult defendant.

Consult a Florida Juvenile Offenses Lawyer

If your child is facing juvenile charges, it is important to consult with a knowledgeable lawyer early in the process to protect your child’s rights and your rights as a parent.  The experienced Florida juvenile offenses lawyers of The Baez Law Firm can help you devise a strategy to protect your child and family into the future.  Contact us for a consultation today.

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