200 Butler St., Suite 207 West Palm Beach, FL 33407

FAQ – Juvenile

Juvenile Matters

In any juvenile matter, from the beginning of a case until the end, there are two critical issues that need to be considered simultaneously; the need for a well thought out, well executed plan to remove your child from the system as quickly and as seamlessly as possible together with a resolution of the matter that produces as little harm to your child’s future opportunities as possible.An attorney experienced in the laws and rules of Juvenile Court is crucial to achieving these goals.

Some of the Juvenile Matters We Have Defended

Battery; Felony Battery; Aggravated Battery with a Deadly Weapon; Battery on a School Board Employee; Battery on a Law Enforcement Officer; Domestic Battery; Sexual Battery; Assault; Aggravated Assault with a Deadly Weapon; Petit Theft; Grand Theft; Robbery; Strong Arm Robbery; Robbery by Sudden Snatching; Trespass; Burglary; Burglary of a Dwelling; Burglary of a Occupied Dwelling; Burglary of a Structure; Burglary of a Conveyance; Design, Possession and Discharge of a Destructive Device; Lewd and Lascivious Conduct, Possession of Marijuana under 20 Grams; Felony Possession of Marijuana; Possession of Drug Paraphernalia; Possession of Cocaine; Possession of Heroin; Unlawful Possession of Prescription Drugs, Xanax, Oxycontin, Oxycodone; Possession of Alcohol by a Minor; Driving Under the Influence; Driving Without a License, Driving with a Suspended License; Driving in Violation of a Restricted License; Racing on the Highway; Reckless Driving; Careless Driving; Leaving the Scene of an Accident; Criminal Mischief; Throwing or Discharging a Deadly Missile into a Structure, Dwelling or Conveyance

Yes, you should be concerned. Juvenile Court is not “kiddie court”; especially in the state of Florida. There are very real penalties and consequences in Juvenile Court, not the least of which is your child’s future. An attorney experienced in Juvenile Court will understand that.

Yes, under Florida law, the prosecuting authority, known as the State Attorney, has discretion to file or retain a case in Juvenile Court or to transfer or “Direct File” a case to Adult Court. The decision to “Direct File” a case to Adult Court can occur when the Minor Child is as young as 14 years of age and the alleged incident involves specific offenses. The decision to prosecute as an adult in discretionary “Direct File” cases lies solely with the prosecutor. The Court cannot reverse the decision; it is non-reviewable and cannot be appealed.

In some instances, Florida law mandates that a Minor Child, 16 years of age or older, be tried as an adult. The law allows for no exceptions and the Juvenile Court Judge has no authority to prevent the Minor Child from being prosecuted in Adult Court.

In either event described above, the law permits the decision to prosecute the Minor Child as an adult without benefit of a judicial hearing or the ruling of a judge.

When a Minor Child is taken into custody the child is brought to a Juvenile Assessment Center (JAC), the child’s parents or guardians are notified and the child is assessed by the Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) to determine whether the child should be released or held over for a Detention Hearing. The DJJ staff member will complete a Risk Assessment Instrument (RAI). The RAI will assign points for the severity of the alleged incident, prior history and so forth. The number of points will determine whether a child is released or sent to the Juvenile Detention Center where they will remain until they appear before a judge within 24 hours.

There is no bond in Juvenile Court. At a Detention Hearing a judge will determine whether probable cause exists for the alleged charges, whether the child understands the nature of the allegations and whether the child qualifies for some form of pre-trial release. Under Florida law a child may be held in pre-trial Secure or Non-Secure Detention for up to 21 days while awaiting trial on the alleged charges.

Juvenile Court mirrors Adult Court in basic procedure. The same fundamental principles of Due Process that direct the adult system guide the juvenile system as well.

Under Florida law, in adult court, an individual placed under arrest and deprived of their civil rights is brought before a judge or magistrate within twenty-four hours for a hearing called a First Appearance. The purpose of the hearing is the same as the Detention Hearing in juvenile court described above. The main difference in adult court is the pre-trial opportunity to post bond.

The issue of pre-trial release is determined and, in both juvenile court and adult court, the case is set for Arraignment. Arraignment is a hearing where a formal plea is entered; either guilty or not guilty.

In juvenile court the terms Guilty and Not Guilty are replaced with “Delinquent” or “Not Delinquent”. Under Florida law, a “finding of Delinquency” or an “adjudication of Delinquency” bears a significant difference to an adjudication of guilt in adult court. A conviction of guilt in adult Felony court will result in a loss of civil rights, the most significant of which is the right to vote.

If formal charges are brought in adult court the charging document filed by the State is known as the “Information”. In juvenile court the State would file a “Petition for Delinquency” or simply a “Petition”.

In adult court the case would then be set for Trial before either a judge or a jury. In juvenile court, the case is set for an “Adjudicatory Hearing”. In an adult jury trial the judge rules on the legal issues and the jury determines the factual issues. In juvenile court the judge is the “finder of fact” and determines both the factual issues and the legal issues. There are no jury trials in juvenile court.

If someone should fail to appear for court or for trial in adult court, the judge may issue a Capias or bench warrant. In juvenile court the judge may issue a “Pick-Up Order”.

In adult court, should someone plead guilty or be found guilty, their case will most likely be set for a Sentencing hearing. In juvenile court their case would be set for a “Disposition” hearing.

In adult court the judge may order a “Pre-Sentence Investigation”, PSI; in juvenile court the judge may order a “Pre-Disposition Report”, PDR. In either case the purpose of the report is to assist the Court and the parties in assessing and determining an appropriate sentence.

In adult court an individual could potentially be sentenced to probation, jail, prison or some combination of the above. In juvenile court a child may potentially be sentenced to a Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) Commitment Program. A “Commitment Program” is a residential juvenile facility. The length of incarceration will depend on a number of factors including the severity of the charges and a determination of the level of necessary rehabilitation and appropriateness decided by the Court.

No, the Florida Rules of Juvenile Procedure along with Florida Statute 985 effectively control juvenile court, not the Florida Rules of Criminal Procedure and the accompanying statutes that outline the Florida law of criminal procedure and corrections.

An aspect of juvenile law that is frequently overlooked is the fact that in addition to the punitive and preventive nature of the juvenile system there remains a legislative goal of rehabilitation. Unlike the adult system which is focused for the most part on punishment.

Yes, DJJ Commitment Programs are designated by five Levels, Level 2 through Level 10.

Juveniles can be placed in either a non-residential (daytime only) and or residential (overnight programs) commitment program. For all intent and purposes the non-residential commitment programs are virtually nonexistent.

Florida law provides guidelines for the judge to follow when deciding to place a child in a commitment program. The guidelines are based on risk levels, ranging from low to maximum. The risk levels correspond to the degree of supervision the child requires — the higher the risk level the more intense the supervision. The five restrictiveness levels of commitment programs range from minimum-risk non-residential (level 2) through maximum-risk residential (level 10). The period of time the child remains at any facility depends greatly on both the risk level decided by the judge and upon the child’s progress.

Commitment Programs in higher restrictiveness levels are characterized by tighter physical security, closer supervision, and a longer length of stay. A juvenile placed in a commitment program is under the legal custody of the Department of Juvenile Justice. After being committed to a particular program level, DJJ can transfer the child to a different or more restrictive (higher level) program, if the child is unable or unwilling to successfully complete the program. A child can remain under the supervision of DJJ until their 21st birthday.

Yes, in some instances a child may qualify for some type of formal diversion program; this typically occurs more frequently in Juvenile Court than Adult Court.  The nature and severity of the alleged offense, the child’s age, maturity level and prior history are some of the factors that are taken into consideration.

The short answer is maybe.

Sealing a criminal or juvenile record involves making an individual’s criminal history inaccessible to the general public. However, city, county, state and federal government agencies, including the police and military, will have access to and be able to review your criminal history records whether or not those records are sealed.

Expunging a record involves the court ordered physical destruction of a criminal history record or a portion of that record. It is much more difficult than the popular perception to have a record expunged or sealed. There are a number of criteria and exceptions that may apply. Also, the frequent notion that a juvenile record is automatically wiped clean at the age of eighteen is altogether mistaken in most instances.

At our firm we always approach juvenile matters conscious of these facts and always strive to leave our juvenile clients in the best position possible when it comes to their record in juvenile court. To learn more details, click here