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Juvenile Defense

Juveniles can be charged the same as adults (See link to Felonies and Misdemeanors), and as long as the crime remains in the juvenile justice system, Juveniles cannot be sentenced to jail or prison. They can in the worst case scenario be sentenced to a level 8 and or level 10 facility — which though having jail-like conditions — is not considered jail.

Juveniles in the Juvenile system are not entitled to a Jury Trial, only a trial by a Judge. For the most part Juvenile Records are kept private and are not accessible by the general public. A Juvenile charged with a misdemeanor DUI or misdemeanor Driving while license suspended is treated like an adult and has to appear in adult County Court.

When a young person, under the age of eighteen, is charged with a crime, the case is often handled in the Juvenile Justice System. Some of these cases are reviewed by an Assistant State Attorney to determine whether to “Direct File” the case to adult court. In making this decision, the Prosecutor will consider the age of the child committing the crime, seriousness of the crime and previous criminal history of the child.  The stages of the Juvenile Justice System are different than the adult system and cases typically travel through the system much faster.


The Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) is responsible for providing care and services to delinquent youth. Police, courts and school personnel refer children to DJJ. DJJ provides services, which are in the best interest of the delinquent child. They make recommendations to the State Attorney and to the Juvenile Court regarding the disposition of the case. DJJ counselors provide supervision through probation to juveniles who have been charged with crimes. They also maintain and operate juvenile training schools, other residential treatment facilities, and detention centers.


Once a juvenile is taken into custody, the law enforcement officer delivers him or her to DJJ at the Juvenile Assessment Center (JAC). A counselor for DJJ will then prepare a risk assessment instrument (RAI) to determine if the child meets the criteria for secure detention, they may be released to their parent/guardian for nonsecure detention, and he or she will receive daily supervision from a counselor with DJJ. If the juvenile fails to follow the rules of non-secure detention, the juvenile may be held in the detention center.


If the juvenile is held in detention, a detention hearing must be held within 24 hours of the arrest. The Judge then determines whether to release the juvenile, and if so, what conditions are necessary to protect the victim and the public. The Judge can order the juvenile to have “no contact” with the victim or witnesses. If the Judge does not release the juvenile, he or she remains in the juvenile detention center for a period of no more than 21 days (or under very limited circumstances for a period of 30 days).


An Assistant State Attorney will review the facts of the case and determine what charges, if any, will be filed against the juvenile. If there is enough evidence, the attorney files a petition describing the charges against the juvenile.


About four weeks after the arrest, the juvenile defendant appears in court before a Judge for arraignment. This is a hearing where the defendant is informed of the charges files by the State and asked to enter a plea to those charges (Guilty, Not Guilty, or No Contest).


There are several programs for the first time juvenile offenders to participate in. Each program is different, but requires the juvenile to obey certain rules and complete certain sanctions. Those sanctions may include community service work hours, restitution to the victim, counseling, letters of apology, etc. If the juvenile completes the program, the charges are dropped. If the juvenile does not fulfill the requirements of the program, the charges are reactivated and prosecution pursued.


Any witness, including the victim, may be subpoenaed to give a sworn statement under oath to the defense attorney as to their knowledge of the case. Depositions are usually taken in a small room, not he courtroom. An Assistant State Attorney is present and sometimes an official court reporter. The defendant is not present except under rare circumstances.


A defendant may change a plea of Not Guilty atany time. In most cases, the Assistant State Attorney and defense attorney
will discuss how to resolve a case without a trial. Victims of a felony involving physical or emotional injury are consulted regarding any plea offer. Once a defendant changes their plea to Guilty or No Contest, there is no trial. We proceed to sentencing.


If no agreement can be reached, then the case will go to trial. There are no juries in Juvenile Court; a Judge decides all trials. The State is required to prove “beyond and to the exclusion of every reasonable doubt” that the defendant committed the crime. The defendant is not required to prove anything. Witnesses, including the victim, and subpoenaed to testify and be cross-examined by the opposing attorney. You will receive a subpoena in the mail or a Deputy Sheriff will serve you. It is important to stay in touch with the State Attorney’s Office to determine the exact day of your trial and any last minute postponements.


The Judge decides whether the defendant is guilty or not guilty, and announces the verdict aloud in the courtroom. If the defendant is guilty, the Judge may order the Department of Juvenile Justice to prepare a predisposition report recommending sanctions for the juvenile.


A predisposition report is an inquiry into the background, criminal history and family circumstances of the defendant. It is completed by DJJ and given to the Judge, the defense attorney, the defendant and the Assistant State Attorney. The report includes a sentencing recommendation for the Judge to review. Although the Judge may order DJJ to complete a predisposition report, they are not required or completed in all cases.


Once a defendant has been found guilty at trial or has entered a plea of guilty or no contest to a charge, we proceed to a dispositional hearing or sentencing hearing. The Judge sentences the defendant in a manner appropriate to the crime and other circumstances related to the case. The Juvenile Court has jurisdiction over the defendant until his or her 19th birthday (under some rare circumstances to age 21).  Therefore the sentence cannot extend beyond the 19th birthday of the juvenile. The Judge may impose two types of sentences: (1) probation or, (2) commitment to the Department of Juvenile Justice. If the defendant is placed on probation, he or she may be ordered to complete community service work hours, take a tour of the jail, write a letter of apology, obtain specific types of counseling, etc. The probationary period is not for a specific period of time. Rather, once the juvenile has completed all of the sanctions and stays out of further trouble, the probation will be terminated. If the Judge commits the defendant to DJJ, the Court must identify a restrictiveness level. DJJ recommends a commitment level, and the Judge ultimately commits the defendant, choosing the level that is most
appropriate. The are currently four different levels of commitment: (1) low risk programs that last from 30-45 days, (2) moderate risk programs that last from 4-6 months, (3) high risk programs that last from 6-9 months, and (4) juvenile prison that lasts from 18-36 months.  Victims of crimes committed by juveniles have the same rights as victims
of adult criminal offenses. Please see previous listing. In addition to these rights, victims of juvenile offenses can request to attend a different school than the victim or the victim’s siblings.
Any information gained by the victim or legal representative pursuant to their rights as a victim defined in Florida Statute 960 regarding any case handled in juvenile court, must not be revealed to any outside party, except as is reasonably necessary in pursuit of legal remedies.
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