Understanding Juvenile Delinquency

Being arrested for a crime can be a scary experience—especially for a juvenile. One of the most important steps any parent can take during this time is to choose the right attorney. The right lawyer can explain your child’s legal situation, options, and next best steps, ensuring the best possible outcome for their future.

Thomas & Paulk is proud to be able to support clients throughout Tampa and the surrounding areas. We represent individuals accused of juvenile delinquency, from hazing accusations to underage drinking and driving. We are here to break down what you need to know about juvenile crimes and the charges you or your child may be facing.

Juvenile Delinquency in Florida: Key Terms & Definitions

Juvenile: Also referred to as a youth, minor, or child, a juvenile is a person who is under the age of 18 who has allegedly violated the law.

Delinquent Act: A delinquent act is an act that would be considered a misdemeanor or felony offense, had it been committed by an adult. Examples of delinquent acts include trespassing, theft, drug possession, and assault.

Adjudication: A formal finding of guilt, the equivalent to a conviction that an adult would face in criminal court. In juvenile court, this is also referred to as a finding of delinquency.

Adjudication Withheld: This means there was no formal finding of guilt/delinquency.

The Difference Between Delinquent & Criminal Offenses

As opposed to being labeled as a "criminal offense" similar to that of an adult, a child's actions will be labeled as a "delinquent act." Rather than sending this minor to trial for their actions, they will be required to have an adjudication on which the judge reviews the case. Once this is done, the next step is called a disposition which means that court (or the judge in this case) will give the last and final evaluation of the delinquent's case. Following this process, they will then sentence the minor, which details what they must do as a result of their delinquency.

What Happens When My Child Is “Arrested”?

Minors can’t be arrested like adults, but they can be taken into custody by law enforcement if they’re believed to have committed a crime (delinquent act). One of three things can happen when a minor is taken into custody.

According to juvenile delinquency processes in Florida, a minor may be:

  • Released to his parent or guardian
  • Given a Notice to Appear in court at a later date
  • Taken to the Juvenile Assessment Center (JAC) for “booking”

If your child is taken in for booking, this will include fingerprinting and photographs, contacting the minor’s parent or guardian, and a screening with by the DJJ. The screening is an interview, and the DJJ will use this to determine whether the minor may be released to his or her parent or guardian, released to house arrest, placed on electronic monitoring (by way of a GPS ankle device), or transported to the Juvenile Detention Center.

Florida Juvenile Detention Centers

There are 21 Juvenile Detention Centers in Florida. These secure facilities are used to detain juveniles who have been accused of delinquency and are awaiting court dates or placement in residential facilities.

Do Minors Face Less Severe Penalties?

If tried as a juvenile rather than an adult, a minor (10 to 18 years old) will most likely face very different consequences for their offense compared to if they were being tried as an adult. This will depend on the specific circumstances of the crime, such as whether anyone was injured, the juvenile’s record, and whether it would be considered a felony-level offense.

The key difference in juvenile delinquency matters is that a minor’s sentence will typically be focused on rehabilitation, rather than punishment.

A judge may opt to include the following in a juvenile’s sentence rather than jail or prison time:

  • Community service
  • Probation
  • Treatment programs
  • Therapy
  • Restitution
  • Other alternatives

Roper v. Simmons, Graham v. Florida, and Miler v. Alabama are all key cases in the development of the juvenile court system. Prior to these cases, more severe punishments were available for juvenile delinquency. Now, penalties are directed to be rehabilitative, as mentioned above. However, more serious punishment can be enforced if a maturity assessment reveals that a juvenile is mature enough to understand their actions and poses a more serious threat to society.

Understanding the Consequences of Juvenile Delinquency

Juvenile delinquency, or a finding of guilt in juvenile court, can have serious consequences for a minor. It can affect educational opportunities and result in job loss, loss of driving privileges, scholarship disqualification, and loss of access to public housing. DNA, photos, and fingerprints will be on the minor’s permanent record.¬†We understand how valuable the future is to a minor, and we are willing to do whatever it takes to help you fight to protect that future for your loved one.

Whatever the case may be, if your minor has been accused of a criminal offense at any level contact our office today. Our Tampa juvenile defense lawyers are ready to help.

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