The Law Doesn't Go Easy on Children Because They're Young You Need an Experienced Lawyer to Fight for Them

Tampa Juvenile Crime Defense Lawyers

Helping Minors Across Florida Since 2001

In Florida, the most common types of juvenile crimes usually involve drugs, underage drinking, violations of probation, or violence. Unlike the adult criminal process, the juvenile criminal process focuses on rehabilitating minors instead of punishing them. Many people believe that minors are more likely to learn from their mistakes, in comparison to their adult counterparts. Therefore, juveniles will often face legal consequences that are more focused on getting mental treatment, learning to obey rules, and adding structure to their day-to-day lives.

If your son or daughter was recently arrested, you probably have a lot of questions about the juvenile justice process in Florida. Continue reading or call (813) 321-7323 to get the answers you need.

Understanding Florida's Juvenile Court System

What a minor will face after an arrest is far different than what an adult will experience. It is important to recognize that the juvenile justice system focuses on rehabilitation rather than punishment.

For this reason, the consequences of juvenile crimes are typically viewed as laxer, allowing for the minor to receive the guidance that they need to become a fully functioning, active member of society. According to the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ), they work hard to deal with crimes that have already been committed and to prevent crimes, through their Office of Prevention and Victim Services. It is their goal to help intervene with youth that they deem to be "at risk."

What You Can Expect with the Juvenile Court System

The first step of the juvenile justice system is contact with law enforcement or a civil citation. The latter allows for the justice system to proceed without the need for law enforcement. Following either of those, the minor will be taken into custody, not arrested as an adult would be. From there, they will be taken to a Juvenile Assessment Center, or a screener will be notified and brought to them.

At this point, there are several paths that the case can take. In one case, the child may be referred to a diversion program; these are designed to help curb delinquent behavior and to be an alternative to the child becoming immersed in the legal process. In some cases, the youth may be classified as "low-risk." In these cases, the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative (JDAI) may become the best option. This is a community-based program that allows the youth to avoid being detained. In other cases, the minor will undergo Detention Risk Assessment Instrument (DRAI) to determine detention.

If the child is "high-risk," they will be placed into a secure detention center while further legal action is pending. If not, they may be permitted to stay at home until their court date arrives.

Non-Judicial vs. Court Intervention

To help you better understand how the system works, we are going to explain the difference between non-judicial intervention and court intervention, among other essential aspects of the juvenile court system.

To begin, we’ll discuss non-judicial intervention. Your child’s Juvenile Probation Officer (JPO) may recommend that the state attorney have your child complete a non-judicial diversion program, which has its benefits. If the JPO’s recommendation is approved by the state attorney, you and your child would have to sign a “waiver of speedy trial” agreement. By signing this agreement, your child waives his or her right to a speedy trial, and your child agrees to fully complete the diversion program.

If your son or daughter successfully completes the diversion program, the state attorney will not pursue any further action against your child. However, if your teen fails to complete the program, he or she will be in big trouble. From there, the state prosecutor would go ahead and formally charge your teen with a delinquent offense.

Once the JPO has reviewed all the documentation and evidence of a case, he or she may suggest that the State Attorney’s Office charges the juvenile offender with a delinquent offense. In the legal world, this is known as recommended court intervention.

Each juvenile offender is different, and each case is different. While one juvenile may be recommended for non-judicial diversion, another may be quickly recommended for court intervention because of their criminal history and the seriousness of the crime.

Three Possible Outcomes for Juvenile Court Proceedings

If the State Attorney decides to file a delinquency petition, then it will be filed with the Juvenile Division of the Circuit Court, which is a special section of the court that handles juvenile violations and cases. Keep in mind that once your child’s case has been tried in Juvenile Court, your teen’s JPO will no longer have the ability to recommend diversion; they lose that power after the case has been tried in the Juvenile Court.

The next step will be dealing with the question of guilt. There are three possible outcomes:

  • The case will be dropped, which means the prosecution has decided not to pursue the case.
  • Adjudication will be withheld, which means that there is enough evidence to deem the child guilty, but adjudication will be withheld, and the child will be placed into community supervision. In many cases, the minor will meet with a Juvenile Probation Officer to come up with a Youth-Empowered Success (YES) plan to help set up goals and plans.
  • The minor will be adjudicated. If found guilty and adjudicated, they may be committed (placed into a residential facility or put into other supervision).

If your child has been accused of committing a grave offense or has a history of committing crimes, please be aware that their JPO may recommend that your child is prosecuted as an adult.

Florida Has Unique Hazing Laws for Minors

Hazing is a crime that is often done to others for mental and physical harassment. It is often linked with the initiation into a social group or organization. Under Florida law, most hazing by college students is left to the disciplinary actions of the university administration. When it comes to hazing situations that lead to criminal prosecution, the offense will be charged under general state laws.

Hazing might include the following:

  • Pressuring a person in violating laws
  • Forced consumption of food, liquid, drugs, or any other substance
  • Activities that cause mental stress including humiliation, loss of sleep, and more
  • Any physical abuse such as beating, whipping, branding, or exposure to the elements

A bill was created in 2005 that made hazing a criminal offense. It was inspired by the death of Chad Meredith, a Florida university student who was a victim of hazing. Under the law, if the act of hazing has created risk of injury or death, it can be charged as a first degree misdemeanor. If the hazing resulted in bodily injury or death, the offense will be charged as a third degree felony or higher.

In July of 2019, Florida passed a new hazing law that increased penalties on those who planned a hazing, even if they weren’t present for the actual event. The law is the first of its kind and is known as Andrew’s Law. It was named after Andrew Coffey, a pledge from Florida State University who died in 2017 after he drank too much alcohol during a hazing event.

When Are Minors Tried as Adults?

With certain serious felonies, Florida law requires that juvenile offenders are tried as adults. If your child’s case is sent to Adult Court, it may do so by means of a direct file, a waiver, or an indictment. If your child is subject to any of these, he or she may be tried as an adult for the offense committed, which means your child may be subjected to the same sentencing and penalties as an adult.

If your child’s JPO does recommend your child for Adult Court, the Florida Department of Corrections will get involved in your child’s case, and they will give their recommendations to the Adult Court.

Why You Should Contact a Tampa Juvenile Defense Lawyer

If your son or daughter is facing criminal charges in Tampa, we urge you to contact our criminal defense firm to schedule a free case evaluation. We understand what your family is going through, and we provide the hardest-hitting defense possible.

Having a skilled juvenile crime attorney will play a significant role in the way the courts handle your case. For instance, the courts will prosecute certain juvenile offenses as adult crimes, with adult penalties. A skilled defense lawyer will be able to negotiate with the prosecution to work to have those charges lowered. At Thomas & Paulk, P.A., we are dedicated to helping minors who have been arrested or charged with a juvenile crime.

Call (813) 321-7323 to meet with a former prosecutor about your child’s case!

Avoiding Severe Penalties

According to the law, numerous illegal acts are categorized as juvenile crimes in the state of Florida. When a minor has been charged with committing a juvenile crime, it is imperative that they consult a skilled attorney. Without proper legal defense, the prosecution will likely push to have the minor tried as an adult, especially if the crime is violent in nature. Being tried as an adult means much harsher sentencing.

A lawyer can get involved from the onset of the legal process and provide insight and direction as the person’s case progresses. The sooner a defense attorney can understand the details of the charges against the minor, the more he or she can do to provide reliable defense against the prosecution.

Additionally, a lawyer can negotiate with judges and prosecutors to possibly have the person’s criminal charges reduced, or in some cases, dismissed entirely.

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At our law firm, we are here to help you during challenging times. To get the help that you deserve, give us a call today.

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Criminal cases become significantly more complicated when surrounding a minor. The key in these cases is to ensure that your child is not tried as an adult, if a better outcome cannot first be obtained.

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