Juvenile Crimes

The juvenile justice system is meant to rehabilitate, but when minors are accused of crimes, they need help. Their futures depend on it. Our firm delivers the skilled juvenile defense counsel minors deserve.

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, using a fake ID, probation violations, 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 than their adult counterparts. Therefore, juveniles will often face legal consequences that focus on getting mental treatment, learning to obey rules, and adding structure to their day-to-day lives.

However, if your child has been accused of committing a grave offense or has a history of committing crimes, they could be charged and prosecuted as an adult in Florida.

If your son or daughter was recently arrested, you probably have a lot of questions about the juvenile justice process in Florida. Juvenile crimes are handled in a completely different manner than crimes involving adult offenders. You need an attorney experienced with the juvenile justice system to provide effective defense counsel. 

About Florida's Juvenile Court System

When a person under the age of 18 is accused of committing a criminal offense in Tampa, Florida, they face far different proceedings than adults.

The juvenile justice system focuses on rehabilitation, 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 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."

Having a skilled Tampa juvenile crime attorney will play a significant role in how 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 negotiate with the prosecution to work to have those charges lowered. At Thomas & Paulk, we are dedicated to helping minors who have been arrested or charged with a juvenile crime.

Defending Minors' Rights

If your son or daughter is facing criminal charges in Tampa, we urge you to contact our juvenile crime defense firm to schedule a free initial consultation. We understand what your family is going through, and we're committed to providing the best defense possible. 

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About Juvenile Court in Tampa, FL

What to Expect with Juvenile Court

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 the case can take. The child may be referred to a diversion program, designed to help curb delinquent behavior and offer an alternative to legal proceedings. Or, the youth may be classified as "low-risk." In these cases, the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative 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 a Detention Risk Assessment Instrument 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 with their family until their court date.

Non-Judicial vs. Court Intervention

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

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 state attorney approves the JPO’s recommendation, you and your child would have to sign a “waiver of speedy trial” agreement. Your child waives their right to a speedy trial and agrees to complete the diversion program by signing. If they complete the diversion program, the state attorney will not pursue further action. However, if your child fails to complete the program, the state prosecutor would formally charge them with a delinquent offense. 

Once the JPO has reviewed all the documentation and evidence, they may suggest that the State Attorney’s Office charge the juvenile offender with a delinquent offense, also known as recommended court intervention. 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 history and the seriousness of the crime.

Three Possible Outcomes

If the State Attorney decides to file a delinquency petition, it will be filed with the Juvenile Division of the Circuit Court, a special section of the court that handles juvenile violations. 

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

  • The case will be dropped, meaning the prosecution has decided not to pursue it.
  • Adjudication will be withheld, which means 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 develop a Youth-Empowered Success (YES) plan to 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).

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 through a direct file, a waiver, or an indictment. If your child is subject to these, they may be tried as an adult, which means they 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.

Florida's Unique Hazing Laws for Minors

Hazing is a crime that 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. The offense will be charged under general state laws when it comes to hazing situations that lead to criminal prosecution.

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 in Florida. 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 a 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 would be charged as a third-degree felony or higher. The penalties for these are severe.

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. The law is known as Andrew’s Law. It was named after Andrew Coffey, a pledge from Florida State University who died in 2017.

Call a Tampa Juvenile Defense Lawyer

Numerous illegal acts are categorized as juvenile crimes in Florida. When a minor has been charged with committing a juvenile crime, 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 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 they can do to provide a reliable defense against the prosecution. Additionally, a lawyer can negotiate with judges and prosecutors to possibly have the person’s criminal charges reduced — or dismissed entirely.