Public Defenders And Juvenile Offenders

Interviewer: You mentioned public defenders. I know for adults, if you qualify, you can be appointed a public defender. How about juveniles? Can they be appointed public defenders?

Parental Responsibility: Affidavit of Insolvency

Amir Ladan: Yes. The process is also in place. But it would be the parent, not the juvenile, who would have to qualify for the public defender. The parent would normally fill out an Affidavit of Insolvency. The court would review that to determine whether the parent was insolvent or indigent. If they found that they are, they would appoint the child a public defender to represent them and their case. If the parent is not qualified for a public defender, then they’re obligated to sort that out.

I raise this point because sometimes the parent may be the victim of the case. This could be through physical abuse inflicted on them by their child or a financial wrongdoing. The child could have stolen the parent’s credit card and or had an accident with their car.

Here they are, the victims, and they’re obligated to worry about representation because they may not qualify for a court appointed lawyer. Sometimes there is frustration on the parent’s side because of that.

In summary, qualifying for court appointed representation is based on what the parent’s financial circumstances are.

Interviewer: That is an interesting fact. How often do you see cases where the children have committed crimes against the parents and the parent reported it and now they’re in this situation? Is it common?

Crimes Against the Parents

Amir Ladan: It happens a fair bit. I’ve handled quite a few of those. It’s not the norm. But, absolutely, any domestic violence case could be a parent and child scenario. I’ve got a couple of cases right now where the parent is the victim of the case.

Are Juvenile Sentences More Lenient Than Adult Sentences?

Interviewer: So, you mentioned this earlier but could you explain more about what the attitudes of the courts, the prosecutors and the judges in Central Florida court are? Are the pretty lenient because they realize kids are being kids? Or, are they looking impose harsher penalties to dissuade them from repeating their offense?

Amir Ladan: I think that they’re generally more lenient. Although I think you’ll encounter more “tough love” going on in juvenile court than in adult court. In a juvenile court setting, you’ll see and hear the judges speaking in a different manner to the client. They really address, head-on, some of their concerns or their perceptions about the case. This is in an effort to try to bring to light some issues they feel it important for the client to understand.

In adult court, there’s less of that going on. It’s more of a straightforward matter, you’re charged with x and the sentence for that is x and x and they impose the sentence and move to the next case.

Remediation of a Juvenile Offender to Avoid Repeat Offenses

In juvenile court, they’re going to take more time and energy on this matter. The effort is designed to be more therapeutic. I think most first time offenders, adults and juveniles alike; don’t fully appreciate what they’re dealing with. When an offender is a 16-year- old or a 14-year-old, the maturity level has not been fully developed and the offender is not fully able to comprehend what is going on.

They don’t necessarily understand the full range of the potential consequences. I know we might get to this later on, but juvenile offenses don’t just disappear off of your record. There’s this notion, I’m going to turn 18 and my charge is just going to “fall off.” No, it could remain on your record.

WHAT HAPPENS WHEN A JUVENILE OFFENDER TURNS 18?

Interviewer: What happens when a juvenile turn 18?

Amir Ladan: In Florida, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement is responsible for maintaining all criminal records. If you do a background check on somebody, that record can be discovered. The statues require the maintenance of juvenile records for five years beyond an offender’s 18th birthday. In the event that somebody gets in trouble between their 18th birthday and those five years, then it can actually make their juvenile record permanent as opposed to having it disappear. That’s one aspect of juvenile offenses that people aren’t aware of.

Juvenile Offenses Remain on the Record for 5 Years After the 18th Birthday

It’s generally assumed that people believe their record will disappear after their 18th birthday. Maybe that is the law in other states, but I can’t speak to other states. In Florida, that’s just not the case.

Interviewer: That’s good to know. I guess even at age 23, somebody can still be in a danger zone where if they commit another offense.

Juvenile Offenses Factor in Adult Sentences

Amir Ladan: Yes, the juvenile record can become permanent and then it really affects them. If the charge is a felony, for example, in the State of Florida they can have their priors score against them on a sentencing guideline score sheet. This sheet determines what the minimum sentence is a judge can oppose on a case.

That applies whether they get into trouble and it’s permanent or not. In other words, if a 21-year-old gets in trouble in felony adult court and they have a record that’s within five years of their 21st birthday, including juvenile offenses, those juvenile offenses can and are counted against them as a prior record.

Author: Amir Ladan
A former assistant state attorney for Orange/Osceola Counties, Amir has handled thousands of cases and dozens of trials, ranging from DUI and traffic offenses to murder, in both adult and juvenile court.

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