Juvenile Defense Attorney
Usually when someone under the age of 18 is charged with a crime in Florida, the Juvenile Justice System handles the case. These courts are different from the adult Criminal Justice System because the focus is rehabilitation, not punishment. In rare cases, a juvenile case is Direct Filed to the adult court system, usually when a repeat juvenile offender has committed a serious crime.
Whatever the case for your child, it is best to hire a qualified Florida juvenile defense lawyer to help you through the process. The sooner you get help, the better. The Juvenile Justice System works differently and tends to work faster than the adult Criminal Justice System. Here’s what you can expect from the process.
After Arrest in Florida
The law enforcement officer who arrested your child will take him or her to a Juvenile Assessment Center. There, a Florida Department of Juvenile Justice (FDJJ) counselor will prepare a risk assessment report to decide whether or not your child meets the criteria for secure detention. If not, your child may be released into your care for non-secure detention and will receive daily supervision from a FDJJ counselor. If your child breaks any of the rules of non-secure detention, then he or she may be put into the detention center.
The Detention Hearing
A detention hearing is required to be held within 24 hours of arrest if your child is held overnight. At this hearing, a judge will determine what conditions must be met in order to release your child, or the judge will decide that your child must remain in the juvenile detention center for up to 20 days.
Before the next court date, the Florida State Attorney will review the case, and if there is enough evidence, he or she will file a petition describing the charges.
Arraignment usually occurs around 3 weeks after your child’s arrest. In this hearing, your child will be informed of the charges filed against him or her and then be asked to enter a plea, such as Guilty, Not Guilty, or No Contest.
During the next stage, the attorneys will subpoena witnesses to give sworn statements under oath, and the State Attorney will provide the defense with any evidence they have, such as reports, documents, or recordings.
Pretrial Diversion Programs
In many cases, the State will drop the charges if the child agrees to complete a diversion program, which can include community service, counseling, restitution, and a letter of apology. If your child opts for this and then does not successfully complete the requirements, the charges are reactivated.
The Plea Negotiations
If your child has pleaded Not Guilty, he or she can change the plea to Guilty or No Contest in order to skip trial and go directly to sentencing. This is usually done in an effort to reduce the penalties your child will face.
If your child did not opt for a diversion program or take a plea, then the case proceeds to trial. There is no jury. Instead a Judge will announce the verdict after evidence has been shown and witnesses have testified and been cross-examined by your Florida criminal defense lawyer. If your child is found guilty, the Judge may ask the FDJJ to recommend sanctions in a pre-disposition report. This report gathers information on the child’s background, criminal history, and family circumstances to help the Judge make a decision on sentencing.
The Dispositional Hearing
This is a sentencing hearing where you will learn what penalties your child will face, such as:
This usually also include community service hour requirements, counseling, classes, or a letter of apology.
There are four difference levels:
- Low Risk Programs: 30 – 45 Days,
- Moderate Risk Programs: 4 – 6 Months
- High Risk Programs: 6 – 9 Months
- Juvenile Prison: 18 – 36 Months
Contrary to popular belief, a juvenile case is accessible during background checks and criminal records searches, and juvenile records are not expunged or deleted upon a child’s 18th birthday. Rather, the record is readily available to the State should the individual find himself in trouble with crime as an adult.
If your child has been arrested, it is in your best interest to hire an experienced Orlando juvenile defense attorney to protect your child’s rights in court. A juvenile offense is a serious matter with consequences that can affect your child’s future.
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