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Juvenile Offenses

When a person hears his or her child has been accused of a criminal act, there may be some confusion as to what to do next. Handling juvenile charges can be overwhelming and confusing, but it is incredibly important for the future of the child and his or her current well-being.

It is critical that both the parents and the child understand the charges against the juvenile and know their options when moving forward. The outcome of the case could have a serious impact on a child's life. An experienced juvenile defense attorney can provide insight into the system and help parents make an informed decision.

St. Petersburg Juvenile Defense Attorney

If your child has been arrested for a juvenile charge in Pinellas County or any surrounding county in Central Florida, contact a St. Petersburg criminal defense attorney at Morris Law Firm, P.A.. As a former a prosecutor, Melinda Morris served in the juvenile division with the Sixth Judicial Circuit in Clearwater. She now has more than 15 years of experience helping juveniles, and she can help your family through this difficult and overwhelming experience.

Call (727) 388-4736 to schedule a free initial consultation with Melinda Morris today. She understands the sensitivity of the accusations and can work to get a favorable outcome in your child's case. Morris Law Firm, P.A. represents juveniles throughout the Tampa Bay area, including St. Petersburg, Clearwater, Tampa, Largo, Pinellas Park, Palm Harbor, Dunedin and other surrounding areas.


Information About Juvenile Offenses


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Florida Process for Juveniles

When a person younger than 18 is accused of committing a criminal offense in Florida, he or she likely will be sent through the juvenile justice system process. This means the offense will be considered a juvenile offense and he or she will be handled differently than an adult in the criminal justice system.

Both the adult and juvenile justice systems rely on the same laws in Florida. It considers a crime to be a crime, regardless of how old a person is when it was committed. The difference is the sanctions imposed and the philosophy behind each system. The juvenile system focuses more on intervention, rehabilitation and prevention. However, the focus of the adult system is punishment and prevention.

After an arrest for an offense, your child will most likely go to a Juvenile Detention Center where he or she will be assessed by Department of Juvenile Justice officials. During this assessment, the officials will interview the minor and his or her guardians to assess the child's behavior and home life. The officials and the family will establish a plan to deal with the charges, which could vary greatly based on the severity of offense.

The department then will make a recommendation to either formally charge the juvenile or to allow the child to enter into a diversion program. In some cases, the juvenile could be tried as an adult, depending on several different factors. No matter the recommendation, the state attorney is in charge of the final decision concerning the child.


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Common Juvenile Charges in Florida

Some of the most common juvenile offenses include:

In most cases, juvenile possession of marijuana charges are charged as adult drug offenses. This means the offense would be heard in an adult criminal court. All the same rules of the criminal court apply. While the juvenile system is specifically interested in rehabilitation, that is not the case with the adult criminal system.

All drug possession consequences can be far reaching, and they can negatively affect employment, military or academic status. A drug conviction also could prohibit a juvenile from attending school or recreational activities and could lead to a two-year driver’s license suspension. This also could make the minor's record ineligible to be sealed or expunged.


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Diversion Programs for Juveniles

When a child enters into a diversion program, he or she basically will have the option to have the charges against them dropped. However, the child does not go without some repercussions for his or her actions. There are predetermined court requirements the juvenile must complete before the charges can be removed.

Some of the most common court requirements for juveniles in diversion programs include:

  • Community service
  • Counseling
  • Anger management classes
  • Rehabilitation programs
  • Writing an apology to the victim
  • Apologizing to the victim in person
  • Jury duty
  • Substance abuse counseling

When a juvenile in the programs completes his or her requirements, whether it is one or all of those mentioned above, he or she could have the charges dismissed. This means not having the burden of a criminal record and being able to move forward.

Another diversion option in Florida is Teen Court, a program in which other juveniles serve as the prosecutors, defense attorneys and jurors. An actual judge or an attorney is in charge of presiding over the Teen Court proceedings.

Before the session begins, the parent or guardian of the defendant must sign a contract agreeing to carry out the sanctions handed down by the Teen Court. This could include community service, apologizing or even counseling. Teen court only is available to first-time offenders between the age of 10 and 17 who face misdemeanor charges.


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Youthful Offender Act

The Florida Youthful Offender Act was adopted in 1978 to improve the possibility of rehabilitating and reintegrating young offenders into society by preventing their association with older, more experienced criminals in prison. Since the Act was originally passed, it has been expanded to include providing youthful offenders with enhanced vocational, educational, counseling and public service opportunities and other assistance.

A court may sentence a defendant as a youthful offender if the defendant:

  • Is at least 18 years old but less than 21 years of age at the time of sentencing
  • Is under 18 years of age but was prosecuted as an adult
  • Has been found guilty of or has pled nolo contendere or guilty to a felony, unless he or she was found guilty of a capital or life felony
  • Has not previously been classified as a youthful offender

The court has four sentencing options for a youthful offender:

  • Incarceration for no more than 364 days in a county facility, department probation and restitution center, or community residential center as a condition of community supervision
  • Community supervision
  • Incarceration
  • A split sentence of incarceration and community supervision

A community control program is a form of intensive supervised custody in the community, including surveillance on weekends and holidays, administered by officers with restricted case loads, according to state law. The freedom of the offender is restricted within the community, home or noninstitutional residential placement and specific sanctions are imposed and enforced.

The total period of incarceration, community supervision or a split sentence cannot be longer than six years or the maximum sentence for the offense if the maximum sentence is less than six years.


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Sentencing and Possible Punishments

Juvenile courts in Florida work with law enforcement, prosecution and defense lawyers, and the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice in devising rehabilitation plans for children in trouble with the law. The courts will try to ensure that the child learns from his or her experience and returns to the community as a productive citizen, without having suffered permanent harm.

If a juvenile is not accepted into a diversion program, he or she still may have other options rather than jail time. If it his or her first offense and a misdemeanor crime, the juvenile can face civil litigation. Some of the common penalties and recommendations of civil litigation include:

  • Community service
  • Regular drug tests
  • Paying restitution
  • School progress monitoring
  • Counseling
  • Substance abuse rehabilitation

A juvenile will be forced to stand trial for the offense if he or she is not accepted into a diversion program or the civil litigation program. This means he or she will be at the mercy of the courts. Penalties can vary depending on the crime and the child’s criminal history. In severe cases, juveniles can be charged as adults and sentenced to years behind bars.


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FAQs About Juvenile Offenses

Q

If your child is brought in for questioning, should he or she cooperate with law enforcement?

Q

Can your child be put in jail?

Q

If the police charge your child, what procedures follow?

Q

Are all law violations by children handled in juvenile court?

Q

Does your child have the right to be represented by an attorney?

Q

Does your child really need an attorney in delinquency proceedings?

Q

Does your child have a right to a trial in juvenile court?

Q

What is a "treatment plan?"

Q

What happens if your child is found guilty?

Q

Do you have any liability for delinquent acts committed by your child?

Q

Are juvenile court records confidential?

Q

Does this mean the media cannot publish your child's name?


Q If your child is brought in for questioning, should he or she cooperate with law enforcement?
A
Yes and no. A good general rule is to tell your child that if taken to the police station as a suspect, he or she should be cooperative, but not answer questions about particular offenses until you are there to help. Anyone taking a child into custody must try to notify the child's parent, guardian or legal custodian. Florida law says a child can be questioned outside the presence of his or her parents. However, in deciding whether a confession will be admitted as evidence against the child, the judge will consider whether the child fully understands his or her constitutional rights and whether the parents should have been present to advise the child.
 
Children do have the right to consult a juvenile lawyer before making a statement or answering questions, but in cases of minor offenses, it may not be necessary. However, if your child is charged with a major crime, such as a very serious property offense or a crime against a person for which he or she could be tried as an adult, or if your child is currently under any type of court supervision, you and your child should certainly consult with a criminal defense lawyer before speaking to the police.
 
Your child can be taken to the county jail and held to be fingerprinted and photographed upon a reasonable belief that he or she has committed a crime. These records should be kept separately, are not available to the public, and should be destroyed at specific points in time or by court order. The police are then required to release your child to you or another responsible adult relative, or Department of Juvenile Justice Intake for the purpose of releasing your child to you or detaining your child in a secure juvenile detention facility.

Q Can your child be put in jail?
A
No, unless your child has previously been tried and convicted in adult court, or is being transferred to adult court for the first time. If your child is held in jail, he or she must be separated from adult inmates by sight and sound.
 
Your child can be placed in "detention care" pending a court hearing. The DJJ Intake counselor will determine if detention is necessary based on specific criteria. Detention may include "secure detention" (physical restriction in a DJJ detention facility); "non-secure detention" (placement in a physically nonrestrictive residential facility supervised by DJJ); or "home detention" (placement at home with DJJ supervision).
 
If your child is detained, a reasonable effort must be made to notify you. A child may not be detained for more than 24 hours without a hearing before a judge to determine the need for continued detention. Once a child is placed into detention, an adjudicatory hearing (trial) must begin within 21 days. There is no right to a bail bond in juvenile proceedings.

Q If the police charge your child, what procedures follow?
A

Information concerning the charges will be furnished to the DJJ and to the state attorney for review. A counselor from DJJ will contact you and your child and arrange a conference to discuss the charge and your child's background.

Your child should refrain from answering questions about involvement in the actual crime, because this conversation can be used in court in many instances. DJJ will make recommendations to the state attorney concerning appropriate ways to handle the matter. These recommendations are advisory only; the state attorney will make the final determination as to whether or not formal charges (a delinquency petition) will be filed against your child.

In many parts of Florida, including St. Petersburg and Clearwater in Pinellas County, less serious offenses are handled by diverting the child from the formal judicial process into programs designed to remedy the situation without the need for court action. You should inquire about these programs.


Q Are all law violations by children handled in juvenile court?
A

No. If your child commits a violation of law pertaining to the operation of a motor vehicle, other than a felony traffic offense, the charges will be referred to the same court that handles traffic and motor vehicle offenses committed by adults.

Provisions in Florida law allow the prosecutor with the Pinellas County State Attorney's Office to transfer certain charges and certain children for prosecution in the criminal courts. A child, joined by his or her parents, has a right to demand to be tried as an adult. Cases also are referred to other programs outside juvenile court for resolution, such as a community arbitration program or a diversion program.


Q Does your child have the right to be represented by an attorney?
A

Yes. Florida law provides your child the right to be represented by a defense lawyer at all stages of any juvenile court proceeding. If the judge determines that you are financially able to do so, you have an obligation to provide an attorney for your child.

If you are not financially able to hire your own juvenile criminal defense lawyer, the court may appoint a public defender to represent your child. If a public defender is appointed, the court can assess a fee for the public defender's services against you as your child's parent or guardian. Any lawyer is obligated to represent your child's best interests and not necessarily the parent's wishes.


Q Does your child really need an attorney in delinquency proceedings?
A
That is a question your child, in consultation with you, will have to answer. Remember that your child's attorney will represent the child's interest. Discussions about the case between your child and his or her attorney are confidential. The criminal defense attorney will be as cooperative as possible with the parents, but cannot violate confidences between the attorney and your child.
 
If a delinquency petition is filed against your child, it is wise to have a criminal defense lawyer experienced in representing children in juvenile court determine whether there is a legal basis for the charge as well as whether the legal requirements were met before the charges were filed. This is even more important when the state attorney is seeking prosecution against your child in adult court.

Q Does your child have a right to a trial in juvenile court?
A
Yes and no. There is no constitutional right to be tried as a child merely because of age. A child may demand to be tried as an adult or may be transferred for prosecution as an adult under certain circumstances.
If a delinquency petition is filed against your child and he or she pleads not guilty, a trial will be held before a juvenile court judge. If the child is prosecuted as an adult, the trial will be the same as an adult criminal proceeding.

Q What is a "treatment plan?"
A

Florida law provides that a child who has had a delinquency petition filed against him or her can make a contract with the judge to be placed voluntarily under the supervision of DCF without admitting guilt. The child gives up the right to a speedy trial and agrees to obey specific conditions.

The judge promises that if the child complies with the conditions, the delinquency petition will be dismissed and the child's record will be wiped clean. If the child does not comply, the delinquency petition can be brought up again. The child will need the help of an attorney and the DCF counselor to prepare the required documents. The treatment plan is an excellent way for a child to "pay for the crime," without retaining a record in juvenile court. The plan must include the state attorney's consent to defer prosecution.


Q What happens if your child is found guilty?
A
If your child pleads guilty or is found guilty, the judge will go on to the dispositional phase of the delinquency proceeding to determine what should be done for your child. At the disposition hearing the court is required to consider a report prepared by DCF which contains information on your child and his or her background. The court is required to discuss the offense with your child and give everyone present, including the victim, you, your child, your child's attorney, the prosecutor, the arresting officer, and representatives of DCF and your school system an opportunity to comment on the offense and an appropriate disposition.
 
Many times a child is placed on probation, called community control, with specific conditions the child must obey. For children charged with serious offenses or who have a record of serious offenses, commitment to DCF may be ordered. The child is then placed in the custody of DCF. Commitment may be to a program in which your child still remains at home, or to a program in which your child is temporarily removed and placed in a residential facility.
 
A finding of guilt in a juvenile proceeding can later be used by the court in sentencing in adult court for subsequent criminal convictions under certain circumstances.

Q Do you have any liability for delinquent acts committed by your child?
A

You may. Florida law allows the juvenile court to order you to pay restitution to the victim of up to $2,500 for each criminal episode in which your child is involved. In these cases, your liability is limited to the actual damages plus court costs.

Additionally, another provision of Florida law allows the victim to sue you outside of juvenile court for damages done to his or her property by your child. You may wish to consult with an attorney if it appears an effort will be made, either in juvenile court or in a separate lawsuit, to hold you financially liable for damages done by your child.


Q Are juvenile court records confidential?
A

Yes. Juvenile records should be kept separate and apart from other court records. Accessibility is limited to the child, his or her attorney and parents, DCF, law enforcement, some school personnel and some correctional staff.

They should never be accessible to the general public. Even the records of related agencies are not accessible without permission of the court. As with police records, there is also a provision for their destruction at specific points in time. Victims also have a right to the information and reports.


Q Does this mean the media cannot publish your child's name?
A No, it does not. Juvenile court hearings are open to the public unless closed by the court. The press is free to publish any information gathered at a public hearing. Florida law also permits the police to release the name and address of a child 16 years of age or older who has been arrested for a felony.

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Resources for Juvenile Crimes

Florida Department of Juvenile Justice — The Florida Department of Juvenile Justice's mission is to escalate public safety by decreasing juvenile criminal behavior through operative prevention, intervention and treatment services that support families and turn around the lives of troubled minors.

Pinellas County Regional Juvenile Detention Center — The detention center houses 120 children in a secure facility being detained by the circuit court while waiting trial, sentencing or placement in various commitment facilities. The Juvenile Detention Center is located at the following address:

Juvenile Detention Center for Pinellas County
5255 140th Avenue North, Clearwater, FL, 33760

Overview of Delinquency Process — The Florida Department of Juvenile Justice website provides valuable information on the Intake process of juvenile law violators. If you child is in trouble with the law visit the FDJJ website to get a clear understanding of the Intake process.

Detention Services FAQs — Visit The Florida Department of Juvenile Justice for frequently asked question related to Juvenile Detentions Services.

Probation and Community Intervention FAQs — Visit The Florida Department of Juvenile Justice for frequently asked questions about Juvenile Probation and Community service sentencing.


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Finding A Juvenile Defense Lawyer in Pinellas County

Your child does not have to face the criminal justice system alone. Contact St. Petersburg juvenile defense lawyer Melinda Morris at Morris Law Firm, P.A.. As a former state prosecutor, Morris can assess the case against your child and explain the possible outcomes. Her team will research all legal issues in your child's case and pursue the best possible resolution for your child. Call (727) 388-4736 to schedule a free consultation today.

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