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.
Melinda Morris is also experienced when representing students in middle school or high school who are suspended and then subjected to a disciplinary hearing. Our attorneys can represent you at the hearing for expulsion or change of placement after an arrest for a felony offense or a misdemeanor offense that allegedly occurred on campus.
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
- Florida Process for Juveniles
- Common Juvenile Charges in Florida
- Diversion Programs for Juveniles
- Youthful Offender Act
- Sentencing and Possible Punishments
- FAQs About Juvenile Offenses
- Resources for Juvenile Crimes
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.
Arrest by a School Resource Officer (SRO)
In many of these cases, the parent will first learn about the criminal accusation from the school. When a crime occurs at school, the offense is often investigated by a School Resource Officer or SRO. The SRO is often a witness in a criminal case being prosecuted in juvenile court.
Florida Statute §1006.12(2)(d), Florida Statutes, authorizes a district school board to enter into mutual aid agreements with one or more law enforcement agencies. In Pinellas County, any participating jurisdiction which has a contract with the School Board of Pinellas County (hereinafter referred to as “Board”) to provide School Resource Officers (hereinafter referred to as “SRO”) to schools within such jurisdiction may permit its SRO to accompany a school group, organization, or team to an authorized extracurricular function, event or activity held at another Pinellas school campus or leased venue, at the request of the Board or the principal of the school assigned to the SRO.
While engaged in these law enforcement activities, the School Resource Officer (SRO) will have the same law enforcement authority as though on his or her home campus. Notwithstanding any other provisions of the mutual aid agreement, compensation for these services will be as outlined in the contract between the Board and the participating jurisdiction.
The School Board in Pinellas County also works with the Schools Police Department that handles law enforcement issues that arise on school property.
Some of the most common juvenile offenses include:
- Driving under the influence
- Underage possession of alcohol
- Possession of a controlled substance
- Sexual offenses
- Possession of a fake ID
- Criminal mischief
- Possession of marijuana
- Boating under the influence
- Resisting arrest
- Traffic offenses, such as reckless driving
- Petit theft, such as shoplifting
- Disorderly conduct
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.
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
- 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.
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
- 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.
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
- 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.
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 awaiting 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.
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.