Crimes committed in Florida by individuals under 18 are typically handled by the Juvenile Justice System, which focuses on rehabilitating youth offenders, instead of the adult court system, which is generally more punitive.
The Florida Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) plays a significant role in administering the Juvenile Justice system in the state. However, in some cases, a juvenile offense could be “direct filed” to adult court if the case involves a repeat juvenile offender or a juvenile offender who has committed a serious crime.
The Florida Juvenile Justice Process
A Florida juvenile criminal case typically proceeds as follows:
- The juvenile is arrested by law enforcement at the time of the crime. If no arrest is made, an investigation will begin. Law enforcement will present a sworn complaint accompanied by evidence to the State Attorney’s Office, who will determine whether probable cause exists to believe that the suspect committed the crime.
- If the juvenile is held in a detention center, a detention hearing will occur within 24 hours of the arrest. At the hearing, the judge will decide whether to release the defendant and order them to have no contact with the victim or require them to remain in the detention center for up to 21 days.
- Once the State Attorney’s Office receives the formal complaint, they will review the case and determine whether to file formal charges (a petition). If no charges are filed against the juvenile, a “no petition” is issued, the investigation is over, and the case will be closed. However, the juvenile will still have an arrest record that can be sealed or expunged.
- After filing a petition, the juvenile defendant will attend an arraignment hearing. They will be advised of the charges against them, and the judge will determine whether they need an attorney’s assistance. If they cannot afford an attorney, a public defender will be appointed. The defendant or their attorney will enter a plea of guilty, not guilty, or nolo contendere (no contest). If they plead not guilty, the case will proceed through the system. If the juvenile pleads guilty or no contest, they may be sentenced immediately, or the case will be set for a dispositional hearing.
- Cases moving through the Florida juvenile system will proceed through discovery and be tried before a judge with no jury, witnesses may or may not be presented, and the defendant may or may not testify. At the disposition hearing, the defendant will either be placed on juvenile probation or committed to the DJJ at one of four degrees: low-risk – 30-45 days, moderate-risk – four to six months, high-risk – six to nine months, or Juvenile Prison for 18-36 months, depending on the severity of the crime. If the defendant fails to comply with their probation requirements, they may be required to attend a compliance hearing.
Although the Florida Juvenile Justice system strives to focus on rehabilitation, a juvenile offender may still face severe consequences, and any conviction could affect their future academic and employment opportunities. An experienced Florida juvenile crime defense attorney will make compelling arguments to have the charges reduced or dropped altogether and strive to maximize a juvenile’s opportunity to obtain a positive outcome.
Contact an Experienced Vero Beach Juvenile Crime Defense Lawyer
Vero Beach Attorney Susan Chesnutt, a lifelong Florida resident and former DCF investigator, has always put the best interests of Florida youth first. For aggressive representation in a Florida juvenile criminal matter, contact our firm online or call 772-242-0524 today.