Juvenile Appeals

Board-Certified Attorney Commited to Protecting Florida's Youth

There is still plenty of hope for minors whose criminal adjudicatory hearings (known more commonly as trials) have ended unfavorably. Thanks to the criminal appeals process for juveniles in Florida, the disposition (final outcome) can be appealed if certain criteria are met, giving the child a second chance for a better outcome. Because the juvenile appeals process can be lengthy and complicated, it is highly recommended that you work with an attorney who is familiar with juvenile criminal defense and appeals. In addition, you should have an understanding of what you can expect during this process.

Juvenile Crimes

In Florida, juvenile crimes are those offenses committed by individuals under the age of 18. Children often have trouble deciphering between right and wrong and lack the maturity to remain in control of their emotions and actions at all times. Juvenile criminal activity is often referred to as juvenile delinquency or juvenile offenses. A delinquent youth is a person who has violated the law before reaching 18 years of age. And a delinquent act is any illegal act committed by a youth under the age of 18 who has not been sentenced as an adult for a felony. 

Some of the most common charges seen for this age bracket include the following:

  • Trespass 
  • Burglary
  • Grand Theft
  • Petit Theft
  • Grand theft auto
  • Disorderly Conduct
  • Underaged Drinking and Smoking
  • Drug Violations
  • Criminal mischief or Vandalism
  • Aggravated Assault and Battery
  • Sexual Offenses

The goal in juvenile delinquency court is to rehabilitate juvenile offenders in an effort to deter them from committing the same crime in the future. It is a misconception that juvenile records are automatically sealed upon the child reaching the age of majority.  As such, juveniles should always determine if an appeal is warranted.

Grounds for Appealing Juvenile Delinquency Dispositions in Florida

An appeal is a response following the outcome of a juvenile adjudicatory hearing (trial), plea of guilty, or entry of a restitution order. While judges generally have the final word in a case, errors do happen. In these instances, an appeal of the outcome may be warranted. 

The juvenile delinquency appeal procedures are found in Florida Statute Sections 985.534-985.536. Florida’s juvenile trial courts oversee two of these procedures:

  • motion for rehearing under Rules 8.130; 
  • motion to correct an illegal disposition Rule 8.135; and
  • motion for extraordinary relief under Rule 8.140

Motion for Rehearing: Juvenile Court

After the court has entered an order ruling on a pretrial motion, an order of adjudication, or an order withholding adjudication, any party may move for rehearing upon one or more of the following grounds:

  1. That the court erred in the decision of any matter of law arising during the hearing.
  2. That a party did not receive a fair and impartial hearing.
  3. That any party required to be present at the hearing was not present.
  4. That there exists new and material evidence which, if introduced at the hearing, would probably have changed the court’s decision and could not with reasonable diligence have been discovered before and produced at the hearing.
  5. That the court is without jurisdiction of the proceeding.
  6. That the judgment is contrary to the law and evidence.

A motion for rehearing must be made within 10 days of the entry of the order being challenged and can be made as soon as the court announces its judgment. Rule 8.130(b)(1). If the motion is in writing, it must be “served as provided in these rules for service of other pleadings.” Rule 8.130(b)(2).

Motion to Correct an Illegal Disposition: Juvenile Court

A motion to correct any disposition or commitment order error, including an illegal disposition or commitment, may be filed as allowed by this subdivision. The motion must identify the error with specificity and provide a proposed correction. A response to the motion may be filed within 15 days either admitting or contesting the alleged error. Motions may be filed by the state under this subdivision only if the correction of the error would benefit the child or to correct a scrivener’s error.

  1. Motion Before Appeal. During the time allowed for the filing of a notice of appeal, a child, the state, or the department may file a motion to correct a disposition or commitment order error.
  2. Motion Pending Appeal. If an appeal is pending, a child or the state may file in the trial court a motion to correct a disposition or commitment order error. The motion may be filed by appellate counsel and must be served before the party’s first brief is served. A notice of pending motion to correct disposition or commitment error shall be filed in the appellate court, which notice shall automatically extend the time for the filing of the brief, until 10 days after the clerk of the circuit court transmits the supplemental record under Florida Rule of Appellate Procedure 9.140(f)(6).

Extraordinary Relief: Juvenile Court

On motion and upon such terms as are just, the court may relieve a party or the party’s legal representative from an order, judgment, or proceeding for the following reasons:

  1. Mistake, inadvertence, surprise, or excusable neglect.
  2. Newly discovered evidence which by due diligence could not have been discovered in time to move for rehearing.
  3. Fraud (intrinsic or extrinsic), misrepresentation, or other misconduct of any other party.
  4. That the order or judgment is void.

The motion must be made within a reasonable time – for the first three bases, not more than one year after the judgment, order, or proceeding was taken. Rule 8.140(b).

As you can see from the grounds for each motion, a trial looks at the facts and evidence of the case, an appeal instead looks at issues that could have negatively impacted the ruling in the original case.

Starting a Juvenile Direct Appeal

All appeals must be performed after the judge’s final decision and after the disposition (sentence) is determined. In Florida, juveniles must make their appeals within 30 days following the guilty finding. If appealing directly, the child, parent or guardian must appeal to the correct Florida district court as described in the Florida Rules of Appellate Procedure.

The appeal will usually be started by filing a Notice of Appeal with the lower court clerk. Filing fees for both the Clerk of the Circuit Court and the District Court of Appeal are also required at that time. For an indigent individual, the fees may be waived, but the individual must first be declared indigent by a judge. The clerk will then forward the appeal to the correct district court. In most cases, this notice is filed electronically.

Juvenile Appeal Process in Florida

As mentioned, the appeal process is far different from the initial trial. The appeal only focuses on those parts that are contested in the initial trial rather than on the original facts of the case. 

Once the process is started with the filing of the notice, a record will be created, which will include a transcript of the trial as well as documents filed during the trial process. You may not have to file the entire record with the clerk for your appeal. In addition, you must assure preparation of the transcripts by the court reporter.

Next, you will need a written brief. The brief is a very detailed written legal argument detailing the issues for appeal. The brief will describe what was deemed to be wrong with the judge’s original rulings and findings and will contain arguments supporting this viewpoint. Because the appellant’s brief is so detailed and because it must follow very specific guidelines, it is vital that you have an expert juvenile appeals attorney prepare this for you.

You and your attorney may determine that an oral argument will benefit your position. However, the court will determine whether or not it will hear an argument in your case. You must request oral argument and the Court will decide whether it is necessary.  If so, your attorney will present your argument before a three-judge panel. An oral argument will last no more than 20 minutes per side.

Next, the court will look at your brief, consider the oral argument, and possibly conduct its own research into the case. This information will help the three-judge panel reach a decision; which may issue a written opinion in your appeal. An opinion, if included, will help the initial trial court judge determine whether or not he should take any new actions.

How Long Does the Juvenile Appeal Process Take?

While you have only 30 days in which to file a Notice of Appeal following the disposition in your case, there is no set timeframe for the completion of the appeals process that follows. The length of the process depends on the individual case, the number of documents recorded, and many other factors. Usually, an appeal will take anywhere from several months to one year to complete; although some may last longer.

How Can Johnson and Lufrano, P.A. Help?

At Johnson and Lufrano, P.A., the rights of minors are paramount in our minds. You need someone knowledgeable on your side if you are planning to appeal a juvenile disposition. We can help you understand your rights while also helping you through the lengthy legal process. Because appeals must be filed swiftly, it is important to contact us as soon as possible in order to give yourself the best chance for a successful appeal.