Juvenile Criminal Defense Lawyers

Defending Florida Families Facing Juvenile Court Proceedings

Many people underestimate the seriousness of Florida juvenile crimes. Unfortunately, this can mean families are unprepared for the consequences their minor children accused of crimes may face–both directly and indirectly. 

Some of the most common misconceptions about juvenile crimes include: 

  • An expectation that no serious consequences arise out of juvenile justice proceedings–juvenile offenders may be sentenced to residential facilities, required to pay restitution, and face other consequences;
  • A belief that kids are automatically released to their parents pending adjudication–in fact, the state may detain a juvenile for up to 21 days pending resolution of a case;
  • The assumption that all minors are kept in the juvenile justice system–in Florida, the prosecutor has the discretion to try children in adult court;
  • The idea that the right to counsel doesn’t extend to delinquency proceedings–your child has a legal right to be represented by an attorney in a juvenile case;
  • The belief that all juvenile adjudications are automatically sealed or expunged when the child reaches adulthood–the treatment of juvenile records depends on a variety of factors

These beliefs can lead to serious mistakes, including appearing in court unprepared to successfully argue against detention pending the hearing. Some families even make the mistake of encouraging the minor to admit to the charges at the first hearing, in hopes that taking responsibility will allow them to resolve the matter quickly and painlessly. While that inclination is understandable, it can be dangerous. Once a juvenile enters a guilty plea, he or she gives up certain rights. And, parents who are unfamiliar with the Jacksonville juvenile justice system are often unaware of the potential consequences. A guilty or no contest plea means the court can move straight on to sentencing also known in juvenile court as disposition.

On the other hand, a not guilty plea generally preserves your options. It gives you and your family a chance to consult with a juvenile defender if you are not already represented, and it gives your attorney the opportunity to confer with the prosecutor, assess the strength of the case against your child, and discuss the options with you. If no agreement is reached, you will still have the option of knowingly and intelligently entering a guilty plea or proceeding to trial. 

Possible Consequences in Juvenile Delinquency Proceedings

A minor who has been adjudicated delinquent (the equivalent of being found guilty in a criminal proceeding) may face a wide range of consequences, including: 

  • Commitment to a residential facility, which may be in a different part of the state; 
  • Probation, which may include restrictions such as a curfew;
  • Restitution;
  • Community service

There may also be indirect consequences, including loss of access to scholarships, HUD housing, and other opportunities. The school board must be notified of certain adjudications, and some offenses may lead to expulsion from school.

Florida juvenile adjudications may involve consequences for parents as well. The parents of a child involved in a delinquency proceeding may be required to take parenting classes, to perform community service along with their children, to make restitution, and to pay fees associated with detention care.

If your child has been adjudicated delinquent, contact the appellate attorneys at Johnson & Lufrano to find out your rights and what your options may be.

Protect Your Child and Yourself

The best way to protect a child (and his or her family) who has been accused of a crime is to work with an experienced Florida juvenile law attorney from the beginning. A knowledgeable juvenile defender can assist at every stage of the proceeding, including:

  • The detention hearing, where an experienced juvenile court lawyer can fight to have the child released into your custody pending the adjudication hearing also known as a trial or resolution of the case; 
  • Negotiation with the prosecution for dismissal or reduction of charges or placement in the diversion program;
  • Opposing transfer to adult court;
  • Representation at the adjudicatory hearing;
  • Application for juvenile diversion expungement or early juvenile expungement

At Johnson & Lufrano, P.A., our attorneys are experienced in both juvenile delinquency proceedings and adult criminal trials. Therefore, if a juvenile is tried as an adult, we are able to seamlessly make the transition and continue representation in the criminal courts. 

To learn more about how we can help you protect your family after your child has been accused of a crime, schedule a free consultation with one of our juvenile court lawyers. Just call 904-513-3905 or fill out the contact form on this site to get started.

FAQs about Florida Juvenile Crimes

Can juveniles be tried as adults in Florida?

Yes, in some cases minors in Florida are tried in adult courts. In fact, an unusually high percentage of juvenile offenders are tried as adults in Florida. During the 2018-19 fiscal year, 1,096 juveniles in Florida were sent into the adult criminal justice system.

In some cases, prosecutors have the discretion to file charges in adult court without any type of hearing in juvenile court. In other cases, they are required to file in adult court. Children as young as 14 may be tried as adults based on direct filing in the criminal court system, without any court overview. 

Although it’s less common, a juvenile under the age of 14 can also be indicted by a Florida grand jury.

When is a juvenile tried as an adult?

A Florida prosecutor has the discretion to file adult criminal charges against a person who was 14 or 15 at the time the crime was committed if the crime in question is one of several listed crimes, including arson, sexual battery, rape, kidnapping, aggravated assault or battery, armed robbery and other serious crimes. 

A minor who was 16 or 17 at the time of the crime may be charged as an adult for any felony, and may be charged as an adult for a misdemeanor if he or she has at least two prior juvenile adjudications and at least one involved a felony.

Under certain circumstances, the prosecution can also petition the court to “waive” the juvenile into adult court. This process is known as an involuntary waiver. Depending on the specifics, an involuntary waiver may be discretionary (meaning that the prosecutor can decide whether or not to request transfer to adult court) or mandatory (meaning that the prosecutor must either make the request or provide written reasons for not doing so). 

A child may also be tried as an adult in Florida if the minor and his or her parents make a demand for transfer to adult court. This is known as a voluntary waiver.

Is there a minimum age for juvenile charges?

About half of U.S. states set a minimum age for juvenile delinquency proceedings, but Florida is not one of them. Depending on the circumstances, a child of any age can be adjudicated delinquent.

Can juveniles be detained before they have a trial?

When a juvenile is initially apprehended on suspicion of having committed a crime, he or she may be held briefly before appearing in court. Florida juveniles do not receive a bond; court’s review a Risk Assessment Instrument to determine whether the child scores for straight release, home detention, or secure detention (in a juvenile detention facility).  The more serious the offense, the more a child will score. Under most circumstances, a court may only hold a child in detention for 21 days before the prosecution must try the case or allow release pending resolution. 

If a child is direct-filed or transferred to adult court, they will be detained in the county jail much like any other adult criminal defendant.

Does a juvenile accused of a crime have a right to counsel?

Juvenile court proceedings are different from adult criminal court proceedings, and not all of the same protections apply. However, a juvenile accused of a crime does have a right to be represented by an attorney. Generally, it is in your best interest to consult an attorney immediately after your child has been accused of a crime, whether that means a juvenile delinquency proceeding or adult criminal charges. Even a juvenile court can impose serious consequences, including placement in a residential facility. During the 2018-19 fiscal year, there were more than 2,800 commitments of juveniles to residential facilities in Florida. 

Juvenile proceedings differ from adult criminal proceedings, so you will want to speak with an attorney who has specific experience in the juvenile justice system.

What is a pre-arrest diversion?

In Florida, law enforcement can choose to issue a civil citation for certain juvenile crimes, rather than making an arrest. This option is available for first offenses that are considered common youthful misbehavior, and include fighting without serious injury, minor shoplifting, vandalism, trespassing and similar offenses. 

This program requires that the juvenile fulfill certain obligations, including community service, writing letters of apology and undergoing risk assessment to determine the likelihood of subsequent offenses.

Can juveniles go to jail in Florida?

Most juveniles who are sentenced to confinement in Florida are committed to residential facilities throughout the state. The specific facility a juvenile is sent to and the conditions in that facility depend on factors such as the crime committed and the level of security required. 

But, juveniles who are tried as adults may be sentenced to adult prisons. In 2017, the State of America’s Children report listed Florida as the state with the most juveniles incarcerated in adult jails and prisons.

What is a conditional release?

A conditional release is a type of monitored release intended to help ensure a successful transition for a juvenile who has been released from a residential facility. Conditional release is similar to probation; however, a violation of conditional release could result in a transfer hearing wherein the Department of Juvenile Justice makes the decision to send the juvenile back to a residential facility without court oversight.

What happens if a juvenile violates probation in Florida?

When a juvenile is alleged to have violated probation in Florida and admits to the violation, the court has broad discretion to modify the terms of probation, impose sanctions, or revoke probation. If the juvenile denies having violated probation, he or she is entitled to a hearing and has a right to an attorney during that proceeding. If the court determines that a violation has occurred, the judge has the same options as if the juvenile had admitted to the violation.

Is a delinquency adjudication a criminal conviction?

A delinquency adjudication in the juvenile justice system is not technically a criminal conviction. However, the adjudication can have some of the same impacts as a criminal conviction. For example, a juvenile adjudication can disqualify the minor from possessing  a firearm or ammunition, either until the age of 24 or permanently. A juvenile adjudication may also be an obstacle to military service, and may be considered a disqualifier by some employers. And, under some circumstances, juvenile dispositions are treated as prior convictions for purposes of adult sentencing.

If a juvenile is tried as an adult and found guilty, that determination is a criminal conviction and may have further reaching consequences.

Can a juvenile be listed on the sex offender registry?

Yes, juveniles who are adjudicated delinquent on the basis of certain sex-related offenses may be required to register as a sex offender if the crime was committed when he or she was 14 years or older.  This requirement would place the child on the public sexual offender registry. As such, it is especially important to seek qualified legal representation if your child has been accused of a sex-related crime.

Are juvenile records sealed in Florida?

Many people believe that a juvenile record is automatically sealed when the person adjudicated delinquent becomes an adult. However, the process is more complicated and less certain than that. First, while some juvenile adjudications are automatically expunged, this doesn’t happen as soon as the person turns 18. In many cases, automatic expungement doesn’t happen until the adjudicated person turns 26. And, some adjudications aren’t eligible for automatic expungement at all. 

In some cases, it is possible to petition the court to have records expunged earlier.

How common are juvenile arrests in Florida?

Juvenile arrests in Florida have declined over the past several years, in part due to the pre-arrest diversion program. In the 2018-19 fiscal year, there were just under 55,000 juvenile arrests in the state of Florida.