Juvenile Theft Attorney in Jacksonville, FL
If your child is facing juvenile charges for theft, you may not be inclined to take it too seriously. The gravity of juvenile theft charges is often overlooked for two reasons. First, many people wrongly assume that juvenile charges never carry serious consequences and that the minor’s record will automatically be cleared when he or she reaches adulthood.
Second, “juvenile theft charges” bring to mind a kid swiping a candy bar or an adolescent pocketing a $5 bracelet–something many people mentally write off as something like a rite of passage. It’s true that shoplifting consequences for minors can be mild in some cases. But, that’s not a sure thing. And, “theft” takes in much more than petty larceny.
Florida Theft Crimes
Juvenile theft charges are based on the same Florida criminal statutes as adult charges would be–only the process and range of possible consequences differ. At the simplest level, theft occurs when someone:
- Knowingly obtains, uses, attempts to obtain, or attempts to use someone else’s property with the intent to:
- Deprive the owner of the right to or benefit of the property (even temporarily), or
- Appropriate property for their own use or the use of someone else who isn’t entitled to it
Some theft charges are more serious than others, based in part on the value of the property.
The least serious is petit theft in the second degree. This is a catch-all theft charge that applies in any situation not falling into one of the more serious classifications and includes theft of property that is worth less than $100. Many shoplifting crimes are charged as petit theft in the second degree. The maximum jail sentence is 60 days.
Petit theft in the first degree is also a misdemeanor but carries a possible penalty of up to one year in jail. A theft crime is classified as petty theft in the first degree if the property stolen is worth at least $100 but less than $750.
Grand theft in the third degree, involving property valued at $750 or more but less than $20,000, is a felony. The possible penalty is up to five years in prison.
There are two additional degrees–grand theft in the second degree and grand theft in the first degree–that carry much more serious penalties. However, these charges typically involve property valued at $20,000 or more and are not common in juvenile cases.
However, more serious charges may result based on factors other than the value of the property. For instance, theft of law enforcement equipment valued at $300 or more is a serious felony, as is theft resulting in more than $1,000 in property damage.
Florida Juvenile Theft Crime Statistics
Juvenile theft crime is more common than you may think. In one recent year, 7,391 juveniles in the state of Florida were arrested for theft crimes. That means juveniles accounted for about 11% of the theft arrests in the state.
The number is even higher when you take into account specific theft crimes that fall outside the general “larceny” classification. In the same year, 2,210 Florida juveniles were arrested for motor vehicle theft. And, about 120 were arrested for buying, receiving, or possessing stolen property.
How is the Florida Juvenile System Different?
The Florida juvenile justice system differs from the adult criminal justice system in many ways. Some of those differences benefit the juvenile, but not all. For example, a minor charged in the juvenile system doesn’t have the right to a jury trial.
When law enforcement first makes contact with a juvenile accused of an offense, several different things can happen. The next step depends in part on factors such as the offense involved, the juvenile’s age, and whether or not the juvenile has had prior contacts with law enforcement. The possibilities include:
- A civil citation
- Release to the probation office
- Release to a diversion program
- Transport to a Juvenile Assessment Center (JAC) for assessment
If the minor is to be detained after assessment, a detention hearing is held within 24 hours. Here, too, there are multiple possible outcomes. For instance:
- The court may place the juvenile in a diversion program
- The court may order detention pending further proceedings
- The court may grant the prosecuting attorney time to petition for leave to try the minor as an adult
Assuming the case proceeds in the juvenile court system rather than adult court, the remaining steps are similar to, but not identical to, an adult court proceeding. The juvenile is arraigned and given the opportunity to admit or deny the allegations. If the accused admits to the allegations, the court may go straight to disposition or may delay disposition and order a “predisposition report” to assist in determining the appropriate disposition.
If there’s no admission, the court will schedule an adjudicatory hearing. This is the juvenile equivalent of a trial, except that there is no right to a jury. As in an adult proceeding, the prosecution must prove the allegations beyond a reasonable doubt.
If the prosecutor fails to meet that burden, the court will find the child not guilty. If the court finds that the minor did violate the law, it may adjudicate the minor delinquent (similar to a finding of guilt in an adult trial) or withhold adjudication. If the accused has been adjudicated delinquent, a disposition hearing will be scheduled. Possible dispositions include commitment to a juvenile detention facility, an order to pay restitution and/or perform community service, home detention or probation.
Trying Florida Juveniles as Adults
Under certain circumstances, the prosecuting attorney will file charges directly in adult court. Although this is the exception and not the rule, direct filings to adult court are not uncommon in Florida. In one recent year, more than 1,000 Florida juvenile cases were filed directly in adult court. Under Florida law, these direct filings may impact children as young as 14. And, though it’s rare, a child younger than 14 may be indicted through a grand jury proceeding.
A juvenile convicted in adult court in Florida can be sentenced to serve time in an adult jail or prison. In fact, a report released a few years ago showed Florida leading the nation in the number of minors in adult correctional facilities.
Florida Juvenile Theft Adjudication Can Have Serious Consequences
As you can see, the range of possible outcomes in a Florida juvenile case, including a juvenile theft case, is significant. The juvenile may enter into a diversion program involving certain rules and requirements, such as performing community service, attending counseling, or making restitution. When the diversion program is successfully completed, the charges are dropped. At the other end of the spectrum, a child may be adjudicated delinquent and detained by the state. Or, worse, transferred to adult court to face adult penalties.
Your best first step after your child has been taken into custody or accused of a juvenile offense is to speak with a Jacksonville criminal defense attorney who specializes in juvenile cases. Because the juvenile system operates so differently, it is important to consult an attorney who is familiar with that system, and who can advise you in detail about the possible outcomes and your options for moving forward.