Do Minors in Juvenile Criminal Cases Have the Same Constitutional Rights?

Juvenile criminal proceedings are different from adult criminal court proceedings in many ways. When it comes to constitutional rights, however, juveniles enjoy many, but not all of the same protections that an adult defendant would. As such if your child has been alleged to have committed a crime also known as being alleged delinquent, it’s important to know their rights, and to get the help you need to enforce those rights as early in the proceedings as possible.

Constitutional Rights Juveniles Share With Adult Criminal Defendants

In Florida, a criminal proceeding against a juvenile defendant is known as a delinquency proceeding. But some of the important constitutional protections that extend to juvenile delinquency proceedings include:

The Right to Counsel

A juvenile in a Florida delinquency proceeding has the right to be represented by an attorney, just as an adult criminal defendant would. This includes the right to have an attorney appointed if the juvenile’s family cannot afford an attorney.

The Right to be Informed of the Charges or Allegations

The Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution grants criminal defendants the right to be informed of the exact nature of the charges against them. This right also extends to juveniles in delinquency proceedings. For both adults and juveniles, this typically takes place at an arraignment hearing. At the arraignment hearing, the accused will be provided with a copy of the charge or charges leveled against them. For juvenile defendants, these charges can be found in a document known as a “petition”. Further at an arraignment, a juvenile defendant will also be asked to enter a plea. Since most juveniles have not had the opportunity to fully consult with a juvenile lawyer at this point, it is generally best to enter a plea of not guilty so that a juvenile defendant may consult with an attorney. If a guilty plea is entered, many of the rights described here and others not listed are lost. This will tie the hands of a juvenile criminal attorney representing your child.

The Right to Freedom from Unreasonable Search and Seizure in Violation of the Fourth Amendment

Juveniles have the same constitutional rights as adults regarding being free from unreasonable searches and seizures. It is important to note, though, that some areas are not protected by this right. For example, schools can generally search lockers or allow law enforcement to do so without a warrant. However, if the juvenile’s rights were violated, the exclusionary rule applies in juvenile proceedings just as it does in criminal court. That means that if evidence was found through an illegal search, a juvenile criminal attorney may be able to keep that evidence out of court.

The Right to Confront and Question Witnesses

The Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution gives criminal defendants the right to be confronted with witnesses against them. In practical terms, this means that in all but very limited circumstances the accused has the right to cross-examine a witness who is providing testimony against them. Having said this, generally, the cross-examination or question of such witnesses is actually done by the attorney for the accused. It is also worth noting that the right of confrontation established within the Sixth Amendment does not however mean that the alleged victim of a crime has to testify at a trial in order to be convicted.

This right applies equally to juvenile defendants in juvenile delinquency proceedings in Florida, and the defense lawyer representing the juvenile can cross-examine the state’s witnesses in a juvenile proceeding.

The Right to Compulsory Process

Both adult criminal defendants and juveniles facing delinquency proceedings have the right to compulsory process to secure witnesses on their behalf. In practical terms, this means that a juvenile in a delinquency proceeding has the right to subpoena witnesses to testify at the hearing. If a witness who has been subpoenaed fails to appear, the court can take action to secure that witness’s presence.

The Right to Remain Silent

Even though a juvenile delinquency hearing is not technically a criminal proceeding, the Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination applies. That is because the right relates to the substance of the testimony and not to the type of proceeding. In fact, a person – adult or juvenile – can claim the Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination even in a civil proceeding such as a personal injury case if the testimony might tend to incriminate them.

Do Adults Have Constitutional Rights that Juveniles Do Not?

There are two key constitutional rights that apply in adult criminal proceedings and do not apply in juvenile delinquency proceedings. Both have to do with the trial.

First, a juvenile does not have a right to a public trial. While adults are constitutionally entitled to a public trial to help ensure that they are treated fairly, juvenile proceedings are typically confidential and courtrooms are typically closed during juvenile adjudication hearings.

Second, a juvenile is not entitled to a trial by jury. The reasoning behind not extending this right to juveniles is that juvenile proceedings are not, and are not intended to be, fully adversary proceedings like adult criminal trials. The United States Supreme Court has reasoned that a right to trial by jury might change the nature of juvenile proceedings from a more informal and protective proceeding to a fully adversarial one.

What Rights Does a Juvenile Tried as an Adult Have?

A juvenile who is tried as an adult, in the adult criminal court system, has all of the same constitutional rights as an adult would.

Protecting Your Child in Florida Juvenile Delinquency Proceedings

Knowing your child’s constitutional rights in a Florida juvenile delinquency proceeding is the first step toward protecting your child. However, if you are like most parents, you do not know exactly when and how to invoke those rights or how to ensure that they are respected. An experienced Florida juvenile criminal defense attorney can be your best resource.

The earlier in the process you speak with a juvenile defense lawyer, the better your opportunity to fully protect your child’s rights and build the foundation for the best possible outcome for your child.

Jacksonville attorney Matthew Lufrano has extensive experience in both adult criminal proceedings and juvenile delinquency proceedings in Florida. This depth of experience in both systems allows Mr. Lufrano to protect your child’s rights and guide you through navigating the system whether your child is ultimately tried as a juvenile or as an adult.

To learn more about how Lufrano Law can help if your child has been alleged delinquent or charged with a crime as an adult, call 904-513-3905 right now, or fill out the contact form on this website.