In Florida, criminal offenders under the age of 18 go through the state’s juvenile justice system, which focuses on attempting to rehabilitate young offenders instead of subjecting them to the adult court system. If your child has been accused of a crime, you need to understand how Florida’s juvenile justice system works.
If the juvenile is held in a detention center after being arrested, the court must hold a detention hearing within 24 hours of the arrest. The judge then decides whether the defendant should be released and, if so, what actions (if any) are necessary to protect the crime’s victim. If the defendant is not released, he or she may be held in the detention center for up to 21 days.
Once the State Attorney’s office has reviewed the officer’s formal complaint, victims are given the opportunity to give testimonies under oath:
- If the office determines that there is sufficient evidence, official charges are filed.
- If there is a lack of evidence, the victim has expressed the desire to have the case dismissed or witnesses cannot be located, no charges are filed.
- If no charges are filed, the case is closed but the juvenile still has an arrest record that can later be sealed or expunged.
For first-time offenders, Florida offers pre-trial diversion programs, such as Teen Court. If official charges have been filed, the defendant must attend an arraignment hearing to enter a plea of guilty, not guilty or no contest. Juvenile cases can be tried before a judge but not in front of a jury. At the trial, the judge delivers a sentence deemed appropriate for the crime. The sentence may include juvenile probation, mandatory enrollment in low-, moderate- or high-risk programs or a juvenile detention sentence of 18–36 months.
While Florida law does attempt to emphasize rehabilitation over punitive measures for juvenile offenders, your child may still face penalties that can damage his or her future. Contact a criminal defense attorney right away.