If your child has recently been arrested, you may have many questions about how the juvenile justice system works in Florida. The current system can be complicated and lead to serious consequences. In this post, we’ll explain the current system, guide you through the steps, and advise you on how to move forward.
Current Juvenile Justice Statistics for Florida
For the past five years, juvenile arrests have been steadily decreasing in Florida. In fiscal year 2012-2013, there were 85,495 arrests. By comparison, in fiscal year 2016-2017, 64,824 juvenile arrests were made. Still, many activist groups are trying to reform the Florida juvenile justice system because Florida sends more youth to adult prison than any other state.
Activist groups say that civil citations should be issued for first-time offenders rather than arrests. Since 2009, over 14,000 children between the ages of 10 and 17 were sentenced as adults. In 2016, nearly 11,000 citations were issued for offenses that could have led to juvenile arrests, which is one way to remedy the problem.
New bills being introduced in the Florida legislature in 2018 include other ideas for reform. You may see bills pass that require a minimum age of 14 for a minor to be tried as an adult, raising the automatic felony theft threshold from $300 to $1,000, and changes to minimum drug sentencing. A recent survey indicated that 60 percent of Florida residents favor rehabilitation for delinquent juveniles as opposed to penalties.
How Our Juvenile Justice Process Works
Here are the main steps in the Florida juvenile justice process as it stands right now.
First, law enforcement is involved. They either issue the minor a civil citation or arrest them and take them into custody.
Secondly, a juvenile probation officer meets with the minor. The probation officer assesses the risks and needs and makes a recommendation on whether the minor should be placed in a secure or non-secure detention center or sent home to await the hearing.
Within 24 hours of being taken into custody, the minor will make a court appearance for a detention hearing. The judge can keep the minor in a secure detention facility for 21 days. At the hearing the court can determine that the minor can be at home as the case progresses, and can order house arrest or other restrictions. During later hearings the court is informed as to whether the minor can be admitted to a diversion program, a detention alternative initiative, or otherwise how the process is evolving. Early in that process the prosecution announces whether the minor will be prosecuted as a juvenile or as an adult.
Next, if the parties are unable to reach an agreed-upon disposition, a non-jury trial called an adjudicatory hearing will be held. A judge will determine whether the minor has committed a delinquent act. If not, the case is dropped and the minor is released. If the minor is found to have committed a delinquent act, they may be “adjudicated to be delingquent” or guilty of violating the law, and placed on probation or into a residential facility to serve out a sentence.
If the judge decides to “withhold a finding of delinquency” it means that the minor did commit a violation but the judge withholds a pronouncement of delinquency. The minor will then be placed on supervised probation.
The minor will then meet regularly with a juvenile probation officer. The minor may be required to pay restitution and perform community service. Other requirements may include participation in counseling, treatment, and rehabilitation programs.
Parents will help their child stay on track in school and attend all further court hearings. After a diversion program is completed, a request can be made to seal the minor’s records. In some cases, parents can be held financially liable for a minor’s offenses.
Criteria for the Judge’s Decisions
Since the adjudication hearing has no jury, the minor’s future is largely in the hands of the judge. He or she will consider many different factors when deciding whether to assign delinquency.
Some of these factors may include the following:
- The level of the offense
- The age of the minor
- The attitude of the minor
- The minor’s previous delinquent or criminal history
- The evidence of the offense
- The relationship between the minor and the parents
What You Can Do to Help Your Child
What You Can Do to Help Your Child
You may feel angry, confused and frustrated by this process. That is completely understandable. However, it is to your child’s benefit that you keep a cool head. A professional demeanor will show the judge and others that you are taking this seriously.
You will also benefit from consulting with an experienced attorney who can help you navigate the complicated process and serve as an advocate. Call today for a free, confidential case review.
About the Author:
Attorney David W. Olson is the founder of the Law Offices of David W. Olson in West Palm Beach. He has been practicing criminal law and successfully representing clients throughout the State of Florida for over 30 years. Throughout his legal career, Mr. Olson has been honored numerous times for both his dedication and excellence in criminal law. He proudly holds the Martindale-Hubbell AV Rating, as well as being recognized as a Top 100 Trial Lawyer (2013), in the Nation’s Top One Percent of attorneys (2015), and as a 10 Best Member of the American Institute of Criminal Law Attorneys (2015). He has even received commendations from members of congress and other public officials for the fantastic work that he’s done. Mr. Olson graduated from the University of Florida’s Fredric G. Levin College of Law in 1981 and has been a member of the Florida Bar since 1983.