What is Juvenile Defense?
The juvenile court system is a special legal system designed to deal with offenders who are under age 18. Juvenile courts handle cases in which minors are accused of violating criminal law, but operate as civil proceedings. Instead of being charged with crimes, juvenile offenders are accused of committing “delinquent acts.”
Lawyers who provide juvenile defense in Kissimmee have specialized training in how to deal with the mental and emotional capabilities of young offenders, as well as how to navigate the rules of the juvenile court system. While there’s no minimum age for juvenile cases in Florida, offenders can be tried as juveniles up to age 17 in most cases. Rare exceptions give the juvenile court jurisdiction up to age 21.
Juvenile Defense in Kissimmee
Juvenile cases are divided into different categories depending on the type and severity of the offense. Commonly, these include matters of delinquency (crimes which if committed by an adult would result in criminal trial) and status offenses (violations which only apply to minors). Smith & Eulo Law Firm’s Kissimmee office provides defense in both situations.
- Theft – Minors who commit theft steal money and personal property without the owner’s permission. Common punishments include fines and restitution to the property owner.
- Drug Possession – Juvenile drug possession occurs when a person under 18 knowingly and without legal justification possesses a controlled or illegal substance. Punishments may include drug counseling, six months probation, house arrest or juvenile detention.
- Harassment – Minors commit harassment in a variety of ways, from stalking to bullying, behaving in ways that annoy, threaten or cause their victim emotional distress. Punishments vary significantly, ranging from house arrest to counseling. In schools which have anti-bullying policies, students might face non-criminal penalties such as suspension.
- Truancy – Every school in the country maintains strict student attendance regulations. In Florida, a “habitual truant” is a student who is marked as having 15 or more unexcused absences within 90 calendar days regardless of parental consent. Students who violate this may be required to attend alternative classes, do community service or undergo counseling.
- Curfew Violation – The legal system tries to keep minors safe by enforcing a curfew. In Florida, minors may not be in a public place between 11:00 p.m. and 5:00 a.m. of the following day, Sunday through Thursday. Minors who commit curfew violation receive a written warning for their first offense.
- Minor in Possession of Alcohol – The state of Florida prohibits anyone the age of 21 from possessing and consuming alcohol. The first offense is a misdemeanor requiring a $500 fine possible jail time.
Minors might need juvenile defense in Kissimmee for any number of reasons, like the ones outlined above. But it’s important to have the right lawyer team in their corner, especially if it comes down to appearing in juvenile court.
When a juvenile is suspected of committing a crime in Kissimmee, the police, prosecutors and juvenile court judges use their discretion to take informal and formal steps to deal with the case.
Before an individual case even goes through the legal system, police officers can choose one of three options: Issue a warning and let the minor go, hold the minor until a parent comes or arrest the juvenile and refer the case to juvenile court. If a case is referred to juvenile court, a prosecutor might elect to forgo a formal hearing. In this case, the juvenile offender will appear before a judge and face punishments not entered into their record. This might include counseling, restitution/fines and/or community service.
Juvenile court operates differently from adult criminal court. If a prosecutor opts to file formal charges, they will enter a petition in juvenile court, after which the minor is arraigned in front of a judge. Importantly, juveniles have the right to an attorney, but in most states they do not have the right to a jury. This holds true in the state of Florida. According to FLA. R. JUV. P. 8.110, “The adjudicatory hearing shall be conducted by the judge without a jury. At this hearing the court determines whether the allegations of the petition have been sustained.”
In court, a few different things can happen depending on the severity of the crime, the judge’s discretion and the advice of counsel:
- Plea Agreement – The juvenile pleads guilty or no contest in exchange for lesser charges. The offender must comply with specific conditions, such as counseling or probation to avoid being subject to further charges.
- Diversion Program – The judge diverts but maintains jurisdiction over the case. During this time, the juvenile undergoes counseling, rehabilitation or performs an act like restitution or community service. Failure to comply results in formal charges.
- Adjudicatory Hearing – Defense and prosecution both present evidence to argue the validity of the case. After hearing the arguments, the burden of handing down the verdict falls on the judge. For guilty verdicts, a delinquency ruling is called “sustaining the petition.”
In rare cases, juvenile cases are transferred to adult court by waiver after a formal hearing. Only repeat juvenile offenders or those who have committed serious offenses like rape or murder are subject to the waiver process.
Sentencing for Juveniles
Juvenile courts can impose a variety of sanctions if a judge finds the juvenile to be delinquent. This might include confinement in a juvenile detention facility or house arrest. But not all sentences involve imprisonment. Juvenile offenders may also face mandatory counseling, curfew and/or probation.
Let Us Handle Your Juvenile Defense Case in Kissimmee
Has your child been accused of a crime and now requires juvenile defense in Kissimmee, FL? The ordeal itself is emotionally draining enough, so let us worry about the legal details. Contact Smith & Eulo Law Firm to discuss your situation and possible solutions today.