The Juvenile legal system has been specifically instituted to deal with offenders who are aged below 18 years. Florida state law considers people juveniles up to the age of 17, though in rare cases, the courts may have jurisdiction on offenders who are up to 21 year old.
Juvenile courts hear cases involving violations of criminal law. However, instead of facing criminal charges, the defendants are accused of “delinquent acts.”
Parents with kids in such situations should get in touch with a Lakeland juvenile crimes lawyer. These professionals are specifically trained to build a defense for minors and get them the minimum penalties possible. These attorneys understand the mental, psychological, and emotional makeup of a young offender’s mind and know how the judicial system works.
Juvenile Cases are Sorted into Different Categories
Juvenile offenses are categorized into Delinquency Offenses and Status Offenses. The type and severity of the crime dictate penalties and punishment.
Delinquency offenses are those crimes that would result in a criminal trial if they had been committed by an adult. For instance:
- Taking money and other property that belongs to another person without consent. Typical penalties include paying a fine and restitution to the victim.
- Possessing a controlled or illegal substance while having full knowledge that it is a crime. Juveniles must go for drug counseling. In addition, the court might sentence them to house arrest, probation, or juvenile detention.
- Harassment, stalking, bullying, threatening, or causing any kind of emotional distress to the victims. Punishments can include house arrest and counseling. Most schools have anti-bullying policies and students committing the offense may be suspended.
Such crimes are only applicable to minor offenders.
- Florida state law defines a “habitual truant” as a student who misses 15 or more days of school within 90 calendar days without any proper excuse, even if they have parental consent. Students found guilty of truancy must take alternative classes or go for counseling. The court may also direct them to complete community service.
- The law attempts to keep minors safe from harm by enforcing a curfew. Florida state law restricts minors from appearing in public between 11:00 pm and 5:00 am from Sunday through Thursday. Violating curfew results in a written warning for the first offense.
- Minors found possessing or drinking alcohol are guilty of a misdemeanor according to Florida state law. They must pay a fine of $500 and will possibly get jail time.
The Law May Take Informal or Formal Actions to Discipline a Minor
The justice system, including police, prosecutors, and juvenile court judges, may choose to use formal or informal steps to deal with a case involving a minor. The appropriate action depends on the kind of delinquency act the minor has committed.
Many law enforcement officers will choose to issue a warning and let the juvenile go. Or, they may choose to hold them until their parents arrive.
If the case does go to juvenile court, the prosecutor might opt to forgo a formal hearing. The minor will appear before a judge who will award punishments that won’t be entered into their permanent record. Punishments typically include community service, counseling, or restitution and fines.
If the prosecutor opts to press formal charges, they file a petition in juvenile court. The minor is then arraigned and appears before a judge. Although the juvenile is entitled to an attorney, the case is heard without the presence of a jury. Depending on the delinquency act, the judge may choose any of these courses of action:
- The juvenile may plead guilty or no contest and get lesser charges instead. The judge may also award counseling or probation so that no further charges are filed.
- The court may choose to divert the case but maintain jurisdiction on the issue. The minor can avoid formal charges by taking counseling, rehabilitation, community service, or restitution.
- An adjudicatory hearing is when the judge hears arguments over the validity of the case as presented by the prosecutor and attorney. If the minor is found guilty, the judge “sustains the petition.”
Getting Competent Legal Representation for Your Child is Essential
Children get into all kinds of trouble while they’re growing up. But, their mistakes need not get a permanent mark or follow them through adulthood. If your child is involved in a delinquent act, make sure to hire the services of an experienced Lakeland criminal defense attorney.
Contact the attorneys at Smith & Eulo and ask for advice on how to handle the situation. They have extensive experience in navigating the judicial system and are familiar with how prosecutors work. You’ll need the assistance of lawyers at every step of the way from the arraignment to presenting a defense in case of an adjudicatory hearing.