Juvenile Criminal Lawyer – Understanding and Defending Juvenile Crime Charges in Ocala, Florida: A Complete Guide
Children make mistakes. It’s a part of growing up. However, being young doesn’t mean you’re above the law. But given that a lack of maturity and self-awareness often causes children to commit crimes, the state of Florida treats young offenders differently, that’s why hiring an experienced Juvenile Criminal Lawyer is extremely important.
In most cases, children are not punished as severely for their crimes as adults would be, though this isn’t always the case. The courts will pursue punishments based on the specific nature of the crime as well as the offender’s personal record.
The process involved in filing and pursuing juvenile crime charges is also different from the process for charging adults. Understanding it is the first step in your defense and in mitigating the impacts these charges might have on the future of the accused.
What is a Juvenile Crime?
Very simply, a juvenile crime is a crime committed by someone who under the age of 18. Anyone falling into this category will be the responsibility of the Department of Juvenile Justice.
However, just being under 18 doesn’t mean you automatically qualify for juvenile justice. In the state of Florida, children as young as 14 can be tried as adults if their crimes are considered serious enough.
For the most part, this is reserved for violent crimes such as murder and rape. It is possible for juveniles to be tried as adults for other crimes, but this is much rarer.
Efforts are being made to raise this age limit to 17, given the undue stress prison puts on children. But as of now, these efforts have stalled in the state legislature, which keeps the minimum age at 14.
Special Considerations for Juvenile Crime Charges in Florida
In Florida, prosecutors do not need to seek permission from a judge to file charges on a child in adult court. Instead, they can do so directly. It’s quite possible, however, for juvenile cases to flip-flop between both courts systems.
For example, an offender can be detained as a juvenile, tried as an adult, but then returned to juvenile court for sentencing. The consequences for this can be more severe, particularly when it comes to the offender’s record. A guilty verdict in regular court will stay on your record, whereas juvenile court decisions eventually get wiped away.
Most juvenile crimes are related to assault, theft, trespassing, vandalism, etc. But any law that applies to adults also applies to kids. The only difference comes in how those charges are pursued and how punishments are handled.
How Are Juvenile Crime Charges Processed in Florida?
When a child is arrested for potentially committing a crime, their first stop is the Juvenile Assessment Center (JAC). There, law enforcement officials will determine the appropriate course of action.
Specifically, this is the moment where the decision of whether to pursue juvenile justice is made. If further detention is deemed necessary, then the parents will be notified, and the child will be taken to a Juvenile Detention Center.
Although children are viewed differently in the eyes of the law, they are still afforded certain protections, such as a trial. Therefore, if a child is being charged with a crime, they cannot be held in detention until the trial is over.
The only exception to this is if the presiding judge deems the child a risk to either themselves or the public if released from custody. Such a decision will be made at the child’s detention hearing, which will take place within 24 hours of the arrest.
If the judge deems it appropriate to release the juvenile offender, then they will also issue a “Juvenile Notice to Appear.” For this to happen, though, an adult — usually the child’s parent or legal guardian — must promise to bring the child to court on the specified date.
In some rare cases, the judge will not issue a “Notice to Appear,” which means the accused will be taken back into custody.
However, a child cannot be held in a detention center for more than 21 days (sometimes 30 in the event of extenuating circumstances) without a trial.
At this point in the judicial proceedings, the judge may rule that the accused qualifies for a pre-trial diversion.
Typically, these programs include community service, reparations, admissions of guilt, letters of apology, etc., all designed to help the child understand the severity of their actions without having to subject them to a trial and potential incarceration.
The big advantage of a pre-trial diversion is that, if completed, it immediately removes the arrest from the child’s record. The idea is to teach children about the consequences of their actions without completely jeopardizing their futures with a juvenile conviction and sentence.
Because of this, it’s wise to try and pursue a pre-trial diversion, even if the judge or prosecution does not immediately offer it.
This something you should discuss in-depth with an experienced criminal defense attorney. They will provide you with all your options and will also recommend the most appropriate course of action.
If a pre-trial diversion is not granted, or if it is not completed, the case proceeds to trial.
However, juvenile trials are different from those granted to adults in that there is no jury. Instead, all decisions about guilt are made by the judge, and so is sentencing.
Other than that, a juvenile trial looks very similar to any other trial. Attorneys on both sides will be allowed to call and cross-examine witnesses, and the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused did in fact commit the crime.
Once the trial is over, the judge will deliberate and issue a verdict. If found guilty, the next step is sentencing.
When it comes to sentencing, juvenile crimes are once again handled differently. In general, there are two options when it comes to juvenile sentencing:
- Incarceration in a Juvenile Detention Center
Most juvenile cases result in probation, which is a period in which the accused is allowed to go free but must follow certain restrictions, the most important being to stay away from any other criminal activity.
In probation cases, a Juvenile Probation Officer will be assigned, and it will be the juvenile’s responsibility to maintain contact with this person and show that they are complying with the terms of their probation.
The maximum amount of time a juvenile can spend in a Juvenile Detention Center in the state of Florida is 36 months, but this amount of time is reserved for the most serious offenders. Most juvenile detention programs last between 30 days and six months.
Once a juvenile is released from detention, they will likely enter a probation period that will last for as long as the judge determines it is appropriate.
Defending Against Juvenile Crimes Charges
In many ways, defending against juvenile crimes charges is the same as for any crime. The only difference is that there is no jury and there are more options to pursue, such as a diversion.
To maximize your chance of achieving the best-possible outcome from the trial, it’s important to work with an experienced juvenile criminal lawyer. They will help you design your defense and review all your options so that you can make an informed decision about what to do in your situation.
Expunging a Juvenile Record
The purpose of the juvenile judicial system is not to ruin a child’s life. Instead, it is meant to install a series of consequences that will correct their behavior and discourage them from committing another crime in the future.
As a result, juvenile convictions do not stay on your record forever.
In fact, they are automatically expunged between the ages of 24 and 26. When a record is expunged, it is sealed from public view. Records may still exist, but they can only be accessed with a court order.
Once your record is expunged, you are legally allowed to declare that you did not commit the crime in question.
However, if you commit another crime between the ages of 18 and 26, you may be disqualified for this expungement.
It is also possible to petition the courts to have juvenile records expunged before the age of 26. The courts deal with this on a case-by-case basis. If you have juvenile crimes on your record, get in touch with a juvenile crimes attorney today to see if you can expedite the expungement process.
Don’t Let Juvenile Crimes Derail Your Future
Juvenile crimes are still crimes. As such, they are a serious matter. However, if you are facing juvenile crime charges in Ocala, Florida or anywhere else in the state, you have options.
Get in touch with the experienced legal team at Smith & Eulo so that we can review your case and help you navigate the juvenile judicial system and keep your juvenile crimes from dominating and ruining your future.
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*Here are some useful legal resources in Ocala and Marion County to help you navigate your legal situation.