Being charged with any crime should be taken seriously as Florida sentencing guidelines can be harsh. This is especially true for juveniles as criminal convictions can affect them for the rest of their lives – including getting into college and taking out student loans.
If you are a juvenile, or the parent of a juvenile, who has been arrested for a crime, contact a Broward County juvenile defense lawyer to review the charges, discuss what legal defenses might apply to your situation. A skilled criminal defense attorney can determine whether you might be eligible to participate in one of Florida’s diversion programs and have the charges against you dropped altogether.
Broward County Juvenile Justice System
Florida law often treats juveniles differently than adults through its juvenile justice system. According to Florida Statute Code Sec. 985.01, criminal offenses committed by someone under 18 are generally managed by Florida Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) rather than by the Florida Department of Corrections. While there are exceptions to this for juvenile repeat offenders or those who have committed serious crimes, the process generally consists of an investigation, detention, the state attorney’s investigation, arraignment, discovery and trial, and the disposition hearing.
Investigative Phase of the Justice Process
When a juvenile is arrested for a crime, Florida police provide the State’s Attorney with a sworn complaint with the evidence against the juvenile to determine whether probable cause exists to detain them. Then, juveniles can be detained while awaiting a hearing which generally occurs within 24 hours of an arrest.
A judge will determine whether to release or detain the juvenile and whether any particular circumstances exist to warrant limited or no contact with alleged victims. Detainment can last for up to 21 days.
The state will follow up, and investigate the evidence and determine whether to file charges against the juvenile. It is important to keep in mind that Florida has many pre-trial diversion programs available to first-time offenders. In many situations, first-time offenders will be sent to teen Court – a non-judicial juvenile diversion program for those under 18 years of age. A Broward County juvenile defense lawyer can attempt to mitigate the penalties that an individual may face.
If a juvenile is charged, they will be arraigned – meaning that there will be a hearing where they will be notified as to the charges against them and a judge will ask them how they plead. If they plead guilty, they could be sentenced immediately.
Otherwise, the judge will direct the juvenile and the state prosecutors on how to proceed. At this point, lawyers will engage in the discovery process which entails interviewing witnesses, taking depositions, and more. Eventually, a trial will take place which can be either in front of a jury or just a judge. How long that process takes depends on the facts and circumstances of the situation.
Lastly, there is the disposition hearing, where juveniles found guilty will be sentenced by a judge who will either place them on juvenile probation or commit them to the DJJ at one of four levels:
- Low risk. These programs generally last between 30 and 45 days
- Moderate risk. These programs generally last between four and six months
- High risk. These programs generally last between six and nine months
- Juvenile prison. Incarceration can last between 18 and 36 months
Depending on the age of the defendant and the crime committed, there is always a chance that a juvenile who reaches 18 can be transferred to a prison run be the Florida Department of Corrections to serve out their term. Having an experienced Broward County juvenile defense lawyer is very important to protecting a juvenile’s rights.
Talking to a Broward County Juvenile Defense Attorney
Florida juvenile criminal convictions can affect someone for the rest of their lives including getting a job, renting an apartment, taking out loans, and more. Your future is too important not to talk with an experienced Broward County juvenile defense lawyer to determine what legal defenses might apply to your situation and if you might be eligible to participate in one of Florida’s diversion programs.