When a minor is charged with a crime, it can be incredibly stressful for the entire family. Parents and their minor children are often scared, mad and sad about the fact that something like this happened to their family as well the possible consequences.
Juvenile defense law is a highly technical area of law, covering many different chapters of the Florida Statutes. Because of this, it is extremely important that when a minor has been charged with a crime, the family works with an experienced West Palm Beach juvenile defense lawyer. A skilled defense lawyer is their best asset.
Adult Courts vs. Juvenile Courts
Florida, just like every other state, has a separate legal system for juvenile offenders and adult offenders. The system for minors is called the Juvenile Justice System and in most cases, it is the courts in this system that will hear the minor’s case.
The Juvenile Justice System is meant to rehabilitate juvenile offenders instead of punishing them. The idea is that minors have the rest of their lives to be contributing members of society, and that rehabilitation time in the juvenile system will be enough to deter them from turning to a life of crime.
Just like adults, the crimes committed by juveniles and tried in the juvenile system can range from minor misdemeanors to serious felonies.
However, the State Attorney has the authority to determine whether a juvenile case should be tried in adult court. This is called a direct file where the prosecutor decides on their own that either the facts or the juvenile’s previous record warrant the case being moved to and resolved in Adult Court. These are typically violent crimes, but can also be serious drug violations and residential burglary. In these cases, the juvenile will be tried as an adult and could possibly receive the same sentence, including a State Prison sentence and/or probation, just like an adult would. The goal of Adult Court is to punish more than rehabilitate like in Juvenile Court. An experienced West Palm Beach juvenile defense lawyer will seek to have the charges dismissed, reduced and/or remain in the Juvenile Court instead of being direct filed in the adult system.
Other circumstances in which a juvenile may be tried in adult court are: if the minor has a prior criminal record, if the child is close to the age of maturity, or if the crime was particularly severe or violent.
It can be devastating for families when a juvenile is moved to Adult Courts to be tried. An experienced juvenile defense lawyer in West Palm Beach can help fight to keep the minor within the Juvenile system.
Punishments for Juvenile Offenders
As stated above, the purpose of the Juvenile Court System in Florida is not to punish minor offenders, but to rehabilitate them. Juveniles who are first offenders and are accused of a minor offense may qualify for a Juvenile Diversion Program. These programs are designed to rehabilitate the young offender and reward them with a dismissal of their case upon completion of the specific requirements of the program.
Whether you are eligible depends on the alleged conduct the terms would are often negotiated by your West Palm Beach juvenile defense attorney. Juvenile Diversion Program participation is often at the discretion of the Prosecutor.
In order to do so, minors will not necessarily be sentenced to prison time, but they may be ordered to the Department of Juvenile Justice Residential Program, or another public facility that specializes in the rehabilitation and treatment of Juvenile Offenders.
These programs utilize alcohol and substance abuse programs, help youth overcome behavioral problems, address educational requirements, teach vocational skills and use other treatments for rehabilitation so that the Juvenile has a better chance of living a law-abiding productive life in our community.
Even when a Juvenile is charged with an offense, however, it does not necessarily mean that they will end up in a juvenile detention facility. Minors can also be sentenced to community service, receive fines, and be ordered to rehabilitation classes, such as anger management courses, drug education classes and/or mental health treatment.
In most cases, it is in the best interest of the family and the accused minor to be sent back home with their family. In these cases, a Judge can sentence them to probation or house arrest at their own home.
How a Juvenile Defense Attorney Can Help
It is important to remember that even though the Juvenile Court System is meant to rehabilitate rather than punish, the charges will remain on the child’s permanent criminal record, unless the charges are dismissed.
Many people believe that the charges will be erased when the child turns 18 years old, but that is not the case. Records are readily available from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and are considered to be public rather than private, in most cases.
For all of these reasons, it is imperative that if your child has been arrested or charged with a crime, you immediately contact a West Palm Beach juvenile defense lawyer. An experienced attorney will fight for your child’s rights for a positive outcome.