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Articles Posted in Juvenile Defense

School shootings have been increasing in the last several years, which means greater safety measures and stricter guidelines have been put into play. Bringing a weapon to a school, whether it be an elementary school all the way to high school, is not just a cause for suspension or expulsion, but can incur criminal charges as well. The Florida School Board of Education defines a weapon possession as acquiring a firearm or object that has the capabilities to cause serious harm or put another person in reasonable fear of injury. Those objects may include swords, knives, pocketknives, guns, pepper spray, etc. Florida schools have a zero-tolerance policy; if a student brings any of those objects or a firearm to school grounds, school facilities off site, at a school bus stop, on a school bus, or within 1000 feet of the school, that student will be expelled for one (1) year and submitted for criminal charge.

If the incident involves a firearm, the charge will be, under Florida Statute 790.115 (4): “any minor under 18 years of age who is charged under this section with possessing or discharging a firearm on school property shall be detained in secure detention, unless the state attorney authorizes the release of the minor and shall be given a probable cause hearing within 24 hours after being taken into custody. At the hearing, the court may order that the minor continue to be held in secure detention for a period of 21 days, during which time the minor shall receive medical, psychiatric, psychological, or substance abuse examinations pursuant to s. 985.18, and a written report shall be completed.” As you can see, these penalties are invoked quickly following the arrest. It is possible to limit these penalties at the initial hearing before the Judge.

Florida law states that minors under the age of 18 are not allowed to possess a firearm, unless they meet the few exceptions of transporting the firearm to a lawful competition or hunting activities. If a minor is found to have a firearm and not within the certain exceptions, the minor can be charged with a 1st degree misdemeanor. A conviction can range from a three-day detention sentence and 100 hours of community service for a first offense, to a maximum one year in jail and $1,000.00 fine. Those charges have harsher criminal convictions if that possession is on school grounds.

Unfortunately, that answer is yes. The legal system does not follow the same rules as buying alcohol or cigarettes; you do not have to be 21 or 18 years old before certain regulations take effect. There aren’t set age laws where a person must be 18 years old to be placed in the adult criminal system. Depending on many factors, including the nature of the felony and criminal history, your child can be tried as an adult in the state of Florida. A juvenile is considered to be 17 years of age or younger, but those felonies can be serious enough to be handled by a criminal court instead of the juvenile system. If the crime was sexually motivated or a serious, violent crime, the child has a long criminal history and the juvenile system is no longer working, or if the child has already been tried as an adult, the chances are high the case will be transferred to an adult criminal court. Unless the crime is a capital offense, the youngest age a juvenile can be tried as an adult in the state of Florida is 14 years old.

There are three (3) different categories in which a juvenile can be transferred to the adult criminal system.

  1. Florida is one of the few states that offer direct filing. Prosecutors have the discretion to file a juvenile’s case in adult criminal court without needing to have approval by a judge or jury. The 2 types of direct filings are Mandatory filing, which applies to 16 or 17-year old juveniles who have committed any type of felony offense; and Discretionary filing, which applies when the juvenile is 14 years or older. Discretionary direct filing occurs on only a variety of crimes, approximately 21 different felonies, all of which can be found under Florida statute 985.557. Examples of those felonies include: aggravated assault and battery, homicide, grand theft auto, armed robbery, etc.

As a parent or guardian, it can be stressful to see your child in handcuffs or get a phone call that your child is at the police station for allegedly breaking the law. Minors do have specific rights in the juvenile justice system that are important to know if the situation ever arises. A person is considered a minor in Florida if they are under 18 years of age.

If a minor is arrested, the police must read the minor their Miranda Rights, which means they have the right to an attorney and anything they tell the police can be used against them in court. If the minor is not read their Miranda Rights, any conversation between the minor and law enforcement will not be admissible in court as evidence. The minor may also have a parent present. If a minor requests their parents, the police must make a reasonable attempt to contact the parents and share the minor’s location, but police may still question the minor without a parent present. The minor has a right to an attorney, and either the parent may retain one or the minor will be assigned a court-appointed public defender. One exception to police questioning without an attorney is if the child is under 13 years of age and has been arrested for sexual assault or homicide, in which case the child may not be questioned at all without an attorney present.

After the minor is arrested and processed, a Juvenile Probation Officer will perform a risk assessment to determine if the minor is a flight risk. With that assessment, a Department of Juvenile Justice Officer will decide if the child may return home or should be held in a juvenile center before their detention hearing. If the minor’s risk level requires a juvenile center placement, they will be taken to either a Florida Department of Juvenile Justice Center or a Juvenile Assessment Center.

My child has recently been hanging out with a new group of friends. I haven’t met the friends yet, but I’m aware that a few of them have been in trouble at school and have even been arrested in the past. I don’t believe my own child would commit any crimes, but I’m worried my child may still get into trouble if he’s with these other children and they do something illegal.

Parents should be aware of who their children are spending time with, as if their friends commit a crime and your child is with them when it happens, your child can be charged with the same crime. The most serious example of this is felony murder. Felony murder laws have gained recent media coverage, as some criminal justice reformation movements are pushing to change or abolish felony murder laws across the states. Under Florida’s homicide statutes, a person who is present during or an accomplice to the commission of certain felonies can be charged with second-degree murder if someone is killed during the commission of that felony, even if that person is not the one who actually killed someone and did not intend for anyone to die. Continue reading

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”
-Nelson Mandela

Amanda M. Kennedy*

I.    Introduction
During the 2014-2015 school year, more than 2,000 children between the ages of five and ten years old were arrested for behavioral problems in Florida.  Legal experts say scenes of children being handcuffed inside classrooms play out too often in Central Florida. On May 21, 2015 Governor Rick Scott signed Senate Bill 378 2015 which took effect October 1st, 2015. The bill expanded juvenile civil citation by allowing law enforcement officers to issue a civil citation or participation in a similar diversion program to youth who have committed up to three misdemeanors.  Furthermore, the bill also stated that if an arrest is made, law enforcement must provide written documentation as to why the arrest is warranted.

The purpose of this note is to understand the criminalization of our children that is happening in our schools, to consider the changes made to Florida Statute § 985.12 by way of Senate Bill 378, and to propose additional changes that can be implemented to help combat the prison pipeline issue. Part I discusses what is happening in the schools and the alarming arrest rates of young children. Part II examines the effects that arrests have on young children emotionally and educationally. Part III discusses the original Florida Statute Prior to Senate Bill 378. Part IV identifies the specific amendments to the statute and discusses the positive effects of Senate Bill 378. Part V discusses the original approach to delinquency in the schools: “zero tolerance” policies. Lastly, Part VI discusses additional changes that could be made to legislation in order to combat the issue of excessive arrests in schools in the State of Florida and nationwide.  Although the recent change in legislation is a step in the right direction, it does not completely resolve the issue of an egregious amount of child arrests within Florida schools and across our nation. Was Senate Bill 378 the solution, or just the first step in the right direction of educating our children instead of criminalizing them

I.    The Issue: Alarming Arrest Rates
Over 2,000 children were arrested during the 2014-2015 school year, for behavioral problems. The more shocking numbers are the ages of those 2,000 arrests; Orange County, Florida leads the state of Florida in child arrests between the ages of five and ten. “Florida A&M University, Dean LeRoy Pernell, says ‘according to the Department of Juvenile Justice, the bulk of arrests of five and ten-year-olds were not for serious crimes like murder or arson.’” “Maybe fist fights, dress code violations, talking back; conduct that is basically viewed as insubordinate.” The problem is Central Florida schools offer more police officers in hallways than behavioral tutors or counselors — officers whose only tool is to make an arrest. Continue reading

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I would like thank my attorney Thomas Luka. I knew from the beginning I had the right guy in my corner. While celebrating with family and friends at a Public Park in Seminole County, a fight broke out among various people. Myself, and a good friend, broke up the fight and the instigators left. Six months later, I was wrongly accused as the person who started the fight. The first attorney I hired could not even get a response from the State Attorney handling the case. Someone referred me to Tom and I felt comfortable at his demeanor and reactions.

After conversations with Tom, who knew I would settle for nothing less than a FULL DISMISSAL due to my innocence, I hired him. His firm of Adams and Luka did the due diligence by interviewing witnesses and the police who were on the scene, as well as starting a dialogue with the State Attorney. After gathering statements from witnesses, Tom was able to present a strong argument on my behalf to the State Attorney on why the case should be dismissed. If the State Attorney was not willing to dismiss the case, Tom was ready to take the case to trial.

The result by Thomas Luka: Case Dismissed.

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