Juveniles make mistakes. Parents know this, but the criminal justice system knows this too. If a juvenile makes a mistake that breaks the law, the juvenile justice system will step in and suggest legal decisions for that juvenile’s future. While it is scary for the juvenile to be in trouble with the law, hiring a criminal defense attorney that has knowledge of the juvenile system is imperative to help fight for the juvenile’s best interests and protect their future. A juvenile criminal defense attorney will review the evidence in the juvenile’s case to determine if the State Attorney has enough evidence to prosecute successfully.
After being arrested for a crime, the juvenile will be taken to a Juvenile Assessment Center per the requirements of the Department of Juvenile Justice. There, the juvenile will discuss the next options and the juvenile will undergo an assessment which the Juvenile Probation Officer will report the findings to the State Attorney. The minor may have a parent present and the police must make a reasonable attempt to contact the parents. However, be advised a law enforcement officer can question a juvenile without a parent present, so long as a reasonable attempt was made to contact the parents. This information can be used against the juvenile.
To fight for the defense, the juvenile, family, and defense attorney would work together to plan and establish a case for the juvenile. Here, the defense attorney can talk to teachers, employers, and other adults in the juvenile’s life; get attendance records, get grade reports, etc., to prove a basis for alternatives to a detention center. These alternatives, called diversion programs, will be an option for the State Attorney to consider with the evidence provided.
The state of Florida has created many successful diversion programs for minor crime offenses. These diversion programs were established to interrupt developing criminal behavior patterns in juveniles and prevent further interactions with the criminal justice system, while also creating a specific, individualized learning opportunity. Those programs include:
- Community Arbitration
- Juvenile Alternative Services Program (JASP)
- Boys and Girls Clubs
- Mentoring programs
- Alternative schools
- Teen Court
- Drug Court
Additionally, the court may impose conditions or sanctions while the juvenile is participating in these programs if the conditions are not already required. Those conditions may be:
- Community service
- Restitution (paying money to the victim)
- No victim contact order
- Forfeiting a driver’s license or permit
- Mental Health or Drug counseling
- An apology letter to the victim
Diversion programs are designed to keep juvenile court cases at a minimum, to focus court resources on dangerous and serious juvenile cases, and to dissolve any further criminal activities. If the diversion program is completed, the juvenile’s charges are dismissed. If the case is not suitable for a diversion program, meaning the juvenile has tried and failed a diversion program before or the crime is too serious and dangerous, then the case will move forward in court. There, the defense attorney will discuss options with the State Attorney for either a plea deal or a trial.
The Florida Department of Juvenile Justice’s motto is, “Our Children, Our Future.” Together, all parties can work to do everything possible in keeping the case in juvenile court, and potentially through a diversion program, get the charges dismissed.
Contrary to the movies, juvenile criminal records will still appear when searched by employers, schools, etc. Florida has four expungement options for juveniles if a criminal record is created while a minor.
- Human Trafficking Victim Expungement
- There are cases where a human trafficking victim is a minor and is forced to commit crimes while being held against their will. Here, most cases of non-violent crimes can be expunged if committed under the influence of your captive.
- Administrative Expungement
- If a minor was ever arrested by mistake or not within the law, the court can issue an administrative expungement.
- Automatic Expungement
- When a juvenile commits a crime that has resulted in a case dismissal or adjudication withholding, the records will automatically be expunged when the juvenile turns 24 years old. However, if the juvenile commits and is convicted of another crime as an adult, before they turn 24 years old, the juvenile crimes are not applicable for automatic expungement.
- Court-Ordered Expungement
- A juvenile may petition to the court for the records to be sealed or expunged, so long as the juvenile meets certain requirements. The drawback to a court-ordered expungement is this option is applicable only once in a person’s life. For example, if you have a court-ordered expungement as a juvenile, then allegedly commit a crime later but the charges are dismissed, that crime will remain on your criminal record forever because you have already utilized your court-ordered expungement card.
Protecting the youth of our communities is an important process. The attorneys at the Law Office of Adams & Luka do everything possible to keep cases in juvenile court and request the diversion program whenever applicable. Let us help you with the process of defending your child. For more information on the court process, please refer to our article titled, “My child was just arrested by the police. Does he have any additional rights as a minor?”