One of the countless great fears of a parent is hearing a knock on the door late at night and finding a police officer beside your child, or a phone call with little detail, asking you to come down to the precinct in reference to an event that involves your son or daughter.
The first situation is usually the better of the two because if the officer is bringing your child home, they're typically there to explain some mischief your child has been a part of, bordering on an actual crime, and a warning is given by the sympathetic agent of law enforcement. In a case where your child has made their way to the fringe of breaking a law, parental punishment will usually be the harshest sentence and the minor will not be entered into the legal system. But when that phone call comes it's usually a more serious matter.
In Florida, the Department of Juvenile Justice is the agency charged with the intake, evaluation, and supervision of individuals under the age of eighteen years who are charged with crimes on a state or local level. This agency is also responsible for court recommendations once an assessment of an alleged crime by a juvenile is considered.
Juvenile crimes are known as cases of delinquency. In the assessment of the severity of the alleged crime, juvenile courts form opinions how to proceed based on information obtained from the aforementioned Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ), the Department of Children and Families (DCF), local and state police agencies as well as schools attended by the accused youth.
It is important to keep in mind that in some instances of criminal allegations regarding a minor, the accused can be charged as an adult and the case can be moved out of the juvenile court system. This is carried out either by prosecutorial discretion approved by a judge or when a judge moves a trial to an adult court via a "waiver" in cases ineligible from standard juvenile prosecutions.
Your children are most likely your greatest production. Don't allow them to have an indelible mark on their records or even face time behind bars. A criminal conviction can hurt a juvenile for the rest of their lives when it comes to finding proper employment and housing, and so many other things.
There are many alternatives to going to trial when a minor is facing criminal charges and even if a case does go to juvenile court the emphasis is to rehabilitate the offender rather than to punish them. However if a case has gone to court a lawyer should be present to protect the minor's rights especially in cases of more serious crimes.
One alternative to a formal juvenile court hearing is the availability of "teen court" which may be available to minors usually between the ages of 11 and 17 who have committed misdemeanors which are not considered extremely serious or are carried out by first-time offenders. The cases are referred by the State Attorney's Office and parental attendance is required.
All parties that make up the court are either former defendants or volunteers who are themselves teenagers which include the bailiff, clerk, jurors as well as the campaigner for the accused.
Some of the cases that are brought before Teen Court are for petit theft, possession of alcohol or marijuana as well as drug paraphernalia, criminal trespass, charges of criminal mischief, simple battery as well as other moderate charges.
As in a formal court hearing, once the case is completed and all evidence is presented and testimony is heard, deliberations are held in a separate room where a punishment is determined if guilt is evaluated. Most sentences include some type of community service, or required attendance in a community self-improvement course. There are also judgments of counseling, restitution and drug treatment in cases where illegal or unauthorized prescription drugs were included in the allegation among other reprimands based on the severity of the crime.
At the conclusion of sentencing, the minor signs a contract assenting to complete whatever terms of the agreement is imposed. The case is then closed as successful without a blemish appearing on your child's record. It is followed up and tracked by a Teen Court Case Manager that is assigned to each particular case and when the terms are met, the case is closed. In cases when the child fails to effectively complete the sanctions, the legal action is directed back to the State Attorney's Office for an assessment concerning further prosecution.
In most jurisdictions in the State of Florida there is other Diversionary Treatment Programs (DTP) and agencies that can keep your child out of jail and keep their records clean. In Broward County, programs such as Drug Court, and the Juvenile Assessment Center are just two of many alternatives designed to keep those under 21 out of jail when possible.
If your child is over 18 years of age and arrested on a drug related charge Drug Court is a practical option as opposed to a formal proceeding for non-violent drug based crime offenders who are first time lawbreakers regarding controlled substances, charged with possession or the purchase of these drugs or supplementary substance abuse related violations.
The Juvenile Assessment Center is responsible for the intake of all minors arrested in Broward County whose mission is "to ensure all youth receive timely, professional services to assess their individual strengths and needs, and to make referrals for services to prevent juvenile delinquency."
Michael B. Cohen is a criminal defense attorney whose practice largely serves the tri-county area of Dade Broward and Palm Beach County in addition to all other jurisdictions within the State of Florida. His practice focuses on state and local prosecutions as well as federal criminal matters of which he is considered an expert. He has previously held the positions of Assistant United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida for the government of the United States and Assistant Attorney General as well as Assistant State Attorney for Broward County in the State of Florida. He is licensed to practice criminal law in both the States of Florida as well as New York and has defended criminal allegations in both states, currently protecting his clients' rights from his offices located in Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach. To view his complete qualifications, click here.
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