Suskauer Feuer, LLC, located in West Palm Beach, provides criminal defense for juvenile offenders.
When a child (under age of 18) is arrested and/or charged with a crime, it is often a stressful and confusing time for the family. You’re wondering what charges and penalties they will face. Will they be charged as an adult? Will they have a criminal record? How will this impact their future? Regardless of the type of juvenile offense, the laws and processes involved can be confusing and daunting. It is extremely advantageous to obtain the guidance and representation of an experienced juvenile defense attorney who will protect your child’s rights.
Mrs. Suskauer provided expert criminal defense to my son. She was always accessible, compassionate and achieved an amazing result.
– Past Client
Juvenile Offenses in Florida
Like every other state in the country, Florida maintains two distinct legal systems – one for adult offenders, and one for juveniles. When a young person, under the age of eighteen, is charged with a crime, the case is most often handled by the Juvenile Justice System. The focus of the Juvenile Justice System is on rehabilitating and redirecting errant youth, rather than on punishing them.
So, even though the crimes committed by juveniles may be similar to those committed by adults – from minor misbehavior to violent felonies – criminality committed by juveniles is considered “delinquency” and the perpetrators are most often dealt with in juvenile court. However, in some cases, when a court judges that a juvenile offense is particularly severe, or if a child has a previous criminal history, or is close to the age of maturity, a minor may be tried and convicted as an adult in adult court.
The laws pertaining to Juvenile Justice in Florida can be found in Chapter 985 of the Florida Statutes. However, other sections of Florida law also describe penalties for certain criminal acts committed by a minor, making the adjudication of juvenile crime a highly technical aspect of law. For example, penalties for acts of criminal mischief committed by a minor are stipulated in Chapter 806, while penalties for lewd or lascivious behavior are covered in Chapter 800 and Chapter 775. Chapter 322 outlines penalties for unlawful possession of a driver’s license or fake ID, regardless of age, and violations of a law pertaining to the operation of a motor vehicle are tried in the same court that handles these offenses committed by adults.
That is why it is highly advisable that the parents of a child charged with any offense contact a knowledgeable attorney, experienced in representing children in juvenile court. In fact, if a judge determines that a parent is financially able, he or she has an obligation to provide an attorney for a delinquent minor facing adjudication. In addition, in some cases, Florida law allows the juvenile court to order a parent to pay restitution to victims of certain crimes committed by his or her child. Thus, juvenile offenses can have serious consequences for both a child and a parent, which is why competent legal guidance is important.
The Stages of the Juvenile Justice System
Juvenile cases progress through the Juvenile Justice System differently than adult cases are processed through the state’s criminal courts. Once a juvenile is taken into custody by law enforcement, he or she is delivered to the Department of Juvenile Justice’s Juvenile Assessment Center (JAC). There, a counselor will determine if the child will be detained, or released into the custody of a parent or guardian.
A juvenile who is held in detention overnight must have a hearing within 24 hours of his or her arrest. A judge will then determine if the child will be released or held in detention for a period of not more than 21 days. Concurrently, the State Attorney’s office will determine what charges, if any, will be filed against the juvenile.
Approximately three weeks after an arrest, a charged juvenile will appear for an arraignment, hear the charges filed, and plead either “Guilty,” “Not Guilty,” or “No Contest.” If a trial is scheduled it will generally take place within several weeks. Between the arraignment and the trial, the State Attorney and the juvenile’s defense attorney will engage in the process of discovery, interviewing witnesses and/or victims of the alleged crime.
If the juvenile is a first-time offender, he or she may be ordered to participate in a pretrial “diversion” or “treatment” program which may include community service, restitution to victims, counseling, etc. Charges may be dropped against a juvenile who successfully completes a diversion program, but reactivated if he or she fails to fulfill the program’s stipulations.
All juvenile trials are presided over by a judge. There are no juries in juvenile court. Trial rules are similar to those in adult court, with the state having the burden of proving its case “beyond a reasonable doubt.” If a judge finds a juvenile defendant guilty, he or she may order the Department of Juvenile Justice to submit a “predisposition report” outlining the background, criminal history and family circumstance of the juvenile. The report will normally include a sentencing recommendation for judicial review.
Upon finding a juvenile defendant guilty, a judge may impose two types of sentences: probation or commitment. Probation generally will require that the offender fulfill certain requirements, such as community service, apologizing to victims, etc. Commitment to a juvenile detention facility can range from 30 days to 36 months depending upon the nature of the crime and the juvenile’s past criminal record, if any.
Examples of Juvenile Crimes / Juvenile Offenses
The following crimes are some of the offenses committed by juveniles in Florida:
- Theft – shoplifting, stealing from backpacks and lockers
- Vandalism – graffiti, keying a car
- Alcohol Offenses – underage purchase, underage consumption, providing alcohol to underage persons, open container
- Disorderly Conduct – fighting, flashing, indecent exposure
- Simple Assault or Battery – bullying, shoving or pushing
- Marijuana Possession
- Tobacco Offenses – illegal purchase, providing tobacco to underage persons
- Curfew Violations
- School Disciplinary Offenses – fighting, cheating, disrupting class
- Traffic Violations – reckless driving, fleeing and eluding
- Criminal Trespass
- Criminal Mischief – egging or toilet papering a house, damaging a mail box
- Drug Offenses (possession of drug paraphernalia, drug possession, drug trafficking, drug use)
- Violent Crimes
- Driving Under the Influence (DUI)
- Burglary – breaking and entering with intent to steal
- False Reporting – pulling a fire alarm, bomb threats, false 911 call
- Possession of Stolen Property
- Possession of a Weapon
- Reckless Endangerment
- Resisting Arrest With/Without Violence – running away from law enforcement, refusing to disband when ordered by an officer, lying to police
- Unauthorized Use of a Motor Vehicle
- Use of Fake or False Identification
- Gang-related Activities
- Sexual Misconduct (date rape, sex offense)
- Probation Violations
- Weapons Offenses
Potential Punishments for Juvenile Offenders
The main goal of the juvenile justice system is rehabilitation rather than punishment. Florida Statute Section 985.227 gives the State Attorney’s Office the discretion to file charges against a child in adult court rather than juvenile court depending on the type of crime and the child’s age. However, juveniles can be transferred into adult court and receive adult sentencing if the juvenile court waives or relinquishes its jurisdiction. Juvenile courts have their own special rules and procedures. If a child or teenager is found guilty of a juvenile offense, he or she may be sent to the Department of Juvenile Justice Residential Program or another public institution, placed in a foster home, or returned to the parents and placed on probation or house arrest.
Some specific crimes and their possible penalties:
- Possession of Alcohol – Suspension of driver’s license, probation, community service, mandated alcohol and drug awareness program, fines of up to $500.
- Sexting – Defined as the act of sending sexually explicit messages or photographs, primarily between mobile phones, sexting is a felony charged as child pornography.
- Lewd and Lascivious Behavior – An offender less than 18 years of age who commits lewd or lascivious molestation against a victim less than 12 years of age commits a felony of the second degree.
- Unlawful ID Possession – The penalties for a violation of this statute can be severe and can include imprisonment in state prison for five years or less and/or fines up to $5,000. Other juvenile penalties can include a permanent criminal record, suspension of a lawful driver’s license, probation, community service, detrimental effects on future employment, and a reduction in educational opportunities.
- Criminal Mischief – Can include fines of over $1000, paying restitution, hundreds of hours of community service, loss of driver’s license and a permanent criminal record. Certain juvenile criminal mischief cases may also be charged as felonies.
- Resisting Arrest With Violence – A third degree felony punishable by up to five years in prison.
Three Reasons to Choose Suskauer Feuer, LLC for Juvenile Defense
- Our attorneys have more than 40 years of combined experience. We are former public defenders and are very familiar with the local Palm Beach County juvenile justice system.
- Suskauer Feuer, LLC has litigated thousands of criminal defense cases and is highly skilled at representing juveniles. We are well-acquainted with the individual prosecutors and judges who handle these cases, and will work hard to secure an outright dismissal or reduction in charges whenever possible.
- Our attorneys and staff empathize with children and families, realizing that family problems and other circumstances can place children in difficult situations. We will do our very best to minimize the stress and negative effects of the case process for both the child and the family members. We also assist clients and family members in finding the right juvenile resources to help prevent future problems.
While a juvenile found guilty of a felony may not be imprisoned, the charges will remain on his or her criminal record. In addition, Florida law permits the police to release the name and address of a child 16 years of age or older who has been arrested for a felony. Of course, in some felony cases, a juvenile will be charged and tried as an adult, so prison time is a possibility.
If your child has been arrested, you should contact an attorney as soon as possible to discuss the disposition of his or her case. If you have questions regarding juvenile offenses or criminal defense litigation, please do not hesitate to contact us for a free consultation or case evaluation. We are happy to meet or speak with you anytime and are ready to assist you and your child in preparing your family for dealing with the Juvenile Justice System and any potential outcome of a court-ordered adjudication.
Our legal team is experienced, aggressive, compassionate, and will fight for your child!