Nothing is more heartbreaking for a parent than the arrest of their child. If your child has been arrested and charged with a crime, you may be feeling confused, frightened, embarrassed, or angry. You need an experienced attorney who understands what you are going through and is ready to defend your child. The criminal justice system is different for adults and children. It’s important to find an attorney who is experienced and knowledgeable with the intricacies of juvenile law.
If your child has been arrested in Central Florida, you should contact Allen & Abaray, P.A. immediately. Our attorneys understand juvenile law and they understand the complex emotions your family might be experiencing. We are ready to walk you through the process, answer all of your questions, and fight for the most positive outcome for your child.
Being arrested can be a very frightening and confusing experience, particularly for a child. Understanding the legal justice system and what to expect can help both parents and children be prepared for every step of their case.
Being Taken into Custody/The Juvenile Detention Center: after your child is arrested, he may be taken to a Juvenile Assessment Center or to the police station. At this Center, he will be questioned regarding his involvement with the charges. Anything he says can and will be shared with state agencies, including the police and the State Attorney’s Office. During intake, a caseworker will assess whether the child should be held before his first court hearing, based on his prior criminal history as well as other factors. If the child is detained, he will be transferred to a Juvenile Detention Center, and his initial hearing will be required to be set within the next 24 hours.
Detention Hearing: at the Detention Hearing, the judge will explain the charges against the child, and determine whether the police had probable cause to arrest the child. The judge will also determine whether the child should be held pending his adjudicatory hearing (trial) and will set the date for the trial. You may have an attorney present for this hearing. If you cannot afford one, the judge will determine whether your child may be represented by the Public Defender at this hearing. If the child is going to be detained prior to trial, the trial must be held within the next 21 days.
Pleas: The child may choose to plead “guilty” or “no contest” at any time. Your attorney can not make this decision for the child. If the child chooses to plead guilty or no contest, then no trial will be heard, and the child will lose his right to appeal. The case will proceed to the sentencing phase.
Adjudicatory Hearing: If the child does not plead guilty or no contest, the case will proceed to the adjudicatory hearing, or trial, phase. The child does not have to testify, and can present witnesses. The trial is held before a judge; the child has no right to a jury. Just like in an adult case, the State must prove that the child is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. If the child is found guilty, he may be held 15 more days before the disposition hearing.
Disposition Hearing: This is the sentencing part of the trial. Unlike in adult court, where the focus is on punishing the offender, the judge’s focus is on rehabilitation of the child. The child cannot be sentenced to prison. The judge can sentence the child to probation, with conditions like performing community service or paying the victim back. The judge may send the child to a mental health or drug treatment program. Or the judge may send the child to a commitment program, which is a supervised residential program.
This is just an overview of what is a fairly complex juvenile justice system. Our Florida Criminal Defense Attorneys can answer any further questions you or your child may have, and help you prepare for each step of the process.
There are two big differences between the juvenile and adult criminal justice systems. The first big difference is the focus of each system. In the adult criminal justice system, the focus is on punishing the offender. In the juvenile justice system, the focus is on rehabilitating the child. Although disciplining the child is one goal of the system, it’s not the entire goal. Instead, the judge will try to craft a sentence which will allow the child to learn from his mistakes and grow into a responsible, law-abiding adult. The second big difference is the possibility of a prison sentence. Children who are processed through the juvenile justice system cannot be sent to prison. Children who are charged as adults may be sentenced to an adult prison. Avoiding time in prison is one of the reasons why it’s generally preferable for a child to be charged as a child, and not charged as an adult.
The prosecutor has the discretion in felony cases to charge the child as an adult. For children under 14 years old, the prosecutor will usually have the grand jury charge the child by indictment. If the child is over 14 years old, the child may be charged by indictment (usually if the crime is punishable by life in prison, or death). The child may also be “transferred” to adult court through a process called waiver, which requires a hearing. Or the prosecutor may choose to directly file the case in adult court, without a hearing, at the prosecutor’s discretion. If the child is over 16, state law provides that the child be tried as an adult for some crimes. There are no exceptions to this rule, and the prosecutor has no discretion. If the child pleads guilty or is sentenced in an adult court, he will be tried as an adult for any future crimes he commits. You should speak to an attorney about your child’s options, the likelihood that he or she will be tried as an adult, and what that means for your child’s future.
If a child is adjudicated guilty in the juvenile justice system, the judge has many options for how to sentence the child. The child could be sentenced to probation (with or without community service, restitution or other restrictions), to a mental health or drug treatment facility, or to a commitment program. Commitment programs are structured around how much supervision the judge believes the child needs. The child may be sent to a low-risk residential center if he needs little supervision or a maximum-risk residential center if the judge believes he requires a lot of supervision, usually because he is a threat to himself or others. High risk centers offer closer supervision, more security, and children are usually sentenced to a longer length of stay at those programs. Children may be transferred to a higher or lower risk facility based on their behavior and progress in their program. Children may remain in these centers until their 21st birthday.
Overview of the Juvenile Justice System: A helpful pamphlet published by the Public Defender’s office regarding the differences between the adult and criminal systems and what to expect after your child is arrested.
Department of Juvenile Justice: Summary of the services this government agency provides to child offenders, their families and victims.
Justice for Kids: Watchdog group for the Department of Juvenile Justice that fights for the rights of accused children and their families.
Florida Department of Juvenile Justice Homepage
Children in the criminal justice system have unique fears and unique needs. They require attorneys who are experienced with the Juvenile Justice System. The attorneys at Allen & Abaray, P.A. are ready to help. If your child has been arrested in Central Florida, you should contact one of our criminal defense lawyers immediately to discuss your child’s case.
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