When it comes to juvenile criminal charges, a criminal defense attorney is not enough; a child accused of a crime needs a defense lawyer with extensive juvenile court experience. Juvenile cases are a world apart from adult criminal cases in terms of terminology, process, rights, and procedure. Most criminal defense attorneys do not have juvenile experience and treat juvenile cases the same as adult cases; this is a huge mistake that can result in severe and significant violations of a child’s rights under juvenile law.
Casanova Law understands the unique nature of juvenile cases. Founding attorney Lourdes Casanova is well-versed in juvenile law and procedure from her tenure at the Palm Beach County State Attorney’s Office, where she litigated hundreds of juvenile cases. Most former prosecutors never spend time in the juvenile division of the State Attorney. For this reason – and the fact that attorney Casanova has continued to litigate juvenile cases in private practice – Casanova Law is one of the top juvenile law firms in Palm Beach County.
The Difference Between Juvenile and Adult Court
Although a criminal charge in juvenile court may share the same elements of an offense in adult court (for example: Battery, Burglary, Assault, or Drug Possession), juvenile court is governed by different rules, courtrooms and judges. The reason for this unique treatment is the understanding by the Florida government that minors are developmentally different from adults and require a special approach. Whereas adult court focuses on retribution for criminal acts, the juvenile system is based on a rehabilitative model of justice.
Some important differences between Juvenile and Adult court include:
Terminology – The charging document in juvenile court is called the “Petition,” as opposed to the term “Information” used in adult court. The court case name is styled as “In re: [defendant’s name], a Child” rather than the traditional adversarial title, “State v [Defendant].” Bond hearings are designated as “detention hearings.” A conviction is considered an “adjudication of delinquency.” A successful defense in juvenile court requires knowledge of the juvenile language.
Rules of Procedure – The Florida Rules of Criminal Procedure used in adult court are not necessarily followed in juvenile court. In fact, an entirely separate set of rules exists for juvenile court by the name of “Florida Rules of Juvenile Procedure.”
Jurisdiction – Cases involving minors (under age 18) are heard in juvenile court. However, an important exception to this rule is that criminal traffic cases (such as DUI or Driving Without a License) are heard in adult court regardless of the child’s age. Another notable exception exists for direct file cases – cases where children are charged as adults due to the severity of the alleged offense in combination with prior record and the child’s age. Juvenile court is under the jurisdiction of the circuit court, even for misdemeanor charges. This differs from adult court misdemeanors, which are typically heard in county court. In certain cases, juvenile court can supervise youth beyond age 18 (until age 21).
Parties – Juvenile delinquency hearings can involve more than the prosecutor, the judge, and the defense attorney. They can involve DCF, guardian ad litem, and other organizations with the goal of addressing a broad range of issues for the child beyond the criminal charge.
Court Filings – All juvenile court filings MUST be confidential, whereas adult cases are public record.
Rights – It comes as a surprise to most people that juveniles do NOT have the right to a jury trial. All trials are “bench trials” decided by the judge. While this may not seem fair, the intent is to maintain confidentiality in juvenile cases and protect minors from public scrutiny. In contrast, other rights are enhanced in the juvenile realm. For example, courts view custodial interrogations of minors with heightened scrutiny. Parents should be contacted and offered the opportunity to be present during questioning. Juvenile Miranda warnings should be explained – not just read – and officers should ask the child to articulate the meaning of each warning to ensure understanding.
Obtaining Juvenile Case Information
Due to the confidentiality of juvenile cases, it is very difficult to obtain case status and information. The public cannot view case filings, nor can attorneys who are not yet attorneys of record. This is another reason why a minor charged with a crime should secure an experienced juvenile defense attorney immediately. A defense attorney with juvenile experience knows where and how to obtain relevant case information. Waiting until the first court date to find out what’s going on can pose a major disadvantage to the accused child. In contrast, gathering as much information as possible prior to court can improve the child’s chances of success.
Juvenile Diversion Programs
Make no mistake: Although the juvenile justice model is based on rehabilitation, juvenile cases are still criminal and come with punishment. A juvenile record can have a lasting impact on a child’s future. Namely, juvenile cases can be used to enhance future penalties. They may also affect job applications and immigration interviews.
Understanding the repercussions of being adjudicated delinquent (aka receiving a conviction as a juvenile), our juvenile defense law firm aggressively fights for dismissal of juvenile cases. Sometimes, dismissal can be achieved by finding legal and procedural errors in the case. For example, if a police officer failed to properly give juvenile Miranda warnings to a minor in a custodial interrogation, an experienced juvenile defense attorney can file a Motion to Suppress the child’s statements. If the child’s admissions, in turn, were crucial to the government’s case, suppression of statements can force the State Attorney to enter a Nolle Prosequi (meaning “no prosecution”).
In other situations, a knowledgeable juvenile defense attorney can negotiate a chance at dismissal through a diversionary program. The State Attorney’s office generally has discretion to offer diversion in juvenile cases. In most instances, diversion is offered for first-time offenders who have presented mitigating circumstances to the prosecution. Juvenile diversion programs in Palm Beach County include:
- Family Violence Intervention Program (FVIP)
- Youth Diversion Program (YDP) / Youth Diversion II (YDP II)
- Juvenile Diversion Alternative Program (JDAP)
- Choice 2 Change (C2C)
In cases where dismissal based on the facts, law or procedure is not feasible, the opportunity to enter a diversion program is even more critical because it might be the best way to avoid a conviction.A great juvenile defense attorney can tactfully request diversion by presenting the most helpful mitigation, establishing effective communication with the prosecutor, and suggesting the diversionary program that best addresses the underlying issues of the minor.
Juvenile diversion is not the same as adult diversion. Knowledge about the timing, enrollment process, and terms of juvenile diversion is necessary for a successful outcome.
With few exceptions, children in custody must be afforded a hearing within 24 hours of arrest. A judge will determine whether or not there was probable cause to arrest the child suspect and, if so, whether the child should be released, placed on house arrest, or remain in secure detention. A judge can only hold a child in secure detention if certain statutory criteria are met. There is a scoring system used for juveniles to assist with the custody determination. Even in cases involving secure detention, there is generally a 21-day limit (or 30 days for serious alleged offenses).
Securing the release of a child defendant when possible is critical to preparing an adequate defense. An experienced juvenile attorney should fight for the release of a child client so that the child is available to talk freely to the attorney and not forced to speak in detention where conversations may be recorded or influenced by external factors.
Contact our Juvenile Defense Law Firm Today.
Attorney Lourdes Casanova is one of the few criminal defense attorneys in Palm Beach County with meaningful experience in juvenile law. As a former prosecutor serving the juvenile division and a defense attorney who continues focusing on juvenile cases, Attorney Casanova is familiar with the legal and procedural nuances of juvenile cases as well as the players in the juvenile system.
Our office understands that the outcome of a juvenile case can have a lasting impact on a child’s future.
Contact Casanova Law today for exceptional juvenile defense.
At what age does juvenile court jurisdiction end in Florida?
Generally, juvenile court jurisdiction ends at age 18. However, juvenile court can maintain jurisdiction over a youth until age 21 if the youth is already in the juvenile justice system. The best example of this is a youth who entered juvenile court as a minor but remains under supervision into adulthood due to continued probation violations.
Can the public attend juvenile court?
The public CANNOT attend juvenile court in light of the rules requiring confidential proceedings for minors.
Can a minor get a life sentence in Florida?
Although rare, a minor who is charged as an adult can receive a life sentence.
What does Youth Court deal with?
Youth Court (also known as “Teen Court” or “Juvenile First Offender Program”), is a diversion program offered to some minors who have been charged with a misdemeanor offense but who do not have a prior criminal record. The program implements the rehabilitative and restorative model of juvenile justice by presenting the child defendant’s case to a “jury” of his or her peers and having the teen participants impose educational sanctions on the accused. Youth Court requires the accused child to admit guilt to the alleged offense and agree to allow his or her peers decide the “sentence” after a “trial.” The sentence could include community service hours, a letter of apology, and restitution. Successful participation in, and completion of, the Youth Court program results in dismissal of the criminal case and avoidance of a juvenile delinquency record. Youth Court in Palm Beach County is typically run by the Palm Beach County School District Police with the assistance of a volunteer attorney who acts as the judge. Student volunteers act as the jury, clerk, prosecutor, and defense.
What are the most common offenses in juvenile cases?
In Florida, common juvenile charges include: Criminal Mischief (commonly known as Vandalism or Graffiti), Shoplifting (Petit Theft), Possession of Alcohol by a Person Under 21, Throwing a Deadly Missile into a Structure, Disrupting a School Function, Assault, and Truancy .
Can children go to jail?
Children convicted of crimes can go to jail in the form of Juvenile Detention Centers from the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ). If a child is charged as an adult for an offense, the youth can serve an adult sentence.
What is a juvenile in Florida?
A juvenile is a minor child accused of a crime.
What are some punishments given to juvenile offenders?
Punishments imposed in juvenile court can include probation, juvenile detention, restitution, an adjudication of delinquency (conviction), and fines and court costs.
How long is a juvenile on probation in Florida?
A juvenile’s probation sentence does not have a fixed length. Therefore, a juvenile can remain on probation for an indefinite period as long as the child has not aged out of the system. If a child completes his or her probationary terms without issues and does not violate probation, the length of probation will typically be shorter. On the other hand, kids with repeated violations of probation will likely stay on probation until the sentence has been completed.
How long can a juvenile be detained?
A juvenile in pre-trial detention can only be held for 21 days. For some serious offenses, the Court can extend detention for an additional 7 days (totaling 30).
At what age are you legally considered a juvenile in Florida?
A juvenile is a person under the age of eighteen who is charged with a crime.
Can a minor be charged with a felony in Florida?
Juvenile cases can involve misdemeanors or felonies.
Can a minor be charged as an adult in Florida?
Some serious felonies can end up in adult court if a prosecutor enters a “direct file.” The decision to file in adult court will depend on the seriousness of the offense, the child’s prior record, the child’s age, and any other aggravating circumstances.
What is DJJ?
DJJ stands for the Department of Juvenile Justice. DJJ offers a range of services, including juvenile detention, probation supervision, health services, and residential services.