We raise our children, believing they will become responsible and law-abiding citizens. However, through experimentation, ignorance, and peer pressure, they might commit crimes that land them in legal trouble.
Florida handles juvenile offenses differently than adult offenses. The Juvenile Justice system seeks to rehabilitate juvenile offenders and to prevent them from becoming adult offenders.
As parents, the law might, in some circumstances, hold us responsible for the wrongs our children commit. In these circumstances, we need the help of an attorney to understand what our children are going through from a legal perspective.
Arnold Law works with parents and juvenile offenders, helping you understand the juvenile laws and processes in Florida.
Overview of Juvenile Offenses
A juvenile offense is a crime committed by a person younger than 18 years. These offenses are no different than those an adult would commit, but the procedure followed in determining guilt and convicting the offender varies.
Florida targets to rehabilitate juvenile offenders through the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice, a government body responsible for preventing, intervening, and treating families of young offenders as well as the offender, and turning delinquent youths into responsible adults.
Some of the common juvenile offenses in Florida include:
1. Assault and Battery
Assault and battery are two separate but closely related offenses. Minors can take an argument too far and end up saying things that would land them in trouble.
For example, if a minor threatens to kill another in a heated argument and looks well built or has a weapon, the other person will be afraid.
The minor can be charged with juvenile assault because he or she intentionally threatened and appeared to have the ability to act on the threat of violence, causing the victim to be afraid of imminent danger or harm.
Some minors go to the extent of acting out their threats and touching or striking the other person without the victim's consent or intentionally causing bodily harm to the victim.
Assault is usually easier to defend, unlike a battery, since the latter involves actual touching or infliction of bodily harm.
The prosecution can also charge the minor or aggravated assault and battery based on the circumstances of the offense.
Aggravated assault occurs if one or more of the following circumstances were present:
- The offense involves the use of a deadly weapon without the intent to kill.
- The minor committed the offense intending to commit a felony.
- The minor intended to cause great bodily harm or kill the victim.
- The offense was committed against a protected person, such as a peace officer or an older person.
Aggravated assault is a third-degree felony with a sentence of up to five years in prison or on probation and a fine of up to $5000.
Children charged with aggravated assault and battery can face charges in adult court, where they are prosecuted and punished as adults.
Section 810.02 of the laws of Florida defines burglary as the crime of entering a structure or dwelling with the intent to commit a crime.
You can also be charged with the crime if you enter or remain in such a structure, dwelling or conveyance:
- After permission to enter or remain has been withdrawn and you intend to commit a crime.
- To attempt or commit a felony.
The presence of aggravating factors can also increase the likelihood of being tried in adult court. Some of these aggravating factors include:
- You assault or batter someone when committing the offense.
- You used a dangerous weapon.
- You entered the dwelling, occupied, or not using a vehicle to help you in committing the crime.
- You caused damages worth more than $1000.
- Another person was inside the structure at the time of the offense.
The penalties for juvenile burglary depend on the circumstances of the offense and your age. Offenders who are closer to 18 have higher chances of being tried in an adult court for burglary offenses.
The penalties of burglary will also depend on the facts of the case. Standard burglary with no aggravating factors is a third-degree felony whose penalties include incarceration in prison for up to five years and a fine of up to $5000.
Burglary in an occupied dwelling or structure is a second-degree felony with penalties such as a maximum of 15 years in prison and up to $10,000 in fines.
In the presence of aggravating factors, burglary becomes a first-degree felony, the most serious felony charge in Florida, with a potential life sentence and a fine of up to $10,000.
The penalties mentioned will apply if a minor is tried in adult court. If you are tried in juvenile court, the penalties are different.
They may include:
- Payment of restitution
- A sentence of up to 36 months in juvenile prison
3. Petit Larceny
Section 812.014 of Florida defines Petit theft as the crime of stealing or intending to steal property whose value is $300 or less to deprive the owner of its use or value.
Minors often get charged with petit theft due to shoplifting. The prosecution usually has to prove the existence of two elements to secure a conviction:
- The minor knowingly and unlawfully obtained the property of the victim.
- The intent is to deprive the victim of the use or benefit of the property (temporarily or permanently) or to misappropriate the property for the defendant's benefit.
Petty theft in Florida is a second-degree misdemeanor with a jail term of up to sixty days.
The offense escalates to a first-degree misdemeanor if the defendant has a prior petty theft conviction. A first-degree misdemeanor conviction attracts a one-year jail sentence and suspension of your driving privileges.
The penalties could also include probation, fines, and restitution if the child is tried in juvenile court.
The intent is a primary determinant as to whether you committed the offense. Therefore, you can use defenses such as abandonment, mistakes, mistaken identity, and false accusations to fight petit theft charges.
4. Criminal Mischief
Criminal Mischief or vandalism refers to the crime of willfully defacing, damaging, or adding blemishes to another person's property.
The elements of vandalism in Florida include:
- The minor caused physical damage to property. Graffiti is a common form of vandalism, as is etching.
- The property belonged to another person who did not consent to the action. For example, if you are commissioned to create graffiti on someone's wall, you cannot be charged for vandalism.
- The minor committed the act intentionally (accidental acts are exempt from this statute, but you might still be responsible for correcting any damage you caused).
Vandalism can be a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the value of the property involved.
If the minor causes damage of less than $200 on the property, the offense is a second-degree misdemeanor with a penalty of up to sixty days in jail and a fine of up to $500.
The offense becomes a first-degree misdemeanor if the damage is worth $200-1000. In this case, the penalties include a maximum sentence of one year in jail and a fine not exceeding $1000.
Vandalism can be a third-degree felony if the damage is more than $1000, was committed on a train track or monuments(burial sites). The penalties for felony vandalism include a sentence of up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $5000.
A minor could also receive less harsh sentencing in juvenile court. Juvenile vandalism can involve other corrective penalties other than a criminal conviction, such as:
- Community service
- Educational courses
- Apology letters
5. Disorderly Conduct
Section 877.03 of the Florida statutes define disorderly conduct as the crime involving corrupt public morals, causing outrage to public decency, or disturbing the peace.
Disorderly conduct is a second-degree misdemeanor with penalties such as sixty days in jail and a fine of $500.
Entering a dwelling or conveyance without authorization or invitation constitutes criminal trespassing. Minors are prone to trespassing in unoccupied or abandoned buildings or construction areas due to peer pressure.
Trespassing can occur in various places such as:
- Homes (trespass to structure)
- School grounds, and
- Construction sites
Trespassing is a second-degree misdemeanor. Trespassing can sometimes be charged as burglary, which is a more serious offense that could result in a trial in an adult court.
7. Minor in Possession of Alcohol
Florida statute 562.111 makes it unlawfully for minors (in this case under 21 years) to possess an alcoholic drink or beverage.
Some alcoholic drinks covered under the statute include beer, mixed drinks, liquor, wine, and alcoholic beverages meant for consumption
A minor can be charged for either actual or constructive possession. In constructive possession, the court need only to prove that the alcoholic beverage was within the environment over which the minor had control.
The prosecution must also prove that the minor knew of the presence of that beverage.
Possession of alcohol by a minor is a second-degree misdemeanor with penalties such as sixty days in jail of a six-month probation sentence and a fine of up to $500. You will also lose your driving privileges.
Minors with a prior for the same offense are guilty of a first-degree misdemeanor with up to a year in jail, a year in probation and a fine of up to $1000.
Some of the defenses to fight minor in possession of alcohol charges include:
- Lack of knowledge on the nature of the beverage as an alcoholic drink.
- The minor had a non-alcoholic beverage.
- Insufficient evidence to prove that the minor committed the offense
8. Possession of a Fake ID
In an attempt to bypass the law prohibiting minors under 21 from possessing or consuming alcohol, some children opt for using a fake ID.
However, possessing and using a fake ID is a crime in Florida. The offense can be a second or third-degree misdemeanor depending on the circumstances.
A minor can be convicted for a second-degree misdemeanor for possessing a fake ID if:
- Uses a false or fictitious name to acquire a driving license.
- Uses a driving license upon which the date of birth is altered.
The offense becomes a third-degree misdemeanor if the minor knowingly uses a fake ID or driver's license.
9. Drug Violations
Teenagers are susceptible to peer pressure and the negative influence of media, culture, and their environment. Some of them end up entangled in drug use, sale or possession, thus standing the risk of a permanent criminal record, especially when taken through the adult court system.
Some of the drug crimes that could land a minor in juvenile or adult court include:
- Possession of a controlled substance.
- Selling drugs within 1000 ft of a school.
- Selling drugs.
- Possession of drug paraphernalia.
The severity of an offense will determine the penalties the minor gets.
In some cases, minor offenders will go through a juvenile drug court. A drug court is a form of diversion program which allows minors with alcohol and substance use problems to receive treatment instead of adjudication.
Dependence on drugs and controlled substances could also influence minors' behavior and lead them to commit other crimes such as theft and burglary. The court identifies such possibilities and offers minors a chance to receive counseling and rehabilitation.
In some cases, however, often at the discretion of the prosecution, a minor can be convicted as an adult, resulting in a criminal record.
Juvenile Justice Process in Florida
Understanding the Juvenile Justice system is as important as the offenses for which your child charges.
The procedure followed when correcting a juvenile offender differs from that of the adult court; for example, an adult court involves a jury trial, whereas a juvenile system does not include it.
The process includes the following steps:
- The arrest of the offender by a law enforcement officer either at the scene of the crime or following an investigation
- A detention hearing within 24 hours of the arrest to determine whether the defendant should be released. Your child might have to adhere to certain release conditions, such as maintaining no contact with witnesses. If the child is not released, the court has to begin the adjudication within 21 days. However, if the prosecution can show good cause, the commencement period can be extended. Minors charged with serious offenses can remain in detention for up to thirty days.
- An investigation by the state attorney's office to determine whether there is sufficient evidence to file charges against the minor. The prosecution might choose to proceed judicially or non judicially. If it proceeds judicially, the state attorney's office will file a delinquency petition. If it proceeds non judicially, the minor might be redirected through a pre-trial program for rehabilitation. The charges against the minor will be dismissed if he or she meets the set conditions depending on the pre-trial program.
- Once the office of the state attorney files a delinquency petition, the minor will be arraigned and required to take a plea. If he or she takes a guilty or no contest plea, the case will proceed to a disposition hearing. However, if the minor enters a not guilty plea, the case will proceed to an adjudication hearing.
- An adjudication hearing involves determining if the minor is guilty of the offense.
- A disposition hearing follows after a guilty or no contest plea, or during an adjudication hearing, the court finds that a minor is guilty of the offense. The DJJ will prepare a predisposition report containing an evaluation of the case and the best course of action in handling the case. A predisposition report contains details of the defendant's familial circumstances, the criminal history, and the background of the minor.
Juvenile Sentencing in Florida
The disposition hearing is similar to a sentencing hearing in adult court. During the hearing, the judge will decide the best course of action to take, depending on your case, age, and related circumstances.
Age is an important factor in the length and type of sentencing you get. Usually, the Juvenile Justice system has jurisdiction over a minor until his or her nineteenth birthday, and in some cases, the twenty-first birthday.
The court, therefore, will sentence you to a period that does not exceed its jurisdiction. The common results in a disposition hearing include:
- Probation, and
- Commitment to the Department of Juvenile Justice.
Probation is a form of community supervision program that restricts the activities of the minor. When a juvenile offender is placed on probation, the court will impose sanctions and conditions by which the minor mist adheres.
Some of the conditions include:
- Payment of restitution
- Payment of fines
- Attending alcohol and drug classes
- Anger management classes
- Adhering to curfew restrictions
Once a minor is placed on probation, the court will assign him or her a juvenile probation officer who will monitor the adherence to probation requirements.
The probation officer works with the parent and child to ensure that the child fulfills all the probation requirements.
The court also requires the parent to encourage the child to obey the requirements of probation and report any violations to the probation officer.
Violations of probation can result in the revocation of probation and commitment or the imposition of stricter conditions.
The minor could also be placed on probation after his or her release from commitment. Post-commitment probation also includes conditions as of probation.
The commitment of minors is a training and rehabilitation program that is stricter and more formal than probation. The Department of Juvenile Justice assigns a juvenile probation officer the task of preparing a predisposition report.
The probation office provides recommendations for treatment or rehabilitation needs of the child. Also, the report provides a risk assessment of the child to determine the level of restrictiveness the court should apply.
Courts can apply one of four restrictive levels upon the commitment of a juvenile offender. These levels include:
- Minimum risk non-residential programs which consist of offenders who are a low risk to themselves and the community. These offenders should attend the day treatment program at least five days a week. Children in such commitment levels are allowed full access to the community as well. The court assesses the risk a juvenile offender poses to him or herself based on past behavior and the offense committed. Minors charged with crimes involving firearms, sex crimes, or first-degree felonies cannot qualify for minimum risk non-residential commitment.
- Nonsecure residential commitment facilities might allow the minor to have unsupervised access to the community. Still, the environment has closer monitoring—such facilities as ideal for children who pose a low to moderate risk to themselves and the community.
- High-risk residential commitment facilities offer no interaction with the community except for children who have shown significant rehabilitation. The facilities have tight security and surveillance to contain offenders who pose a significant risk to themselves and society, such that placing them in a lower restrictive level outweighs the benefits.
- Maximum risk residential facilities are the highest restrictive commitment centers. They include juvenile prison and the correctional facility for minors who pose a great threat to them and society. These facilities do not allow any contact with the community, and in most cases, the facilities have single-cell occupancy. The main goal of these facilities is to protect the public.
The Direct File Rule
Florida is one of the strictest states on juvenile offenders, with a significant number of offenders charged as adults for juvenile offenses. The direct file Rule permits prosecutors to charge a minor as an adult at their discretion.
Most cases where prosecutors invoke the direct file rule is when a minor commits a serious felony. Some of the felony offenses that could lead to charges in an adult court include:
- Aggravated assault and battery
- Armed robbery
- Grand theft auto
Minors who are 16 or 17 are more likely to be tried in adult court for any felony violation.
Find a Juvenile Defense Attorney Near Me
Charges against your child for violating the law can turn your world upside down. It is not only a confusing time but also one that can impact your child's life for the rest of his or her life.
One right decision you can make at this critical time is to hire an attorney to represent your child. The legal process and outcomes for juvenile offenses differ for minors and adults.
Therefore, you need the guidance of a juvenile defense attorney to help you navigate the storm.
At Arnold Law, we understand the difference between adult and minor offenders and seek to work towards getting the best result for your child.
While we do not have the final say, we ensure that the interests and rights of your child are defended as legally and ethically as possible. Contact us at 904-264-3627 for a consultation if your child is facing charges.