How Florida’s Juvenile Justice System Works

The juvenile justice system generally is supposed to be designed to provide rehabilitation opportunities for young people, but in some instances, this is not how things play out in reality. 

While teens and children are generally treated differently by the justice system, if your child is caught engaging in criminal activity, they can be arrested or detained and authorities may attempt to question them without your knowledge. This presents a serious risk to juvenile offenders, who may not know how to deal with police questioning, and may not know what their legal rights are. 

We’re not just attorneys; we’re parents. We understand how important it is to protect your child. Our mission as lawyers is to help do what can under the law to mitigate their risk. Let’s look at how the States’ juvenile justice system works: 

What Happens If Your Child is Arrested?

When your child is first arrested, they will most likely be taken to the Juvenile Assessment Center. This is a service that is intended to help screen and assess youth who have been arrested for criminal conduct, and to determine what kinds of needs your child may have in terms of support. 

For example, if your child has been arrested on a drug or alcohol-related charge, at the Juvenile Assessment Center it may be determined whether your child needs drug screening, rehabilitation support, and so on.

Risk Assessment

Juvenile offenders are then assessed through a process called a Detention Risk Assessment Instrument (DRAI), sometimes called just a (RAI). This is a questionnaire that determines the most appropriate place for a juvenile offender to go, whether that’s home with their family on supervised detention, a secure detention facility, or released without supervision. For youth cases, your child will need to appear before court within 24 hours so that a judge can determine the next steps that would be best for the situation. 

Exceptions to this include:

One exception to this process is that if your child has been arrested on a violent third-degree felony charge, or any higher felony charge, they will be taken to a secure detention facility (a Juvenile Detention Center). 

Another exception is that even if the DRAI determines that your child is not a high risk in general, if they have violently struck or attacked a family member they are unlikely to be released into your family custody.

Pre-Trial Intervention Program

If this is your child’s first offense, or they have committed a non-violent offense, the Florida State Attorney may offer to send your child to Pre-Trial Intervention. This is a program in which the charges against your child are ultimately dropped, and instead your child is required to carry out a period of supervision with various conditions. 

Your child may be eligible for PTI, which can help them to avoid a conviction or permanent record of an offense. Contact a lawyer at Stechschulte Nell to determine whether this is a possibility for your child.

Previous Offenses

If your child has committed previous juvenile offenses, they are less likely to be eligible for PTI, and may not be released under home supervision or other supervision. In cases with previous offenses, even juvenile offenders are likely to spend some time in a Juvenile Detention Center. 

Trial and Conviction

Formal charges are filed through a document called a Delinquency Petition. This is the document that provides you with all the information on what your child will be charged with. Your child can enter a “Guilty”, “No Contest”, or “Not Guilty” plea to this Delinquency Petition. 

If your child pleads “Guilty” or “No Contest”, sentencing will take place. If your child pleads “Not Guilty”, a trial will take place. There is no jury in juvenile trials, only a judge. 

If your child pleads “Guilty” or “No Contest”, or they are found guilty after a trial, they are then sentenced. Sentencing for juvenile offenders usually includes certain requirements such as:

  • Attending school without suspensions or absences
  • Avoiding contact with certain other people e.g. other youth involved in crime, gang members, friends also subject to delinquency issues
  • Attending counseling
  • Making amends or paying restitution to victims
  • Community service
  • Regular drug and alcohol testing
  • Curfews

If your child does not follow the requirements of their previous sentencing, such as skipping school or taking drugs, they may be sentenced to a juvenile program in which they are removed from your home to a state-supervised facility.

This process is very serious, as severe or numerous juvenile offenses can lead to your child being charged as an adult. If your child has been charged with or arrested for a juvenile offense, it is critical that you seek legal help immediately and retain a good defense lawyer in case of probation breaches or further offenses.

Don’t Risk Their Future

If your child has been arrested or charged with a juvenile offense, the attorneys of Stechschulte Nell can advise you. Call our top-rated Tampa, FL law firm at (813) 280-1244. We have experience working with the Florida juvenile justice system and will do everything we can to get your child the best outcome. Contact our law firm 24/7 speak to an experienced defense attorney or request a free case review here

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