Juvenile Law

If your child has been accused of a crime, Florida’s juvenile justice system will determine what happens next. This system has different rules than adult criminal court and moves swiftly to resolve the legal issues. The goal for juvenile justice is to get your child on the right course again without a permanent stain on their record.

1.) Juvenile law is a legal system for minors that is separate from adult criminal court. The juvenile division handles legal issues that would otherwise result in criminal charges.

2.) The process begins when a law enforcement officer takes a juvenile into custody for a violation of the law. They may either release the juvenile to the parent/guardian or to a Juvenile Assessment Center (JAC) where a detention process is initiated. Juveniles who are taken to a JAC for a law or probation violation are screened by the Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) intake personnel to determine whether they should be held in secure detention, placed on home detention (house arrest), or released to a parent/guardian.

3.) Juveniles who are held in secure detention or placed on home detention have a detention hearing the next day. The purpose of this hearing is for the court to determine the existence of probable cause to believe that the child committed a delinquent act and determine the need for continued detention. School attendance is mandatory for all detained juvenile. As a general rule, a juvenile may not be held in any form of detention care more than 21 days unless an adjudicatory hearing (trial) has been started or the court has granted a continuance. After a finding of guilt, a juvenile may be held in secure detention for only 15 days if going to a residential DJJ program.

4.) If a juvenile’s case is sent to a diversion program, the juvenile and parent/guardian will receive notice in the mail of this decision. Participation by the juvenile in the diversion program is voluntary. If the juvenile participates and successfully completes the program, no further action will be taken on the case by the State. If the juvenile either fails to successfully complete the diversion program or chooses not to participate in the program, the case is sent back to the State Attorney’s Office to be reviewed for further court action.

5.) Florida law allows juveniles to be charged as adults by several different legal procedures form the State Attorney. All transfers to the adult criminal court are accomplished by the filing of an indictment or information, the issuance of an adult arrest warrant and the juvenile being booked into jail. Once the juvenile is booked into the jail, the case proceeds according to adult criminal court procedures.

6.) The filing of formal charges in juvenile court is accomplished by the filing of a petition. Once a petition is filed, the next step is an arraignment hearing. The parent/guardian must attend the arraignment hearing and to produce the juvenile at that hearing. If a juvenile does not appear at the arraignment, and has been properly noticed, the court will issue a Pick Up Order (PUO), which has the same effect as an arrest warrant.

7.) At arraignment, the court asks whether the juvenile pleads guilty or not guilty to the charges filed in the petition. The court then determines whether the juvenile is entitled to a court appointed attorney or must hire his or her own attorney. If a guilty plea is entered, the case is set for a disposition hearing. If a not guilty plea is entered, the case is scheduled for an adjudicatory hearing. A written not guilty plea entered by a defense attorney at or before the arraignment waives the arraignment hearing

8.) Juvenile court adjudicatory hearings (trials) are all non-jury, which means a judge decides the case. The state, and possibly the defense, will call witnesses and introduce evidence. If a juvenile is found not guilty, the case ends. If the juvenile is found guilty, the court may proceed with disposition or set the case off for disposition and order DJJ to prepare a Predisposition Report (PDR).

9.) Upon a finding of guilt or a plea of guilty, the court may select from three general dispositional options:

  • The court may withhold adjudication of delinquency and impose probation with conditions/sanctions
  • Adjudicate delinquent and impose probation with conditions/sanctions

Adjudicate delinquent and commit to DJJ with or without probation to follow the commitment

1.) The PDR may be ordered upon a finding of guilt, but shall be ordered in every case where the anticipated disposition will be commitment to a DJJ program. It outlines a treatment plan, which recommends the least restrictive environment that will meet the juvenile’s needs and reasonably ensure public safety.

2.) If a juvenile is placed on probation, the juvenile is supervised by DJJ and assigned a Juvenile Probation Officer (JPO). Probation will include conditions/sanctions that include, but are not limited to, monetary restitution, community service work, curfew, and mental health and/or substance abuse treatment.

3.) If adjudication has been withheld, the juvenile may be on probation until the juvenile’s 19th birthday. The length of probation for a juvenile adjudicated delinquent may be for the statutory maximum. The court may terminate the probation at any time, regardless of adjudication.

4.) If a juvenile is committed to the DJJ by the court, that means the juvenile will attend a program designated by the DJJ. Programs can be residential or non-residential. Non-residential programs require that the juvenile live at home and attend a program during the day. Residential programs require the juvenile to live away from home for a period of months to years.

5.) The length of stay for all of the programs depends mostly on the juvenile’s needs and participation in the program’s education and treatment. The judge may also impose probation with conditions/sanctions to follow commitment.

6.) If a juvenile on probation violates the conditions/sanctions of probation, a Violation of Probation (VOP) petition will be filed. If the juvenile admits the violation or the court finds that the juvenile violated probation, the court may revoke, modify, or continue probation and impose any sanctions that could have been imposed at the original disposition hearing. This means the court could then commit the juvenile to DJJ, regardless of whether the juvenile had already been committed.

Once the juvenile successfully completes the commitment program and/or all probation conditions/sanctions, he may be terminated from all court supervision.