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Juvenile Law and Court in Florida

In Florida, when a child or minor commits a crime and violates local or state laws, they are processed in the juvenile justice system. The consequences of being arrested as a minor can be many and lifelong. If your child has been accused of a crime, it is important to hire a juvenile defense lawyer that you trust to protect the child, provide assistance in navigating the juvenile court process, and to help achieve the best outcome possible.

Juvenile Defense Lawyer Tampa

Attorney Chris Beardslee is an experienced and knowledgeable criminal defense lawyer serving the Tampa Bay area. He is dedicated to not only providing the best legal advice and defense for your specific case, but also to making sure that you are informed about the process and your legal options along the way. If you have any questions or concerns regarding your case or any current charges our office is happy to help.

Contact The Law Office of Chris Beardslee for a free consultation today. Call 813-496-7778, or fill out a contact form and we will get in touch with you.


Juvenile Justice System in Florida

Under Florida juvenile laws, the circuit court has jurisdiction over proceedings in which a child is alleged to have committed:

  • A delinquent act or violation of law
  • A noncriminal violation that has been assigned to juvenile court by law

§ 985.0301(1), Florida Statutes

What Is The Difference Between Juvenile Court and Adult Court?

The Florida juvenile court system functions differently and has different processes and procedures than the adult court system.

When an adult is arrested and taken into custody, most often he or she is allowed to post bond in order to be released, and if bond cannot be posted the person remains in jail until trial. A juvenile, on the other hand, will only be securely detained if he or she qualifies based on the child’s record, type of crime charged and other factors established in the Florida statutes and the judge agrees to the detention. In addition, an adult could wait in jail for several months before trial, whereas generally a juvenile can only be held in secure detention for 21 days.


Juvenile Court Process in Florida

When a minor is taken into custody for committing a delinquent act or violating the law, the minor may be issued a civil citation for a first-time misdemeanor offense, released to the probation office or an alternative diversion program, or taken to a Juvenile Assessment Center (JAC) for evaluation.

Juvenile Assessment Center

A Juvenile Probation Officer (JPO) will complete a Detention Risk Assessment Instrument (DRAI) on the juvenile at the Juvenile Assessment Center (JAC). The Detention Risk Assessment gathers information relevant to determining whether the juvenile meets the criteria to be held in a secure, non-secure, or home detention setting. This includes gathering any relevant information about the juvenile, the juvenile’s family, and the nature and seriousness of the violation or act.

The Juvenile Probation Officer will make recommendations regarding detention to the State Attorney based on the evaluation. If a Juvenile Assessment Center is not available in the area this assessment will be done by an on-call screener.

Juvenile Detention Hearing

If the juvenile is held in detention care based on the assessment done by the Juvenile Probation Officer, the court must hold a detention hearing within 24 hours. The purpose of the hearing is to determine whether there is a reason to detain the juvenile and for how long.

The judge can order the juvenile to be detained for future court proceedings, order the juvenile to a diversion program, or allow the State Attorney time to petition for the case to be tried in adult court.

Unless an adjudicatory hearing has begun, a juvenile can be held in detention care for up to 21 days.

There are a few exceptions where a juvenile can be detained for longer than 21 days, for example if the child violates court ordered sanctions.

Juvenile Detention Care

Detention care is the temporary care of a child in secure or supervised release detention, pending a court adjudication or disposition or execution of a court order.

There are two types of juvenile detention care in Florida that are laid out by statute.

The first is secure detention. This is temporary custody of the child while the child is under the physical restriction of a secure detention center or facility pending adjudication, disposition, or placement.

The second is supervised release detention. This is temporary, nonsecure custody of the child while the child is released to the custody of the parent, guardian, or custodian in a physically nonrestrictive environment under the supervision of the department staff pending adjudication or disposition, through programs that include, but are not limited to, electronic monitoring, day reporting centers, and nonsecure shelters. Supervised release detention may include other requirements imposed by the court.

§ 985.03(18), Florida Statutes

Juvenile Arraignment Hearing

If the child is detention care, an arraignment hearing must be held within 48 hours after the filing of a petition for delinquency. A petition of delinquency is filed by the state attorney to initiate proceedings seeking a finding that a child has committed a delinquent act or violation of law. The purpose of the arraignment hearing is for the child to respond to the allegations in the petition for delinquency.

If the juvenile admits to the allegations in the petition, the court may either move to a directly to a disposition hearing, or order a predisposition report and schedule a disposition hearing as soon as practicable.

If the juvenile denies the allegations in the petition or does not respond, an adjudicatory hearing will be scheduled.

Juvenile Adjudicatory Hearing

The purpose of an adjudicatory hearing in delinquency cases is for the court to determine whether or not the facts support the allegations stated in the petition for delinquency. Adjudicatory hearings are held in front of a judge without a jury present.

During the hearing, the State must prove the allegations in the petition for delinquency beyond a reasonable doubt. The juvenile must be allowed the opportunity to call witnesses, testify in his or her own behalf, and introduce evidence. The juvenile has the right against self-incrimination.

If the judge finds that the juvenile has committed a delinquent act or a violation of the law, the juvenile may be adjudicated delinquent or adjudication may be withheld. A disposition hearing will be scheduled to determine sanctions.

Juvenile Disposition Hearing

At a disposition hearing, the judge determines the sanctions to be imposed on the juvenile. Recommendations from the Department of Juvenile Justice must be considered by the judge. This may include a predisposition report.

Sanctions and outcomes to the disposition hearing can include: probation, community service, home detention, restitution, or commitment to the Department.


Juvenile Court Outcomes in Florida

In Florida, the juvenile court system focuses on rehabilitation. The primary goal set out by the Florida Legislature is to change behavior. Unlike the adult system, punishment is not the focus.

The juvenile court uses sanctions to direct the child away from destructive, harmful, and illegal acts.

Possible outcomes of a disposition hearing in juvenile court include:

  • Judicial Warning
  • Probation
  • Residential
  • Commitment to the Department of Juvenile Justice
  • Commitment to Licensed Child-Care Agency
  • Restitution Hearing / Mediation