The purpose of Florida's juvenile justice system is to protect society more effectively by attempting to rehabilitate, not just punish, children who commit crimes. Children in Florida are persons under age 18. Juvenile courts in Florida work with law enforcement, prosecution and defense attorneys, and the Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF) in devising rehabilitation plans for children in trouble with the law. The courts will try to ensure that the child learns from his or her experience and returns to the community as a productive citizen, without having suffered permanent harm.
Children who are referred to the juvenile court have many of the same rights as an adult charged with a crime. You and your family should understand those rights. The following questions and answers provide you with specific information and procedures for you to follow . . . IF YOUR CHILD IS ARRESTED.
If your child is brought in for questioning, should he or she cooperate with law enforcement?
Yes and No. A good general rule is to tell your child that if taken to the police station as a suspect, he or she should be cooperative, but not answer questions about particular offenses until you are there to help. Anyone taking a child into custody must try to notify the child's parent, guardian, or legal custodian. Florida law says a child can be questioned outside the presence of his or her parents. However, in deciding whether a confession will be admitted as evidence against the child, the judge will consider whether the child fully understands his or her constitutional rights, and whether the parents should have been present to advise the child.
Children do have the right to consult an attorney before making a statement or answering questions, but in cases of minor offenses, it may not be necessary. However, if your child is charged with a major crime, such as a very serious property offense or a crime against a person, for which he or she could be tried as an adult, or if your child is currently under any type of court supervision, you and your child should definitely consult with an attorney before speaking to the police.
Your child can be taken to the county jail and held for up to six hours to be fingerprinted and photographed upon a reasonable belief that he or she has committed a crime. These records should be kept separately, are not available to the public, and should be destroyed at specific points in time or by court order. The police are then required to release your child to you or another responsible adult relative, or DCF Intake for the purpose of releasing your child to you or detaining your child in a secure juvenile detention facility.
Can your child be put in jail?
No, unless your child has previously been tried and convicted in adult court, or is being transferred to adult court for the first time. If your child is held in jail, he or she must be separated from adult inmates by sight and sound.
Your child can be placed in "detention care" pending a court hearing. The DCF Intake Counselor will determine if detention is necessary based on specific criteria. Detention may include "secure detention" (physical restriction in a DCF detention facility); "nonsecure detention" (placement in a physically nonrestrictive residential facility supervised by DCF); or "home detention" (placement at home with DCF supervision). If your child will be detained, a reasonable effort must be made to notify you. A child may not be detained for more than 24 hours without a hearing before a judge to determine the need for continued detention. Once a child is placed into detention, an adjudicatory hearing (trial) must begin within 21 days.
If the police charge your child, what procedures follow?
Information concerning the charges will be furnished to the DCF and to the state attorney for review. A counselor from DCF will contact you and your child and arrange a conference to discuss the charge and your child's background. Your child should refrain from answering questions about involvement in the actual crime, because this conversation can be used in court in many instances. DCF will make recommendations to the state attorney concerning appropriate ways to handle the matter. These recommendations are advisory only; the state attorney will make the final determination as to whether or not formal charges (a delinquency petition) will be filed against your child. In many parts of Florida, less serious offenses are handled by diverting the child from the formal judicial process into programs designed to remedy the situation without the need for court action. You should inquire about these programs.
Are all law violations by children handled in juvenile court?
No. If your child commits a violation of law pertaining to the operation of a motor vehicle, other than a felony traffic offense, the charges will be referred to the same court that handles traffic and motor vehicle offenses committed by adults. There are provisions in Florida law that allow the state attorney to transfer certain charges and certain children for prosecution in the criminal courts. A child, joined by his or her parents, has a right to demand to be tried as an adult. Cases also are referred to other programs outside juvenile court for resolution, such as a community arbitration program or a diversion program.
Does your child have a right to be represented by an attorney?
Yes. Florida law provides your child the right to be represented by an attorney at all stages of any juvenile court proceeding. If the judge determines that you are financially able to do so, you have an obligation to provide an attorney for your child. If you are not financially able to hire your own attorney, the court may appoint a public defender to represent your child. If a public defender is appointed, the court can assess a fee for the public defender's services against you as your child's parent or guardian. Any attorney is obligated to represent your child's best interests and not necessarily the parent's wishes.
Does your child really need an attorney in delinquency proceedings?
That is a question your child, in consultation with you, will have to answer. Remember that your child's attorney will represent the child's interest. Discussions about the case between your child and his or her attorney are confidential. The attorney will be as cooperative as possible with the parent(s), but cannot violate confidences between the attorney and your child.
If a delinquency petition is filed against your child, it is wise to have an attorney determine whether there is a legal basis for the charge as well as whether the legal requirements were met before the charges were filed. This is even more important when the state attorney is seeking prosecution against your child in adult court.
Does your child have a right to a trial in juvenile court?
Yes and No. There is no constitutional right to be tried as a child merely because of age. A child may demand to be tried as an adult or may be transferred for prosecution as an adult under certain circumstances.
If a delinquency petition is filed against your child and he or she pleads not guilty, a trial will be held before a juvenile court judge. If the child is prosecuted as an adult, the trial will be the same as an adult criminal proceeding.
What is a "treatment plan"?
Florida law provides that a child who has had a delinquency petition filed against him or her can make a contract with the judge to be placed voluntarily under the supervision of DCF without admitting guilt. The child gives up the right to a speedy trial and agrees to obey specific conditions. The judge promises that if the child complies with the conditions, the delinquency petition will be dismissed and the child's record will be wiped clean. If the child does not comply, the delinquency petition can be brought up again. The child will need the help of an attorney and the DCF counselor to prepare the required documents. The treatment plan is an excellent way for a child to "pay for the crime," without retaining a record in juvenile court. The plan must include the state attorney's consent to defer prosecution.
What happens if your child is found guilty?
If your child pleads guilty or is found guilty, the judge will go on to the dispositional phase of the delinquency proceeding to determine what should be done for your child. At the disposition hearing the court is required to consider a report prepared by DCF which contains information on your child and his or her background. The court is required to discuss the offense with your child and give everyone present, including the victim, you, your child, your child's attorney, the prosecutor, the arresting officer, and representatives of DCF and your school system an opportunity to comment on the offense and an appropriate disposition. Many times a child is placed on probation, called community control, with specific conditions the child must obey. For children charged with serious offenses or who have a record of serious offenses, commitment to DCF may be ordered. The child is then placed in the custody of DCF. Commitment may be to a program in which your child still remains at home, or to a program in which your child is temporarily removed and placed in a residential facility.
A finding of guilt in a juvenile proceeding can later be used by the court in sentencing in adult court for subsequent criminal convictions under certain circumstances.
Do you have any liability for delinquent acts committed by your child?
You may. Florida law allows the juvenile court to order you to pay restitution to the victim of up to $2,500 for each criminal episode in which your child is involved. In these cases, your liability is limited to the actual damages plus court costs. Additionally, another provision of Florida law allows the victim to sue you outside of juvenile court for damages done to the victim's property by your child. You may wish to consult with an attorney if it appears an effort will be made, either in juvenile court or in a separate lawsuit, to hold you financially liable for damages done by your child.
Are juvenile court records confidential?
Yes. Juvenile records should be kept separate and apart from other court records. Accessibility is limited to the child, his or her attorney and parents, DCF, law enforcement, some school personnel, and some correctional staff. They should never be accessible to the general public. Even the records of related agencies are not accessible without permission of the court. As with police records, there is also provision for destruction at specific points in time. Victims also have a right to the information and reports.
Does this mean the media cannot publish your child's name?
No, it does not. Juvenile court hearings are open to the public unless closed by the court. The press is free to publish any information gathered at a public hearing. Florida law also permits the police to release the name and address of a child 16 years of age or older who has been arrested for a felony.
The material in this pamphlet represents general legal advice. Since the law is continually changing, some provisions in this pamphlet may be out of date. It is always best to consult an attorney about your legal rights and responsibilities regarding your particular case.