When your child is arrested for a crime, it can cause you and your family an immense amount of stress. The outcome of a juvenile case can have serious implications for a child’s future, harm their academic career, and even lead to their incarceration in a juvenile detention or Florida Department of Corrections facility.
An experienced juvenile defense attorney can advocate for your child’s rights. A juvenile lawyer with knowledge of Palm Beach County procedures and programs may even be able to help minor offenders bypass juvenile court entirely by getting them into a juvenile justice residential program or other type of program.
An experienced lawyer can also help you find private counseling options so your child can get help without being exposed to more troubled children.
Whatever path your child is about to embark on, understanding how the system works in West Palm Beach and nearby areas and knowing what to look for when hiring a defense attorney can give you and your child a leg up.
Information Center for Juvenile Charges in Florida
- Florida Process for Juvenile Delinquents
- Juvenile Diversion Programs in Palm Beach County
- Sentencing and Penalties for Juveniles in Florida
- Finding the Best Juvenile Crimes Defense Attorney in West Palm Beach
When a person who is under 18 years old is charged with a crime, it’s usually classified as a juvenile offense instead of a criminal offense. This means that juvenile law, which is a subset of criminal law that governs accused minors, applies.
Juvenile offenders typically go through the juvenile justice system to get their cases resolved. However, juveniles who have allegedly committed certain crimes may have to go through adult courts instead.
Most of the time though, a juvenile court will get involved after a child is arrested and a prosecutor will files charges. The prosecutor will decide whether to pursue diversion—which we’ll explore in more detail below—or formal prosecution.
How the Juvenile Justice System Works Under Florida Law
A child’s involvement in the juvenile justice system typically begins with an arrest. After a juvenile is arrested, they will go to a juvenile assessment center to be processed or “booked.” A police officer may search your child, ask for their information, fill out an incident report, search to see whether they have a criminal record, and take their fingerprints.
Then, a juvenile probation officer will interview the offender and their family. The purpose of this interview is to assess the juvenile’s behavior and home life and try to come up with a solution to keep the juvenile out of trouble.
After the assessment, the juvenile will be released into the custody of their parent or legal guardian or detained in a juvenile detention center.
The juvenile probation officer will then give the State Attorney’s Office a recommendation based on the assessment. The probation officer can recommend that the State Attorney allow the child to enter into a juvenile diversion program or prosecute them for a juvenile offense.
Regardless of the probation officer’s recommendation, the State Attorney will have the final say in how a juvenile case will proceed.
A juvenile diversion program is a form of intervention youths can participate in to stay in their communities and avoid formal prosecution through the juvenile court system.
Diversion is a less stigmatizing way to help a child get their life back on track and keep them from ending up in adult court down the road. It can also help a child avoid having a permanent stain on his or her criminal record.
Diversion is more common in juvenile court than in adult court because the juvenile system places a greater emphasis on rehabilitation than adult court does.
In Floria, diversion can occur through a juvenile justice residential program or a day treatment program. After successfully completing a program, a child may remain under court supervision subject to certain conditions for a certain period of time.
Who Qualifies for Diversion Programs?
Diversion programs are not right for every child, and not all alleged juvenile offenders qualify for them. A state attorney will almost certainly opt for formal prosecution for certain types of juvenile crimes, typically violent crimes or more serious drug violations.
Diversion can, however, be appropriate for youths who:
- Have been charged with certain types of crimes, such as minor, non-violent crimes.
- Are first-time juvenile offenders.
- Show remorse for crimes committed.
Juvenile Programs in Palm Beach County
If the State Attorney decides to allow the juvenile entry into a program, the court will compile a list of requirements the juvenile must fulfill to have the charges against them dropped. These requirements vary based on the type of program, but many programs share the same basic elements.
Juvenile diversion programs come in all shapes and sizes and can even be effective in juvenile cases involving serious felonies, such as residential burglary. Some of the most common requirements of these programs include:
- Attending counseling
- Completing substance abuse treatment
- Taking anger management classes
- Performing community service
- Avoiding contact with accomplices or other people the court deems inappropriate
- Avoiding contact with the victims of offenses committed
- Writing apology letters to victims
- Paying restitution to victims
- Participating in rehabilitation programs
A typical program won’t impose all of these requirements on minor offenders. Rather, they’ll pick and choose based on services available, the type of offense alleged, and the juvenile’s history and challenges.
One of the most commonly used diversion programs in Palm Beach County is the Teen Court program known as “Youth Court.” Youth Court is a restorative justice model that revolves around a make-believe juvenile court.
In this program, a juvenile offender admits guilt and their parent or legal guardian signs a contract agreeing to carry out the sanctions that are issued. Other juveniles are trained to act as prosecutors, defense attorneys, and jurors. An actual judge or attorney presides over the case.
After a juvenile offender has admitted guilt and the parent or guardian has signed the contract, Youth Court holds a mock trial that essentially serves as a sentencing hearing to identify appropriate sanctions. A clerk announces the sanctions and the youth is “ordered” to complete them.
Failure to Complete Diversion
If a child doesn’t meet the requirements of a pretrial program, they may be removed from the program and face the charges for their juvenile offenses, potentially resulting in house arrest or jail time.
For juveniles who aren’t accepted into a juvenile diversion program, there is another option to help them avoid time behind bars and having a criminal record. A juvenile can usually stay out of the criminal courts and face civil litigation instead if it’s their first offense and the alleged crime is a misdemeanor.
Juvenile civil litigation is designed to rehabilitate juveniles rather than punish them, and it doesn’t result in jail time. Instead, some of the common penalties and recommendations of civil litigation include:
- Regularly submitting to drug tests
- Paying restitution
- Undergoing school progress report monitoring
- Getting substance abuse treatment
- Writing apology letters to victims
- Attending counseling
- Performing community service
Unfortunately, juvenile court penalties tend to be harsher.
Sentencing and Penalties in Florida’s Juvenile Court System
If a juvenile is not admitted into a juvenile diversion program and doesn’t qualify for the civil litigation program, they will still face criminal charges and be processed through the traditional juvenile justice system channel. This means that the juvenile’s options will be to stand trial or plead guilty to the alleged offense.
Penalties vary depending on the severity of the crime committed, the juvenile’s criminal history, and other circumstances. A juvenile criminal can be sentenced to house arrest or time in a juvenile detention facility.
In some cases, juvenile offenders can even be treated as adult offenders, which means a juvenile can be charged as an adult in adult court.
Watching your child go through the juvenile justice system is not easy. It can take a heavy emotional toll on you and your family. Plus, although juvenile court may feel more relaxed than adult court, the procedures can be just as confusing.
A juvenile defense lawyer can help you navigate the process from arrest to a final disposition, or even file an appeal if your child is found guilty. An accused minor’s lawyer can also:
- Help them get into a great diversion program.
- Negotiate a favorable settlement agreement.
- Create reasonable doubt if the case goes to trial.
- Convince a judge to knock jail time down to community service.
But a juvenile lawyer’s work doesn’t stop when you walk out of the courtroom. A good juvenile defense attorney can also be there for you when you have questions about a court order or want to know what comes next.
The trick is finding a lawyer who has the skills and experience necessary to do right by your child.
Finding a Juvenile Lawyer in Palm Beach County
If your child has been accused of a juvenile crime, his or her future is at risk. With so much at stake, you want to make sure your child has the best juvenile defense lawyer possible, even if you don’t believe your child has committed a juvenile crime.
Going to law school doesn’t make someone a seasoned lawyer. When you’re comparing juvenile lawyers, pay attention to not only their credentials but their direct experience. A good juvenile defense lawyer should have:
- The knowledge required to practice criminal law and try criminal defense cases, not just other areas of law such as family law.
- An understanding of juvenile offenses and what constitutes a solid juvenile defense, especially under Florida statutes.
- Experience with jury trials in the juvenile justice system, not simply defending adult offenders.
- Familiarity with the communities in which the accused minor resides and the juvenile courts sit.
- Availability to answer your questions and guide you and your child through the process.
As a parent, you want to make sure your child gets the best outcome possible. By narrowing your search to juvenile lawyers with some or all of these attributes, you will have a better chance of getting a great defense attorney to work on his or her case.
Representing Juvenile Offenders in West Palm Beach and Beyond
If your child has been charged with a crime, Meltzer & Bell, P.A. can help. Our attorneys have years of experience representing juveniles who have been charged with crimes in the following areas:
- West Palm Beach
- Boca Raton
- Delray Beach
- Lake Worth
- Boynton Beach
- Juno Beach
- Belle Glade
- Royal Palm Beach
- Palm Beach Gardens
- Elsewhere in Palm Beach County
- Miami-Dade County
- Broward County
No matter which area you’re coming from, a dedicated West Palm Beach juvenile offense lawyer from Meltzer & Bell, P.A. is ready and willing to defend your child.
Lawrence Meltzer and Steven Bell make it a point to be available to their clients 24 hours a day, seven days a week. And because they’re a former prosecutor and former public defender, respectively, you can be sure that your child is in the hands of an experienced juvenile defense lawyer who will handle their case with the dedication and focus it deserves.
Call us today at (561) 557-8686 for a free consultation so our legal team can get started on your case.
This article was last updated on Friday, April 14, 2023.