Criminal Defense Attorney in Clearwater, St. Petersburg, & Tampa for Juvenile Cases

No matter what your age, being charged in with a crime is a frightening ordeal. Juvenile offenders are especially vulnerable in the criminal justice system, as their youth and inexperience may lead them to make unwise decisions. Young offenders are also easily manipulated and confused during interviews and investigations.

Many times, it is up to parents or guardians to ensure that juvenile defendants receive proper representation by a criminal defense attorney. Charles Holloway, P.A., a criminal defense attorney in Clearwater, Florida, is fully aware of the special circumstances surrounding juvenile cases. Attorney Holloway is committed to providing juvenile defendants with aggressive representation that will ensure their rights are protected. For more information about discussing a juvenile case with attorney Holloway at his office in Clearwater, Florida, please call (727) 446-8303.

Florida law defines a juvenile as anyone less than 18 years of age. When a juvenile is arrested, a number of decisions must be made quickly within the Juvenile Court, the State Attorney’s Office, and the Department of Juvenile Justice. The following offers a brief insight into some of these proceedings which should prove helpful:

I. Evaluation

The juvenile is evaluated immediately by detention screening, using a Detention Risk Assessment Instrument (DRAI) form to determine whether they should be detained in secure detention, placed on home detention, or released to the parents until an Arraignment Hearing. Secure Detention refers to holding the juvenile in a secure facility and Home Detention refers to a form of house arrest.

The DRAI form uses a point system to score a juvenile for detention or release. Points are assessed on the following criteria:

  1. Most serious current offense
  2. Other pending charges
  3. Prior criminal record
  4. Legal status (e.g. currently on probation)
  5. Aggravating or mitigating circumstances
  6. Mandatory aggravating circumstance: illegal possession of a firearm

Aggravating Factors:

  1. Juvenile’s attitude indicates danger to alleged victim or witnesses
  2. Offense committed in a premeditated manner
  3. Alleged victim suffered substantial injury
  4. History of absconding
  5. Coerced others into involvement
  6. Extreme amount of prior offenses
  7. Threatens not to appear in Court
  8. Engaged in organized gang activity
  9. Weapon used in instant offense
  10. Numerous other offenses charged with main offense

Mitigating Factors:

  1. Intellectual impairment affecting decision-making
  2. Coerced into involvement
  3. Offense committed in impulsive manner
  4. Alleged victim suffered little or no injury
  5. Alleged victim suffered little or no property loss
  6. Charge seems more serious than facts indicate
  7. Unrelated adult accompanied and influenced juvenile’s involvement
  8. Passive participant and not directly involved

II. Detention or Release

If the juvenile is released to his or her parents, the juvenile is free and will not return to court until the Arraignment Hearing. If they are placed in secure detention or home detention, they will have to appear before the Court within 24 hours of placement.

The Judge will determine whether probable cause exists and will review the DRAI to ensure it is correct. In Domestic Violence cases, the matter is reviewed every 48 hours. In Contempt of Court cases, the case is reviewed every 72 hours. The Court is required to consider alternatives to secure detention.

III. Intake

Next, the Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) will appoint a Juvenile Probation Officer (JPO) to make a disposition (charge and sentence) recommendation to the State Attorney and the Court, as well as make referrals for counseling and educational services.

In order to make the recommendations and referrals, the JPO will set an appointment to meet with the juvenile and his or her parents. This meeting with the JPO is voluntary. The JPO does not interrogate the juvenile about the charges. The JPO will consider the following criteria in making the recommendation:

Whether the juvenile admitted the offense to law enforcement

  1. The seriousness of the offense
  2. The previous number of offenses
  3. The age and maturity of the juvenile
  4. Whether involved in a street gang
  5. Attitude of the juvenile
  6. Attitude of the parents
  7. Ability of the parents to control the juvenile
  8. Social information (e.g. substance abuse, mental health, school performance and attendance)
  9. Attitude of alleged victim
  10. Restitution amount, if any

The recommendation must be completed within 24 hours after the juvenile is ordered to be kept in detention, and at the latest, must be completed within 20 days after the juvenile is first arrested.

The JPO may recommend the following:

  1. A non-judicial disposition (Juvenile Diversion Programs)
  2. A Judicial disposition
  3. Referral to adult Court

1) Diversion: These options are available prior to the filing of the official charges by the State Attorney’s Office:

a) Juvenile Arbitration: Usually reserved for first time misdemeanor offenses. Can include community service work, substance abuse evaluation and counseling, and restitution. Lasts approximately 6 to 8 weeks.

b) Juvenile Arbitration S.T.O.P.: Usually reserved for repeat misdemeanor or 3rd degree felonies. Includes more intensive sanctions and contact with the juvenile. Lasts approximately 4 months.

c) Drug Court: For drug-related offenses.

d) Teen Court: Sanctions determined by a panel of juvenile peers.

e) Early Delinquency Intervention Program (EDIP): Intensive residential treatment in a secure facility for 7 days to 6 weeks. Six to 9 months of follow-up.

f) Intensive Delinquency Diversion Services (IDDS): Higher level of intervention with juvenile.

2) Judicial Disposition: These are options available after official charges (a Petition) are filed by the State Attorney’s Office:

a) Plan: This generally requires that the juvenile enter a plea, admitting the charges. If the Court accepts the Plan, it will hold the plea in “escrow” until the juvenile successfully completes the terms of the Plan, at which time the case is dismissed.

b) Adjudicatory Hearing: A trial without a jury. The Court can find that the evidence did not sustain the allegations (i.e. not guilty) or that the allegations were sustained, (i.e. guilty). If guilty, the Court will then decide whether to impose probation supervised by the DJJ or whether to impose residential commitment. If residential commitment is anticipated, then the Court will conduct a Disposition Hearing, and consider aggravating and mitigating factors in the sentencing decision.

c) If the Court orders commitment, the term will end when the juvenile turns 19, unless the juvenile is placed in a serious habitual offender program, an intensive residential program for young offenders, a sexual offender program, or a maximum risk program, in which case the term will end when the juvenile turns 21.

3) Adult Court: Certain crimes are considered so serious, that the State Attorney’s Office is permitted to file charges that will treat the juvenile as an adult. Some charges are required to be filed as adult, regardless of the child’s age. Some charges are discretionary, permitting the State Attorney to decide whether to file in adult court or not. The Court has the ultimate authority to decide whether the juvenile should be sentenced as an adult or subjected to juvenile punishment.

The juvenile system is complex enough, and the various outcomes serious enough, that is important that the juvenile and parents obtain legal advice as soon as possible after allegations are made or the juvenile is arrested. A criminal defense attorney can assist in discussing the various options available and help the juvenile as they navigate the legal system, in search of a resolution that best meets the client’s needs.

For more information about hiring a lawyer to represent juvenile defendants in the Tampa Bay area, e-mail or call Clearwater criminal defense attorney Charles Holloway today. As a former prosecutor with decades of experience, attorney Holloway will be glad to meet with juvenile defendants and their parents regarding current or possible criminal charges. Attorney Holloway has a convenient office in Clearwater to conveniently assist juvenile defendants in Pinellas, Hillsborough, Pasco, and the greater Tampa Bay area.