What to Know About Florida’s Juvenile Justice System

It’s a parent’s worst nightmare. Nobody wants to imagine their minor child getting arrested for breaking the law. That first phone call is bound to bring confusion, heartache, and worry. What happens next? Now that your child is in Florida’s juvenile justice system, what rights do you have? You’re probably wondering if your child will be okay.

The good news is that your child will likely face a different set of standards than an adult would. Adult corrections tend to focus on punishment. This isn’t always true for juvenile corrections, which focus on rehabilitation.

There is more you should know about Florida’s juvenile justice system. This post will inform you of your basic rights and what to expect.

The Focus is Fixing

Unlike adults, where the punishment comes under the “fullest extent of the law,” we know some kids need help. Juveniles under the age of 18 who allegedly commit crimes tend to face less severe penalties than adults. Florida’s juvenile justice system even makes rehabilitation part of its mission statement. The intent is to raise public safety through the prevention, intervention, and treatment of juvenile delinquency.

While your child getting picked up by the police may sound like an arrest, there is a subtle difference. Your child is in custody and will likely be taken to a Juvenile Assessment Center. Here, they are fingerprinted and processed. Then, a test will be administered called the Detention Risk Assessment Instrument. This test allows the justice system to determine where the child should go before speaking to a judge. At this point, your child may go home with you, but if not, they will go to a Juvenile Detention Center (JFC) for up to 24 hours.

The Next Steps

At the first hearing with a judge, everything will be taken together. This includes the nature of the crime, evidence, DRAI, and other case factors. After this hearing, your child may again go home with you or have to stay at the JDC. This is when the court will decide to pursue formal charges or drop the case. Juveniles can plead guilty, not guilty, or no contest. A trial ensues on a not-guilty plea.

Next is the adjudication process. Adjudication gives the juvenile a delinquent criminal record and may receive further JDC detention or probation. Adjudication is sometimes withheld, which finds that a crime has been committed but will not go on the child’s record.

Your Rights in the Juvenile Justice System

Though the focus of punishment is different, your child has the same rights as an adult. Your child has the right to have legal defense present at every step in the process. This includes booking, interrogation, hearings – Every step. Your child should have a criminal defense attorney willing to work to keep them safe.

What are Diversion Programs?

Often a child will qualify for a diversion program rather than juvenile detention. These focus directly on rehabilitation. Services include mentorship, special needs schools, scout programs, and more. Probation officers should help guide children to activities such as these. Sometimes, first-time offenders may be referred to these programs before a trial. This will result in no juvenile record. If your child has been detained: Don’t panic. Instead, seek legal counsel immediately, and work with the court system to help your child.