What is the Juvenile Justice System Process?

Many parents and guardians of youthful offenders want to know what their child will encounter as they move through the Juvenile Justice System. Understanding the process will allow parents and guardians to be knowledgeable and properly involved in supporting their child.

A juvenile criminal case may proceed as follows:

1. Law Enforcement
The police arrest the juvenile of a crime. They fill out an arrest affidavit that states the charges. That affidavit is given to the State Attorney’s Office who determine if there is probable cause or not to file charges.

Law enforcement presents a sworn complaint with evidence to the State Attorney’s Office. The State Attorney determines if there is probable cause to believe that the suspect committed the crime (see filing decision).

2. Detention Hearing
If the juvenile is held in the detention center the court holds a detention hearing within 24 hours of the arrest. This happens the morning after arrest. The Judge decides whether to release the juvenile and if so, what conditions are necessary to protect the victim, if any.

The judge can order the defendant to have “no contact” with the victim or witness. If the Judge does not release the defendant, he or she may remain in the detention center for up to 21 days.

3. The State Attorney Investigation
Once the State Attorney’s Office receives the formal complaint from law enforcement, an Assistant State Attorney (ASA) will review the case. If the ASA determines that there is enough evidence, charges may be filed.

4. Pre-trial Diversion Programs
There are several pre-trial diversion programs available to first-time offenders. Most commonly first-time offenders are referred to Teen Court. Teen Court is a non-judicial juvenile diversion program for youth under 18 years of age and is a part of the Juvenile Arbitration Program.

5. Arraignment
After filing a petition, the juvenile defendant is entitled to an arraignment hearing. At the arraignment, the defendant is notified of the charges against him/her. If the parent / guardian has not already hired an attorney, the Judge determines if the defendant needs the assistance of an attorney.

If the defendant cannot afford to hire an attorney, the court appoints a public defender to represent them. At this time, either the defendant or their attorney enters a plea of guilty, not guilty orno contest to the charge. I

f a plea of “not guilty” is entered, the case proceeds through the system. If a plea of “guilty” or “no contest” is entered, the defendant may be sentenced immediately, or the case may be set for a disposition hearing (see below).

6. Discovery / Depositions
Florida law allows the defense attorney to depo witnesses under oath prior to trial. This  is called a deposition. The defendant is not allowed to be present for these depositions. But the defense lawyer, ASA and court reporter are present.

During the deposition the witness will be asked questions about the facts of the case.

7. Pretrial Conference
The pretrial conference hearing is held one week prior to trial. The Defendant is required to appear in Court, and this is the last chance to plead to the charges.

8. Non-Jury Trial
Juvenile cases are tried before a Judge only with no jury. The defendant may or may not present witnesses on their behalf. The defendant may or may not testify. The defendant does have the right to be in the courtroom during the trial.

9. Pre-Dispositional Reports (PDR)
Often the Court requests that the Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) complete a PDR on the defendant before sentencing. This is an inquiry into the background, criminal history and circumstances of the defendant. The PDR includes a sentencing recommendation for the Judge to review.

10. Disposition Hearing
The Judge sentences the defendant in a manner appropriate to the crime and other circumstances related to the case. The Judge may either place the defendant on juvenile probation, or commitment to the DJJ at one of four levels: Low-risk programs that last from 30-45 days, Moderate risk programs that last from 4-6 months, High-risk programs that last from 6-9 months, and Juvenile Prison that lasts from 18-36 months.

11. Compliance Hearing

If the defendant fails to comply with their probation requirements, they may be set for a compliance hearing. Compliance hearings are generally reserved for failure to pay back restitution and/or court costs.

What To Do Next:

If your child has been arrested for a Juvenile Offense:

1. Don’t speak to the police – ask to have an attorney present.
2. Don’t give a written statement – again, ask to have an attorney present.
3. Contact an attorney immediately.
4. Collect and document your own evidence.

Houson R. Lafrance