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Defending juvenile charges in Florida

Would you know what to do if your child was charged with a crime?

2015 has been a violent year for the city of Tampa. As of September, according to data published by the Tampa Bay Times, there have been 25 homicides so far in 2015. In 2014, there were 28 during the whole year. Other crimes – like shootings, drug offenses and crimes against property – are also on the rise in parts of the city.

While the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office attributes the crime to an increase in gang activity, the Tampa Police Department has been hesitant to use that word. What is clear, though, is that crimes are being committed by groups of young people, and the perpetrators are often under the age of 18.

All this has left many parents wondering: what happens if my child gets into trouble with the law?

Can my child be prosecuted as an adult?

If the circumstances are right, Florida law allows teenagers age 14 and older to be tried in adult court. In most cases, the prosecutor has sole discretion to decide whether to bring the charges in adult court or juvenile court. For very serious crimes, Florida law mandates that suspects age 16 and older be tried as adults.

In nearly all cases, it is in a child’s best interest to have his or her case handled in the juvenile system. If your child has been accused of a crime, it is very important that you retain an attorney as early as possible, so that the attorney can intervene before the prosecutor decides whether to send the case to adult court.

Neither you nor your child should make any statements to the prosecutor or police without an attorney present. Even though you might think you are making things easier by cooperating, you may inadvertently say something that ends up being hurtful to your child’s case.

What happens in juvenile court?

In the juvenile system, cases are decided by a judge, not a jury. In many cases, however, the prosecutor and the defense attorney may work out an agreement before the case goes to trial. The defense attorney may also be able to help the child enter a pre-trial diversion program.

Before sentencing, the Department of Juvenile Justice will research the child’s background and create a predisposition report that recommends a sentence. The judge may follow this recommendation, but is not required to. The judge may either sentence the child to probation, or to a period of incarceration in the custody of the Department of Juvenile Justice. Depending on the severity of the offense, the period of commitment might last anywhere from 30 days to three years. While this might seem like a long time, it is often far less than if the child had been convicted and sentenced in adult court.

Get help from an attorney

If your child is in trouble with the law, it is important to get help from an experienced attorney as soon as possible. The Tampa criminal defense lawyers at Escobar, Michaels & Associates have a strong record of success handling juvenile crime cases. If your child is in trouble, call our office to schedule a free initial consultation.