Florida Juvenile Defense Attorney
When a parent receives a phone call that his or her child has been charged with a juvenile offense, it can be a completely frustrating and overwhelming experience. The primary concern for any parent is protecting the child’s future from the devastating effects associated with the arrest. The most important factor in protecting your child’s future is hiring an experienced juvenile defense lawyer. The juvenile system is supposed to focus on rehabilitating juvenile delinquents, but all too often, overly zealous prosecutors push for harsher sentences and for filing cases in adult court. Hiring an experienced attorney can keep the case in the juvenile system, where better options are available for addressing any of the child’s rehabilitative needs. Protecting your child’s best interest is our paramount concern.
The juvenile defense attorneys at Escobar, Michaels & Associates are well-versed in Florida juvenile law. We are experienced in providing exceptional juvenile criminal defense services to clients throughout Florida, including Hillsborough County, Pinellas County, Pasco County, Polk County and Manatee County.
The juvenile defense attorneys at Escobar, Michaels & Associates also work closely with the parents of the juvenile to address the child’s rehabilitative needs. By being proactive in addressing the child’s needs through voluntary efforts, we can often show the prosecutor and judge that additional court intervention is not necessary. Contact the juvenile defense attorneys at the firm for a free initial consultation.
The juvenile defense attorneys at our firm have represented juvenile clients in hundreds of cases, including:
- Serious felony charges
- Sex offenses, including molestation of another child
- Drug offenses, from possession to sale to trafficking
- Traffic and misdemeanor offenses
- Criminal mischief
- Reckless driving
- Underage possession of alcohol
- Underage possession of tobacco
- Possession of a weapon
Talking To The Police And A Juvenile’s Right To Remain Silent
When the police come to talk to a child about a criminal investigation, many parents encourage their child to answer all of the officer’s questions. Although well intentioned, when the child is suspected of having committed a serious crime, that advice may not be in the child’s best interest. Regardless of whether the child is guilty, answering questions is almost never in the child’s best interest. Instead, most attorneys agree that if a child is the target of an investigation, the child should invoke his or her absolute and constitutionally guaranteed right to remain silent and refuse to answer any questions until after he or she has consulted with an experienced juvenile defense attorney.
After The Arrest
After a juvenile is arrested, he or she will be taken to the Juvenile Assessment Center (JAC). Once at the JAC, the staff will question the child about his or her medical condition, age, school and a way to contact parents or a guardian. The staff at the JAC will then contact the parents, inform them of the charges, and provide information about the time and place of the detention hearing. In certain cases, the JAC will immediately call the parents to release the child to them.
The Detention Hearing
The detention hearing usually occurs the next morning after the arrest. The juvenile will be taken in front of the judge. The judge will review the police reports and other documents and decide whether the juvenile should be released or remain in custody. Detention depends on several factors, including the nature and seriousness of the pending charge and the juvenile’s prior record, if any. An experienced juvenile attorney at our firm can appear on the child’s behalf and aggressively argue for the release of the juvenile into a safer environment. The attorney can speak for the child to ensure that all legal defenses, mitigating factors and objections are brought before the court. At the detention hearing, the judge has several options, including: 1) holding the child for 21 days in secure detention; 2) placing the child in home detention; 3) releasing the child to the parents.
Detention Risk Assessment Instrument (DRAI)
The JAC prepares this report, which assigns points to determine the level of detention necessary to secure the child prior to the next court date and the conclusion of the case. Certain points are assigned based on the nature of the pending charge and the child’s juvenile history. Typically, if the child scores more than 12 points, then the judge can hold the child for up to 21 days. However, the judge has great discretion in determining the child’s placement.
If the child is ordered to be detained during the detention hearing, an attorney can later file a motion for detention review to ask the judge to consider other factors that were not previously brought to the court’s attention.
Charging A Juvenile As An Adult
During the initial 21-day period, the prosecutors in the State Attorney’s Office look at the facts of the case to decide whether charges should be filed. An experienced juvenile attorney can also conduct an investigation and talk with the State Attorney’s Office about reasons why charges should not be filed. Additionally, children as young as 14 can be tried as an adult in cases of robbery, aggravated battery, possessing a weapon on school property or grand theft of a vehicle. Furthermore, if the allegations involve the use of a firearm or gun, the juvenile could be charged as an adult under the “10-20-Life” law. If the State Attorney’s Office ultimately files charges in adult court, the child will be detained in the county jail and appear before a judge in adult court for a bond hearing.
Once Charges Are Filed
If charges are filed, an experienced juvenile defense attorney at Escobar, Michaels & Associates will proceed with the goal of having the charges dismissed through pretrial motions such as a motion to suppress or a motion to dismiss. Additionally, an aggressive defense will often result in more favorable pretrial negotiations with the prosecutor and, hopefully, drastically reduced charges and/or sentencing.
If no agreement can be reached, then the case will go to trial. In juvenile court, there are no jury trials — only bench trials before the judge. The state is required to prove “beyond and to the exclusion of every reasonable doubt” that the juvenile committed the crime. The juvenile is not required to prove anything. Witnesses, including the complaining witness or alleged victim, are subpoenaed to testify. The defense will cross-examine any of the state’s witnesses and present all evidence in favor of the juvenile.
The judge decides whether the defendant is guilty or not guilty and announces the verdict aloud in the courtroom. If the defendant is guilty, the judge may order the Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) to prepare a predisposition report recommending sanctions for the juvenile.
A predisposition report is an inquiry into the background, criminal history and family circumstances of the defendant. It is completed by the DJJ and given to the judge, the defense attorney, the defendant and the assistant state attorney. The report includes a sentencing recommendation for the judge to review. Although the judge may order a predisposition report, it is not required or completed in all cases.
Disposition Or Sentencing Hearings
Once a defendant has been found guilty at trial or entered a plea of guilty or no contest to a charge, the court will then proceed to a disposition or sentencing hearing. The court can generally impose two types of sentences: probation or commitment to the DJJ.
Typically, juveniles placed on probation may be ordered to complete a certain number of community service hours, take a tour of the jail, write a letter of apology or obtain counseling.
If the court commits the juvenile to the DJJ, it must specify a level of restrictiveness. The DJJ recommends a commitment level, and the judge ultimately commits the defendant, choosing the level that is most appropriate. There are four levels of commitment: (1) low-risk programs that last 30 to 45 days, (2) moderate-risk programs that last four to six months, (3) high-risk programs that last six to nine months, and (4) juvenile prison that lasts 18 to 36 months.
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