Fort Lauderdale Juvenile Criminal Defense Attorney

Image of a man in handcuffs

The Florida juvenile justice system is frightening, but your family does not have to face it alone. If your child is facing criminal charges, a Fort Lauderdale juvenile defense lawyer from Phillips | Tadros, P.A., is standing by to help.

We know what’s at stake in these cases and how to protect your child’s life and future while seeking to avoid the worst possible outcomes of a conviction. Contact us today for a free consultation with a Fort Lauderdale juvenile crime lawyer, and let us put our 50 years of combined legal experience to work on your family’s behalf.

Why You Need a Fort Lauderdale Lawyer After a Juvenile Criminal Charge

While juvenile crimes in Florida typically do not carry penalties as harsh as those for adult crimes, the stakes can be just as high due to the impact those penalties can have on a young person’s future. An experienced juvenile defense attorney from Phillips | Tadros, P.A., understands what’s at stake as well as the nuances of the juvenile court system, which can help them protect your child at this critical juncture. We can offer guidance through each step of the legal process, develop a strong defense strategy given the circumstances, and seek to minimize the impact of the charges on a juvenile’s future.

One crucial way we can help is by exploring options that may not be apparent to those without legal training. These include diversion programs or alternative sentencing, which can lead to a more favorable outcome. Without a lawyer, you may miss out on critical defense opportunities, potentially resulting in harsher penalties.

Common Criminal Charges for Juveniles in Florida

The Fort Lauderdale juvenile defense attorneys with Phillips | Tadros, P.A., can handle a wide range of cases involving young people, including charges of:

  • Theft – This charge can vary from minor shoplifting to more serious burglary cases. It involves intentionally and unlawfully taking someone else’s property.
  • Vandalism – Vandalism involves deliberately damaging or defacing property. These acts can include graffitiing walls, breaking windows, or otherwise destroying property.
  • Drug Possession – These charges are related to the possession of illegal drugs or controlled substances without a prescription. The severity can vary based on the type and amount of the substance.
  • Assault and Battery – These charges involve harm or threat of harm to another person. Assault is the threat or attempt to strike another, while battery is the actual physical contact or harm.
  • Sex Offenses – Juvenile sex offenses can range from possession or distribution of child pornography to engaging in sexual conduct with a younger minor. These are serious charges that can have long-lasting impacts on a juvenile’s life, including mandatory registration as a sex offender.
  • Underage Drinking – This offense involves the illegal possession or consumption of alcohol by minors.

What Are the Florida Juvenile Sentencing Guidelines?

The state court system provides information on Florida juvenile sentencing guidelines, which comply with the rules found in the Florida Statutes. Here’s a breakdown of how Florida courts decide what charges and sentences juvenile offenders will face.

The Severity of the Offense

The seriousness of the offense plays a crucial role in potential sentencing and whether a juvenile will face adult charges. More severe crimes often result in stricter sentences, such as commitment to a residential facility or jail time.

Judges and prosecutors will consider the effect of the juvenile’s actions on the victims in the case. This factor can potentially influence the decision to order restitution or longer periods of detention.

The Juvenile’s History

A juvenile’s previous interactions with the juvenile justice system are a significant factor in sentencing. A pattern of delinquency could potentially lead to more severe penalties. The juvenile’s age and level of maturity can also affect sentencing. Younger offenders and those deemed less mature typically receive more rehabilitative-focused sentences.

Risk Assessment

Judges and prosecutors use specific risk assessment formulas to estimate the threat a juvenile poses to the community. Higher-risk individuals usually face longer or more secure forms of detention. The presence of mental health or substance abuse issues may lead to sentences that include treatment programs.

Rehabilitation Potential

Another critical factor in sentencing is the juvenile’s response to previous rehabilitation efforts, such as participation in diversion programs or compliance with probation conditions. Sentences may incorporate educational programs, especially if the juvenile is identified as having specific educational deficits.

Sentencing Options

Diversion into community-based programs is often an option for less severe offenses or first-time offenders. Diversion programs can help juvenile offenders avoid formal adjudication.

Florida juvenile probation is another diversionary option in many cases. Probation in juvenile cases usually comes with specific conditions tailored to address the offender’s needs, such as counseling, community service, or maintaining good school attendance.

For serious offenses or when other interventions have failed, juveniles may be placed in residential facilities that offer structured environments for rehabilitation.

How Are Juvenile Criminal Cases Different from Adult Criminal Cases?

Juvenile criminal cases differ significantly from adult criminal cases in several critical ways, such as different terminology. For instance, juveniles are “adjudicated delinquent” rather than convicted of crimes. Proceedings in juvenile courts are typically less formal, and records are often sealed to protect the offender’s future from the impact of early life mistakes. Additionally, juveniles have a limited right to a public trial, and a judge decides the case rather than a jury. The sentencing options in juvenile cases also emphasize rehabilitation rather than imposing punitive measures commonly seen in adult courts.

Can a Juvenile Be Tried as an Adult in Florida?

In Florida, juveniles can be tried as adults based on several key factors. These factors include:

  • Age and Offense – Juveniles 14 years or older can be tried as adults for serious offenses such as murder, sexual battery, armed robbery, or other violent crimes. The law provides for both discretionary and mandatory considerations for transferring a juvenile to adult court based on these criteria.
  • Discretionary Judicial Waiver – The prosecutor may request a hearing for a judge to decide if a juvenile should be tried as an adult. This is often considered for serious crimes or when the juvenile has a significant history of delinquency.
  • Direct File – The state attorney has the discretion to file charges directly in adult court for juveniles 14 and older, depending on the offense’s nature and the juvenile’s previous delinquency record. Certain crimes, like those involving violence or significant property damage, may prompt a direct file.
  • Mandatory Waiver – State law mandates that juveniles who commit particularly egregious offenses or who have been previously adjudicated for a violent crime face adult charges for subsequent offenses.

How Does the Judge Decide What Sentence to Impose on a Juvenile in Florida?

There are certain situations where judges must sentence juvenile offenders as if they were adults. Violent crimes and sex offenses are more likely to earn a juvenile offender an adult sentence. That said, judges often have some discretion regarding sentencing and may consider the following when doing so:

  • The offender’s age and maturity
  • The offender’s prior history with the juvenile justice system
  • The nature and severity of the offense
  • Whether the offender has any mental health or substance abuse issues
  • The offender’s home life and whether they would benefit from treatment in a residential facility

What Are Potential Defenses for Juvenile Criminal Charges?

Juvenile defense attorneys can employ several defense strategies depending on the charges against their clients, including the following:

  • Lack of Intent – Arguing that the juvenile did not intend to commit the crime, which is crucial for offenses requiring specific intent
  • Mistake of Fact – Demonstrating that the juvenile was unaware of certain facts necessary to have formed criminal intent, such as stealing an item they reasonably thought was theirs
  • Insufficient Evidence – Contesting the prosecution’s evidence as inadequate to prove the juvenile committed the offense
  • Coercion or Duress – Arguing that someone forced the juvenile into committing the crime
  • Entrapment – Asserting that law enforcement induced the juvenile to commit a crime they would not have otherwise considered

What You Need to Know About Expungement of Juvenile Criminal Records

Certain juvenile convictions can be expunged, meaning they are sealed from public record and can only be accessed in certain situations. This offers a juvenile offender a “clean slate” and shields them from many of the negative long-term consequences of a conviction. To pursue an expungement, a former juvenile offender will need to adhere to the steps outlined by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FLDE).

Further, only offenders who have completed a diversion program can apply for expungement. Offenders convicted of certain crimes involving weapons and other severe felonies cannot have their records expunged. If you want to expunge a record of a juvenile offense in Florida, you will likely need a lawyer’s help.