Pinellas County Juvenile Criminal Charges
St. Petersburg / Clearwater Juvenile Criminal Defense Attorneys
Your Child Has Been Arrested… Should you Hire a Lawyer?
All people make mistakes throughout their lives. Young people too often find themselves at the wrong place, at the wrong time, and with the wrong people. Juveniles are likely to be impressionable and can easily fall prey to peer pressure. This can often lead to an arrest for juvenile criminal charges. Nevertheless, the consequences of a juvenile conviction for a criminal offense can be far reaching. A criminal record could greatly impact your son or daughter’s future educational and employment opportunities. Explaining a conviction for a burglary, drug possession or a theft offense could be very challenging when filling out a college application. Likewise, assuring a future potential employer that he won’t jeopardize work place safety, despite his past crime of violence or drug possession, could be difficult. Being arrested for juvenile criminal charges could subject your child to having his case moved into adult court where the penalties are even greater. Even if your child remains in the Pinellas County juvenile court division, his conviction could result in his detainment or incarceration. In some circumstances, such as a drug offense, it could also result in the suspension of his privilege to drive. Not only does your child need an attorney, but he needs a lawyer who is well versed in the highly technical area of juvenile law. A lawyer can help you can explore possible rehabilitative solutions that are not readily available in the adult court forum.
Having Your Child Released From Detention
After arrest, your child was taken to a “Juvenile Assessment Center,” for intake screening and to assess his risk to the community. If your child was not released shortly thereafter, then they are most likely being held in the “Pinellas Juvenile Detention Center.” (Often referred to as the “JDC”) That building is located adjacent to the Pinellas county Jail at 5255 140th Ave. North, Clearwater, FL. The phone number of this 120 bed facility is: (727) 538-7100. Rule 8.010 of the Florida Rules of Juvenile Procedure, grants us the lawful right to appear before a juvenile judge and request the immediate release of your child from the detention center.
The Importance of Acting Quickly to Retain a Juvenile Lawyer
It is imperative that you act quickly to secure legal counsel. This urgency exists for two important reasons: The “Detention Hearing” is required by law to take place within 24 hours after your child’s admission to the Detention Center. Unlike the arrest of an adult, Florida law does not permit you to simply post a cash bond or to use the services of a bail bondsman to secure your child’s release. Rather, the juvenile “Detention Hearing” is your only remedy. At this hearing, your lawyer can present facts, testimony and evidence to support our position that your child should be promptly released from custody. At the “Detention Hearing,” the judge will make a decision on whether to continue the detention status of your child for up to 21 days or more, or to release the child to a parent or lawful custodian. In making his decision, the judge uses a “Detention Risk Assessment Instrument” that includes the following inquiries: A.) Whether the child presents a substantial risk of failing to appear at future court hearings; B.) Whether the minor’s recent behavior presents a substantial risk of inflicting bodily harm on other persons if he is released; C.) Does the child have a history of committing a serious property offense?; and D.) Whether the child has previously been found in contempt of court. Prior to the Detention Hearing, we can meet with you and talk to appropriate witnesses in preparation for the Detention Hearing. Such a coordinated strategy can often greatly enhance our argument to the judge that the best interests of justice support a decision to release the child from the Pinellas Juvenile Detention Center.
Our Early Intervention…Keeping Your Child out of Adult Court & Encouraging the Prosecutor to Dismiss the Charge
Florida is one of only 15 states that grant prosecutors the power and sole discretion to summarily transfer a juvenile offender into a regular adult court division. This is an important distinction, since it is the primary purpose of the Pinellas county juvenile court judge to devise a plan of “rehabilitation,” whereas, the job of an adult court judge is to impose an appropriate form of “punishment.” In deciding whether to “direct file” the case into adult court, the prosecutor will look at such factors as:
- How close to the age of 18 is the accused?
- What is the minor’s level of criminal sophistication?
- Does the accused have a prior delinquency history?
- Are there any aggravating or mitigating facts and circumstances associated with this case?
Our prompt intervention with the State Attorney’s Office may result in keeping your child out of the adult court division. We can intervene by informing the prosecutor of mitigating circumstances associated with your child’s arrest. It might also be appropriate to point out your child’s academic efforts, sports related activities and life goals. At times, it can be persuasive to communicate what steps the parent has independently taken to insure that their child recognizes the wrong and is not likely to reengage in criminal conduct. For example, instituting a curfew, having their child complete community service hours, drafting a letter of apology, enrolling in a GED preparation course or proactively seeking substance abuse or anger management counseling.
Can My Child be Charged as an Adult?
One of the most common questions our Juvenile Criminal Defense team encounters from parents is whether or not their child can be charged as an adult. The answer to this question depends on a number of issues including the age of the child, the severity of the offense, and the child’s history of prior arrests. In Florida, charging a Juvenile as an adult is referred to in the Criminal Justice Community as a “Direct File.” After a Juvenile is arrested, the State Attorney’s Office has the obligation of conducting their own investigation to determine what, if any, charges are appropriate. There are some instances in which the State Attorney’s Office must file an “Information” charging your child as an adult. In many cases however, the State Attorney’s Office is empowered with the discretion to decide whether the interests of the public support or justify subjecting your child to adult sanctions.
MANDATORY DIRECT FILE AS ADULT
In certain instances, the legislature has taken away the State Attorney’s discretion and mandated that the child must be subject to adult sanctions.
The state must charge your child as an adult if:
- If the child was sixteen or older at the time of the offense, and;
- The child is currently charged with a violent crime against a person, and:
- The child has previously been adjudicated delinquent for the commission of, attempt to commit, or conspiracy to commit murder, sexual battery, armed or strong-armed robbery, carjacking, home-invasion robbery, aggravated battery, or aggravated assault.
See Florida Statute Section 985.557(2)(a),
Unless the State Attorney has good cause to believe that “exceptional circumstances exist which preclude the just prosecution of the juvenile in adult court”, the state must charge your child as an adult if:
- The child was at least sixteen at the time of the offense, and:
- He is currently accused of a “forcible felony” as defined by Florida Statute § 776.08, and;
- He has previously been “adjudicated delinquent” or had “adjudication withheld” on at least three prior felony offenses. (Note: the prior offenses had to have been committed at least 45 days apart from one another.)
See Florida Statute Section 985.557(2)(a).
Note: Forcible Felony means treason; murder; manslaughter; sexual battery; carjacking; home-invasion robbery; robbery; burglary; arson; kidnapping; aggravated assault; aggravated battery; aggravated stalking; aircraft piracy; unlawful throwing, placing, or discharging of a destructive device or bomb; and any other felony which involves the use or threat of physical force or violence against any individual.
The state must charge your child as an adult if:
- If your child, regardless of his or her age, committed an offense that involved the theft of a motor vehicle, and:
- While the child was in possession of the stolen motor vehicle he or she caused serious bodily harm or death to another person, or;
- Your child was a willing passenger in a stolen motor vehicle and while your child was in the stolen vehicle, a crash resulted in the death or serious bodily injury to another.
The state must charge your child as an adult if:
If your child was at least 16 years of age at the time of the alleged offense and: (1) Is currently charged with Murder; Sexual battery; Robbery; Burglary; Arson; Aggravated assault; Aggravated battery; Kidnapping; Escape; Aircraft piracy; Aggravated child abuse; Aggravated abuse of an elderly person or disabled adult; Unlawful throwing, placing, or discharging of a destructive device or bomb; Carjacking; Home-invasion robbery; Aggravated stalking; or Trafficking in Controlled substances, and (2) During the commission of that crime, your child: a) Possessed a firearm or destructibe device; b) Discharged a firearm or destructive device, or: c) Discharged a firearm or destructive device and, as as a result of the discharge, death or great bodily harm was inflicted upon any person.
DISCRETIONARY DIRECT FILING AS ADULT
In many situations, the State Attorney’s office is empowered with the discretion to “make the call” as to whether or not your child should be charged as an adult.
- If your child is sixteen years of age and charged with a misdemeanor, the State Attorney’s office may file adult charges against your child if he or she has at least twice in the past been adjudicated delinquent or had adjudication withheld for a delinquent act and at least one of the prior offenses was a felony.
- If your child is sixteen, the State Attorney’s office always has the discretion to charge your child as an adult and subject your child to adult sanctions if your child is charged with a felony offense.
If your child is fourteen or older the State Attorney’s Office has the “discretion” to file adult charges against him or her regardless of prior record if he or she is currently charged with any of the following offenses (including attempt to commit or conspiracy to commit any of the following offenses):
- Sexual battery;
- Aggravated child abuse;
- Aggravated assault;
- Aggravated stalking;
- Unlawful throwing, placing, or discharging of a destructive device or bomb;
- Armed burglary in violation of s. 810.02(2)(b) or specified burglary of a dwelling or structure in violation of s. 810.02(2)(c), or burglary with an assault or battery in violation of s. 810.02(2)(a);
- Aggravated battery;
- Any lewd or lascivious offense committed upon or in the presence of a person less than 16 years of age;
- Carrying, displaying, using, threatening, or attempting to use a weapon or firearm during the commission of a felony;
- Grand theft in violation of s. 812.014(2)(a);
- Possessing or discharging any weapon or firearm on school property in violation of s. 790.115;
- Home invasion robbery;
- Carjacking; or
- Grand theft of a motor vehicle in violation of s. 812.014(2)(c)6. or grand theft of a motor vehicle valued at $20,000 or more in violation of s. 812.014(2)(b) if the child has a previous adjudication for grand theft of a motor vehicle in violation of s. 812.014(2)(c)6. or s. 812.014(2)(b).
Possible Solutions to Juvenile Criminal Charges
The facts and circumstances of every case are different. Likewise, many of the rules and procedures in Juvenile court are far different than adult court. Therefore, you should not rely on the good-intentioned advice of family members, friends, or lawyers who do not regularly practice within the Pinellas County Juvenile court system. Speak with us at a free consultation about a variety of possible solutions unique to each of our juvenile clients:
Having the Charge Dropped By The Prosecutor
Simply because your son or daughter has been arrested for juvenile criminal charges does not mean the Pinellas County State Attorney’s has to summarily approve or “rubber stamp” the law enforcement officer’s decision. After a juvenile has been arrested, a prosecutor is required to review the facts, circumstances, and evidence. It is the job of the prosecutor to take whatever action he concludes is in the “best interests of justice.” Early intervention by a juvenile criminal defense attorney can sometimes be effective in convincing the prosecutor to file a highly beneficial legal document known as a “no information.” This document typically carries language that says “pursuant to our investigation, the facts and circumstances do not warrant prosecution.” The filing of this document by the prosecutor with the Clerk of Court causes the charge to be dropped and the prosecution to immediately terminate. It must be remembered, that without early intervention by your lawyer, the prosecutor will be forced to base his formal filing decision after hearing only the police officer’s side of the story. At times, your juvenile attorney can make the prosecutor aware of legal defenses or mitigating factors. In the alternative, your juvenile lawyer might offer to pay up-front restitution for theft, injuries or property damages caused by your child. Perhaps your lawyer can point to action you as a parent have taken, to insure that your child does not re-engage in unlawful conduct. Such intervention on your part might include your child’s voluntary participation in drug or psychological counseling, family imposed restrictions or lifestyle changes, or educational pursuits.
These programs are based on formal written contracts entered into by the prosecutor and defense attorney. Thereafter, they are approved by the juvenile judge. The child agrees to the terms and in exchange, the prosecutor agrees to dismiss the criminal charges upon the child’s successful completion of the program. The concept or premise behind diversion programs is that the juvenile justice system could inadvertently do more harm than good for some young people by stigmatizing them as “criminals.” The idea of “diverting them” is that their conduct might better be addressed outside the criminal justice system. Participation in diversion programs is specifically structured to address the alleged criminal conduct. For example, substance abuse counseling would be common for a drug or alcohol related offense. Whereas, performing community service, writing a letter of apology, or paying the victim restitution for theft or vandalism might be appropriate in other cases. A Diversion program could be available for your child under two different sets of circumstances: The Plan: (Commonly referred to as a “Walker Plan.”) This is a “pre-filing” diversion program. In other words, the prosecutor agrees to hold off on his formal filing of a criminal charge in exchange for the child’s successful completion of an agreed upon set of tasks. If the child is successful in keeping his part of the bargain, no formal charges are ever filed. Pre-Trial Diversion: This program can sometimes be available after the prosecutor has already filed a formal charge and the court has scheduled a hearing. Your child’s acceptance into the program causes the prosecution and court hearings to be “stayed” or postponed. Upon successful completion of the program, the charges are formally dismissed.
Withhold of Adjudication
If your child is ineligible to participate in a diversion program he may still be a good candidate to serve probation, and yet still avoid a formal conviction (Adjudication of Delinquency.) This is accomplished through what is known as a “withholding of adjudication.” This method of sentencing recognizes that although the offense may have been committed, the facts and circumstances warrant a probationary sentence, but not a formal conviction.
Plea Bargains or Negotiations
Your juvenile criminal defense attorney can engage in meaningful discussions with the prosecutor and judge in an effort to seek a probationary sentence. A term of probation would eliminate the threat of your child being removed from your home so as to complete a residential commitment with the Department of Juvenile Justice. Commitments can range from “Low Risk” programs that last from 30 to 45 days, up to juvenile prison that can entail 18 to 36 months of incarceration.
Common Juvenile Criminal Charges
- Sale or Possession of Controlled Substances
- Shoplifting / Petit Theft
- Grand Theft
- Criminal Mischief /Vandalism
- Use of Fake/False/Altered Identification
- Sex Offenses / Rape / Lewd & Lascivious Behavior
- Grand Theft Auto
- Minor in Possession of Alcohol
The Perils of Juvenile Court – Don’t go at it Alone!
Facing a criminal charge in the Pinellas juvenile division without an attorney is not a smart decision. If the judge finds the child “guilty” of committing the alleged offense, the court system will be required to impose an appropriate sentence. Although the judge has the authority to place the individual on probation, pay restitution, get drug treatment and/or complete community service hours, he can also order the juvenile to be held and reside at five different “programs” or “levels of commitment.” The majority of these programs require the juvenile to live in a facility outside of their home. While some levels of commitment impose a fairly lenient atmosphere, others are structured much like incarceration in the state prison system. To make matters worse, if a juvenile is required to reside and participate in a structured program, his parents can be ordered to pay the Department of Juvenile Justice to reimburse that agency for the child”s care. Having an attorney advocate on your child’s behalf could make a big difference in the outcome. Often, the attorney can take a proactive approach to have his client accomplish tasks in advance of court. The lawyer can also bring to the judge’s attention the efforts made or restrictions imposed by the parent. Your attorney can insure that the judge is made aware of:
- All the mitigating facts and circumstances
- The concern and intervention by the child’s family members
- The positive likelihood that if given a chance at a probationary sentence, the juvenile will be successful at completing the conditions and avoid any new law violations.
Selecting the Right Juvenile Criminal Defense Attorney
It is important to promptly secure the services of a lawyer whenever you believe that your child may be the subject of a police investigation or immediately after their arrest.
- You should interview several lawyers and select whom you believe to be the best or most highly rated juvenile criminal defense attorney practicing in the St. Petersburg, Clearwater and Pinellas county area.
- Your lawyer needs to be familiar with juvenile court proceedings and this special area of the law.
- Your attorney should be familiar with the Pinellas county Circuit Court judges assigned to the juvenile court divisions.
- You should feel comfortable that your juvenile attorney has the appropriate background and experience to effectively assist your son or daughter.
How We Can Help Your Child
We understand that an allegation against a member of your family is an emotionally charged event. We also recognize that this recent arrest probably has you concerned about your good reputation and your child’s future. It is for this reason that we handle these types of cases with great care, understanding compassion and absolute discretion. We are former state prosecutors who appear on a daily basis at the Pinellas County Criminal Justice Center and are skilled in the area of juvenile law. Take the time to meet with us to discuss the facts of your child’s case and our proposed tactics and strategy. Having us engage in early discussions with the Pinellas County State prosecutor could be extremely valuable in keeping your child’s case within the juvenile court system. It could also play an important role in having the charge dismissed, diverting the charge though a beneficial plan/program or ultimately achieving a disposition that avoids a formal adjudication (conviction) of delinquency. By calling our office to schedule a free consultation at either our St. Petersburg or Clearwater office locations at (727) 578-0303, you will be taking the first step toward better ensuring that your child has the best chance for a bright future.