An individual who is less than 18 years old and commits a criminal offense generally is processed through the Juvenile Justice System. Rehabilitation is the focus of the juvenile process, whereas those who are adults are exposed to punitive punishment in adult court.
Steps in the juvenile process are typically as follows:
1. A minor may be arrested by law enforcement at the time of the alleged crime. If so, a charging document is created by law enforcement. In other situations, an arrest may be delayed where an investigation by law enforcement is required. Where law enforcement subsequently believes or ascertains that a crime is believed to have occurred, a sworn affidavit is presented by law enforcement to the state attorney for consideration. An evaluation by the state attorney then occurs to determine whether probable cause exists indicating a crime has occurred.
2. Where a minor is arrested and detained, the court must conduct a hearing no more than 24 hours after the arrest of the minor. At the detention hearing, the court will determine whether the minor should be released and what release conditions will be appropriate. In the event the court does not release the minor, detention may continue not to exceed 21 days.
3. In circumstances where law enforcement provides a formal affidavit or complaint to the state attorney for consideration, the state attorney's office will then interview alleged victims and other witnesses to determine whether evidence exists to support the allegations of the alleged criminal offense. Should the state attorney's office determine supporting evidence is sufficient, the state attorney will then file charges against the minor in a document referred to as a petition. In some circumstances, it may be later determined that the case should no longer be prosecuted due to lack of evidence, lack of witnesses, etc. In that circumstance, the case is handled as a dismissal and referred to as a nolle prosequi circumstance. It may be desirable that a request later be made by the juvenile to seal and/or expunge their arrest records.
4. For juveniles who are first-time offenders, pre-trial diversion programs may be available. The Juvenile Arbitration Program provides for a diversion program referred to as Teen Court, which is a non-judicial diversionary program.
5. Subsequent to a petition being filed by the state attorney's office, an arraignment hearing must occur. Arraignment hearings inform the juvenile of charges which have been asserted. At the arraignment hearing, the court appoints the juvenile a public defender where the family cannot afford to hire an attorney. A plea of not guilty is typically entered during the arraignment hearing. In such an event, the case will then proceed through the juvenile process. Where a juvenile enters a guilty plea or no contest to the charge, sentencing may immediately occur or a dispositional hearing may be set for a later date.
6. A defense attorney may conduct depositions of witnesses. A victim or relevant witness may be subpoenaed by the defendant's attorney requiring appearance at the scheduled deposition. During the deposition, the minor who is charged may not be present.
7. Typically, a hearing known as a pre-trial conference occurs shortly before trial. The juvenile's appearance is required. The pre-trial conference is the last opportunity to enter a plea regarding the charges.
8. In juvenile proceedings, cases do not result in a jury trial. Cases are tried and determinations are made by a judge. The juvenile has a right to appear in court, may present witnesses on his or her behalf, and may elect to testify or not at the trial.
9. In many circumstances, the court will request that the Department of Juvenile Justice to complete a pre-disposition report (PDR), which includes sentencing recommendations to be considered by the court prior to the defendant being sentenced.
10. A dispositional hearing is where the court will impose a sentence regarding the juvenile. Sentences may range from juvenile probation to commitment to the Department of Juvenile Justice for a specified period of time.
11. If a juvenile does not comply with the requirements for probation, he or she would then be subject to appearing back before the court in a process referred to as a compliance hearing.
Involvement in the juvenile process can have long term sequences. It is imperative that a juvenile has assistance by a knowledgeable and experienced attorney, because an attorney can address the case in a reasonable and appropriate manner. Peeler Law Firm, PLLC, in Pensacola is well-versed in the proceedings of juvenile court and is available to assist you and your family in moving through the process. Stan Peeler is available to meet with you personally and address your needs. Please contact us online or by calling 850-432-7705.