OFFICE OF THE PUBLIC DEFENDER 12th JUDICIAL CIRCUIT of FLORIDA LARRY L. EGER, Public Defender Serving, DeSoto, Manatee, & Sarasota Counties

What to expect when your child has been arrested or accused of a crime

Juvenile delinquency cases are quasi-criminal cases. Delinquency cases are when a child is accused of committing an act that would be considered criminal if they were an adult. Juvenile cases can be felonies or misdemeanors. Criminal traffic cases are the exception to the rule. If a juvenile commits a criminal traffic offense, that case is handled in County Court no matter the age of the driver.

Juvenile cases are handled in the Circuit Court by a Circuit judge. Juvenile cases are confidential and are handled differently than the cases in the adult system. Juveniles are not sent to jail or prison for their offenses as long as they are handled in juvenile court. The goal of the juvenile system is to rehabilitate the child as opposed to the criminal system where the goal is punishment.

The juvenile proceedings make up their own division within the Circuit Court system. This division is separate from the Circuit Criminal system. Because all matters pertaining to the juvenile are held in the same court, the Judge has a better idea of the child’s needs and the family situation. This allows for better resolutions in the child’s interest.

Non Arrest

A child may be accused of committing a crime even if they are not arrested. In a non-arrest, law enforcement will receive a complaint, prepare a report called a Probable Cause Affidavit (PCA), and forward the PCA to the State Attorney’s Office to review. Once the State Attorney’s Office receives the PCA, their office will complete an investigation to determine whether charges will be filed. This process takes time. Depending on the nature of the charge, the State has a minimum of one year to make a filing decision. With more serious charges, the State has a longer period of time to make a filing decision.

If the State Attorney decides to file charges, a Petition (charging document) will be prepared and filed. The child and the parent/guardian will be served with a Summons, along with a copy of the Petition to appear for an Arraignment. DO NOT call the Office of the State Attorney to discuss the child’s case.

If a child is arrested, the child will be taken to the Juvenile Assessment Center (JAC) and booked similar to adults. At no time will the child be co-mingled with adult inmates. Juveniles and adults are always kept separate. The JAC will call the parents or guardians of any child in their custody. Once the child is in the custody of the JAC, the JAC has 6 hours to complete the booking process and either release the child to a parent/guardian, or have the child transported to the Manatee Regional Juvenile Detention Center.

The JAC will prepare a Department of Juvenile Justice Detention Screening Instrument to determine whether the child will be released or go to detention. The Screening Instrument takes into consideration the current charge, any history of charges, the child’s age and if the child is currently under any type of supervision with the Department of Juvenile Justice. Depending on the child’s score, the JAC can (1) release the child to the parent/guardian, (2) place the child on supervised release with or without an electronic monitor or (3) place the child in secure detention.

If the child is place on supervised release or in secure detention, a detention review hearing will be held within 24 hours.

At the detention review hearing, a judge will (1) advise the child of the charges, (2) determine if the police had probable cause to make the arrest and (3) determine if the child should remain on supervised release or in secure detention for 21 days. In making the decision regarding detention status, the judge must consider the score on the Screening Instrument prepared by the JAC at the time of arrest.

Juveniles are not entitled to a bond.

If the child is held in detention for 21 days pending trial, the State Attorney may file a Petition charging the child. The arraignment of the child will be within 48 hours of the State Attorney filing the Petition. The State Attorney’s Office or the Department of Juvenile Justice will call the parent/guardian and tell them the arraignment date. The parent/guardian is required to attend the arraignment. On the arraignment date, the child may be released to the parent/guardian, or the trial may be set on the child’s 21st day. If on the child’s 21st day, the child has not been arraigned or the trial does not begin, the child may be released from detention. There are a few exceptions to the 21-day rule (1) the State Attorney’s Office may file for the child to remain in detention on a serious offense, (2) the child may agree to stay in or (3) the parties may reach an agreement.

A child as young as fourteen can be charged as an adult for a serious offense. Generally, for a child to be charged as an adult, the child must be at least sixteen and have been held in secure detention before for multiple previous delinquent acts; have been committed to a juvenile residential program in the past or is alleged to have currently committed a serious offense. The decision to charge a child as an adult, for the most part, is within the discretion of the State Attorney’s Office. If a child is charged as an adult, they will be transferred out of the Juvenile Detention Center and into the county jail. Children are housed separately from adults in the jail and are entitled to educational services while incarcerated. Once the adult charges are filed, the child is treated in every respect as an adult, and the case proceeds in the adult court. The child will be brought to First Appearances the day after they are transferred to the county jail. At that time, the Court will determine what amount of bond is appropriate for the child based on the facts of the case, delinquent history, and ties to the community. For more information, please refer to the section on adult criminal cases.

If a child is not in custody, a summons and petition (charging document) will be served to the child and the parent/guardian. Both the child and the parent/guardian are required to attend the arraignment hearing. At the arraignment hearing, the child will enter a plea of guilty, no contest or not guilty. If the child wants an attorney, the parent/guardian is required to fill out an application and see if they qualify for our services. There is a $50.00 fee associated with applying for the services of the Public Defender’s Office.

If you need to reschedule your child’s arraignment you may call either the State Attorney’s Office or the Department of Juvenile Justice. The rescheduling is not automatically granted and is a case-by-case basis depending on the circumstances. If the arraignment is not rescheduled, and the child and the parent/guardian do not appear, a pickup order will be issued for the child.

The child will have either a docket sounding or case management. Every case is different, and some cases will require the need for additional court dates such as motion hearings to exclude evidence and other pre-trial motions.

The child will need to meet with the attorney prior to the trial. The child should provide any of the following to the attorney at the client meeting: (1) all witness names, addresses and telephone numbers, (2) videos of the incident, (3) social media items related to the incident and (4) any other information the child has that may prove the child is not guilty or help to show that the crime is not as serious as the State Attorney suggests.

The attorney will review all the documents provided by the State Attorney’s Office in discovery, such as the police reports, witness statements, reports of experts and witness lists. Depositions of witnesses may be taken by the attorney.

The attorney may speak to the State Attorney to determine if an agreement to resolve the case. Most juvenile cases are resolved without a trial.

Juvenile trials are bench trials. This means the judge is the one who hears the case and determines innocence or guilt. There is no right to a jury trial in juvenile court. The State Attorney is required to prove whether child is guilty. They present their witnesses and evidence first to determine guilt. The child’s attorney has the right to question any witness that testifies for the State Attorney. Once the State Attorney has presented all of their evidence, they “rest” their case. The attorney for the child then presents any evidence or witnesses on behalf of the child. After all the evidence is presented, the attorney for each side has an opportunity to summarize the case to the judge. The judge will then make a determination of innocence or guilt. If the judge finds the child guilty, the judge may either dispose (sentence) the child that day or set a disposition hearing date.

A disposition hearing in the juvenile system is the same as a sentencing hearing in the adult system. The judge may either place a child on probation or request a commitment staffing requiring a predisposition report (PDR). The Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) will schedule the commitment staffing. It is very important that the child and the parent/guardian attend the commitment staffing to provide information about the child to DJJ. After the staffing, DJJ will prepare the PDR, which includes information about the family, school, education, psychological and delinquent history, as well as recommendations for the judge to consider at disposition.

If the judge places the child on probation, the child will have many conditions and restrictions on probation including curfew, repaying the victim for any damages, performing community service hours, attending school, apology letters or essays. If the judge commits the child to a DJJ program, it can be either a non-residential (daytime only) or a residential (overnight) commitment program. The length of the commitment program depends on the program’s restrictiveness and how well the child does in the program. The child may also be placed on post commitment probation upon release from the commitment program.

Juvenile court has jurisdiction over the child until age 19 in most cases. However, with some more serious charges, juvenile court has jurisdiction over a child until age 21. Your juvenile record may be used in the adult system if you commit a crime as an adult.


Championing the accused with the utmost professionalism and humanity