JUVENILE DELINQUENCY OVERVIEW
There are several different routes that a juvenile delinquency case can take once it reaches all agencies involved. The State Attorney has a variety of options, including not prosecuting and dropping or diverting the case from further judicial handling, filing a delinquency petition in juvenile court, or transferring a youth to the adult criminal justice system.
There are a number of statutory mechanisms available to transfer jurisdiction over a juvenile to the criminal division of the court where a juvenile is prosecuted in the same way as adults charged with law violations. The mechanisms by which juveniles are transferred to the adult court include voluntary and involuntary judicial waiver. Once a juvenile has been transferred for criminal prosecution as an adult and found guilty of the presenting offense, the youth is thereafter considered an adult for any future law violations unless the criminal court imposes juvenile sanctions as provided by law.
Indictment by the grand jury may be sought by the state attorney for a child charged with a crime punishable by death or life imprisonment.
The act of seeking a judicial waiver may be either voluntary of involuntary to the alleged offender. A voluntary wavier is one in which the juvenile court must waive jurisdiction over a juvenile and transfer the child for prosecution as an adult when this is requested by the juvenile with concurrence of his parent or guardian.
The state attorney filing a motion requesting that the juvenile court waive jurisdiction over a juvenile and transfer the case to the criminal division for prosecution initiates an involuntary waiver. There are specific statutory criteria that must be considered by the court in filing on the motion. Upon the filing of the state attorney's request for an involuntary waiver, the court must hold a hearing and enter an order granting the request, or provide written reasons for not granting the request.
State attorneys have the discretion to directly file an information in the criminal division of the circuit court for juveniles 16 or 17 years of age at the time of alleged offense who had twice previously been found to have committed a delinquent act, one of which must involve an offense classified as a felony under Florida law. The state attorney may also file an information in criminal court when a child who was 14 or 15 years old at the time of the alleged offense has been arrested for one of several serious or violent offenses defined by Florida statute.
If the state attorney decides to prosecute a case in juvenile court, a petition for delinquency is filed with the clerk of courts. At the arraignment hearing, the youth charged enters a plea to the charges. If the child enters a plea of guilty or no contest, then the case is set for a disposition hearing. If the youth enters a plea of not guilty, and then the case proceeds to an adjudicatory hearing, commonly known as a trial. The youth has to right to legal representation as all stages of the case. The state attorney must prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt. Trials are held before a judge only. If the charges are not proven, the child is released from any further obligation to the court. If the court finds that the charges have been proven, then a disposition hearing is scheduled.
At the disposition hearing in juvenile court, the court determines the sanctions to be imposed. The court is to consider a pre-disposition report prepared by juvenile justice, but is not bound by their recommendations.
No Petition Filings
The state attorney may divert a case, in lieu of prosecution, contingent on the youth agreeing to certain conditions. These conditions may include curfews, letters of apology, restitution and completion of community hours. There are two main diversion programs in operation in Collier County. The first is the Juvenile Alternative Services Program (JASP) and is designed to rehabilitate and sanction juveniles referred for delinquency offenses. Successful completion of the assigned sanctions and services administered through the JASP referral means that the youth can avoid judicial handling and adjudication of delinquency. Unsuccessful completion may result in judicial handling. Secondly, many cases are referred to juvenile arbitration. State law permits the establishment of community arbitration programs, which utilize volunteer mediators from the community. These mediators meet with the juvenile and their families to come to a resolution of the case. Many other cases are not filed on by the state attorney simply because the cases will not hold up in court.