The Juvenile Court Process

Juvenile Court

In Florida, criminal cases involving minors are handled by the juvenile justice system or Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ). Juvenile cases are handled quite differently from adult cases. There are several substantial differences between juvenile criminal courts and adult criminal courts. Unlike adult court, there are no juries in juvenile court and a judge decides all trials. The juvenile justice system also differs from the adult system in that it focuses more on rehabilitation rather than punishment.

When Do I Need a Juvenile Criminal Attorney?

There’s a lot at stake when a child gets caught up in the court system. Thus, it is critical to retain a juvenile defense attorney as soon as possible when a legal issue arises. At Mowrey Law Firm, our experienced attorneys can guide you through the process and maximize the chances of resolving your child’s case with a favorable outcome.

Common Types of Juvenile Crimes

At Mowrey Law Firm, our attorneys are equipped to defend minor children in a wide variety of charges. Some of the most common offenses that lead to juvenile arrests in Florida are:

  • Assault
  • Battery
  • Burglary
  • Theft
  • Drug Offenses
  • Weapon and Firearm Offenses

In some limited instances, juvenile cases are “Direct Filed” to adult court. While infrequently done, direct filed cases are usually the result of a repeat juvenile offender who has committed a serious crime. The juvenile attorney you choose to represent your child must have the necessary experience to increase the chances of keeping your child’s case in the juvenile system.

Below is an overview of the typical process of a juvenile criminal case as it goes through the justice system:

Arrest, Release, and Detention

When a juvenile is arrested, he or she will be taken to a juvenile detention center. Within 24 hours, the juvenile will be brought before the court for a detention hearing. During this hearing, the judge reviews the allegations, the juvenile’s history, and other circumstances to determine whether detention should be continued or whether the child should be released to his parent or guardian. The judge can release the child at the detention hearing or continue the detention for up to 21 days.

Intake Assessment

In a juvenile case, the child will be assigned to a probation officer soon after arrest. A Juvenile Probation Officer (JPO) will contact the child and family to schedule an interview to gather information about the child, the family, the offense, etc. This interview is called an Intake Assessment.

The information gathered at the Intake Assessment assists the JPO in making an assessment and developing a plan to address the offense. Some of the factors that the JPO will consider are:

  • The nature of the offense
  • The child’s family dynamic
  • Whether the child has a prior record
  • The risk that the youth presents to the community, and
  • Damages suffered by the victim as a result of the youth’s actions.

The JPO presents the results of the detention assessment and their intake assessment to the State Attorney’s Office with a recommendation on how the case should be handled. The State Attorney’s Office will assign a prosecutor to review the case and determine what charges, if any, will be filed against the juvenile. The prosecutor is not required to accept the recommendation of the JPO, but routinely do.

Judicial v. Non-Judicial Disposition

Judicial disposition means that the JPO sees the case as more serious. It means that a formal charge, called a petition in juvenile court, needs to be filed. This means that the JPO has handed the case to the state attorney for prosecution without input and further assessment. The case can still be resolved with diversion, but it will happen later in the process if the state attorney agrees.

Non-Judicial Disposition is the better option. This means that the JPO is recommending that the state attorney NOT file a petition, and instead refer the case to a diversion program. Diversion programs result in a full dismissal of all charges if they are completed.

The filing of formal charges in a juvenile delinquency proceeding is known as “filing a petition.” The petition is the formal charging document used in delinquency cases and it will contain the specific charges that are alleged to have been violated, the statute number, and the date of the alleged criminal conduct.


When a petition is filed against a juvenile, they are entitled to a formal court proceeding known as an arraignment. At the arraignment hearing, the juvenile will be formally advised of the charges against them and will also be asked to enter a plea of guilty, not guilty, or no contest. Having an experienced juvenile defense attorney is extremely important during this process to help the child and their parents/guardians fully understand the charges and advise as to the best course of action.


The filing of a petition launches the formal discovery process if it hasn’t begun already. The discovery process typically involves the juvenile defense attorney as well as any other members of the defense team reviewing the evidence that the prosecution possesses, deposing potential witnesses, and looking for other favorable evidence. These efforts help expose potential flaws in the case, while also providing concrete insight into the strength of the prosecution. Further a juvenile’s defense attorney will then advise them based upon this information to help them make the best choice for how to resolve their case.

Plea Negotiations

A juvenile defendant is allowed to change a guilty plea at any time. In certain cases, the attorneys involved will work out plea agreements so that a trial can be avoided altogether. Once a juvenile changes their plea to Guilty or No Contest, there is no trial. The case then proceeds to sentencing.


If no plea agreement is reached, then the case will proceed to trial. As mentioned above, with juvenile cases there are no juries involved, and a judge directly decides all verdicts and sentencing. The burden of proof is on the prosecution, and the state is required to prove “beyond and to the exclusion of every reasonable doubt” that the defendant committed the crime. There is no burden of proof on the defendant. Witnesses, including the victim, are subpoenaed to testify, and be cross-examined by the defense.

Once the trial is completed, the judge will render the verdict. If the defendant is guilty, the Judge may order DJJ to prepare a predisposition report recommending sanctions for the child.

A predisposition report is an inquiry into the background, criminal history, and family circumstances of the child. It is completed by the DJJ, then given to the defendant and their attorney, the judge, and the prosecuting attorney. The report will include a sentencing recommendation for the Judge to review. Even though the Judge may order the DJJ to complete a predisposition report, they are not required or completed for every case.

Dispositional Hearings

Once the trial is completed and the judge has rendered their verdict, a dispositional hearing or sentencing hearing will be held. The judge will sentence the child in a manner they deem appropriate for the crime and circumstances involved in each case. The Juvenile Court has jurisdiction over the defendant until his or her 19th birthday (or, under some rare circumstances to age 21.)  There are two types of sentences that a judge may choose to impose:

Ways a Juvenile Case Can Be Resolved

Diversion: Even at the court stage, a child’s case can still be sent to diversion. If the diversion program is successfully completed, the charge will be dismissed. This means a clean record for your child and the guarantee that this blemish on their record will not harm their future potential.

Probation: When a child is put on probation, it is not for a set period of time like it is for adults. Probation is open ended for a juvenile offender. The time frame is structured as an appropriate period of time to ensure that the offense has been addressed and the youth’s plan to avoid re-offending has been approved and accepted. Several conditions will be put on a child sentenced to probation. Here are some of the more common conditions:

  • School Attendance Required
  • Obeying Parents Required
  • Curfew Required
  • Strict prohibition on associations
  • No contact with other juvenile probationers
  • No contact with victims or co-defendants
  • Must not leave the State
  • Consent to search at any time Required

Commitment: It is rare in juvenile court, but if the offense is serious enough, the Judge may order a period of Commitment. Commitment can be anything from house arrest to long-term incarceration.

There are several levels of Commitment:

  • Minimum-Risk – The child remains at home and participates at least 5 days per week in a day treatment program. Disqualifying offenses for minimum risk include sexual offenses, matters involving a firearm, or any felony that would be classified as a first degree or life felony if committed by an adult.
  • Low-Risk Residential – Children at this level have been assessed as low risks to public safety but require 24-hour supervision. Again, offenses that are sexual, involve firearms, life felony or first-degree felony if committed by an adult, do not qualify for this level of commitment.
  • Moderate-Risk Residential – Moderate risk to public safety and require 24-hour supervision. Examples of this type of commitment include halfway houses, wilderness camps, and youth academies.
  • High-Risk Residential – For youth assessed as a high risk to public safety that require close supervision in a structured residential setting that provides 24-hour secure custody. Examples of this type of commitment include intensive halfway houses, sex offender programs, and youth development centers.
  • Maximum-Risk Residential – Youth in this level of commitment have been assessed a serious risk to public safety. They are housed under 24-hour close supervision in a max security setting. Placement in such a program requires a minimum length of stay of 18 months. This setting is a long-term maximum-security program.

The Court has jurisdiction until your child is 19. In some cases, the Court can hold jurisdiction until the age of 21

An experienced defense attorney will skillfully navigate the juvenile justice system to bring about the best possible outcome for your child. With the proper representation, your child should be able to get back on track and start life as an adult with a clean record. To get started, call 904-824-7799 for a free consultation.

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