Tampa Juvenile Defense Attorney
Tampa Juvenile Attorney Representing Children Throughout the Tampa Bay Area
If your child has been accused of a crime, one of the first questions the parent will ask is "Should we hire a lawyer to represent our child?" Speaking with an experience Tampa juvenile criminal defense attorney can help you decide what you need to do today to protect your child and the child's future.
Even for minor offenses, after a juvenile is arrested parents are immediately confronted with other questions such as whether they should waive the child's right to a speedy trial so that the child can enter a diversion program such as arbitration, the Walker Plan, or drug court diversion program. Each diversion program has different requirements. For many parents they would prefer to see their child enter private counseling rather than a state run or state funded program such as ACTS, Phoneix House, or DACCO which will group troubled children together.
Avoiding the Cookie Cutter Approach to Juvenile Justice for Your Child
For parents who are able to afford private counseling, the cookie cutter approach used by the juvenile courts in Florida is unacceptable. Before you commit your child to a certain course in juvenile court, talk with an experienced attorney for juvenile court cases. In many of these cases defenses are available that can force the prosecutor to drop or at least reduce the criminal charges in juvenile court.
At the Sammis Law Firm, P.A., we offer free consultations that can be scheduled in the office or over the phone today so that you can discuss your child's juvenile court case with an experienced attorney and find out the most appropriately way to help your child fight the juvenile charges in Tampa, Hillsborough County, Clearwater, Pinellas County, Bradenton, Manatee County, Brooksville, Hernando County, Bartow, Pasco County, New Port Richey or Dade City, Polk County or Sarasota County. Call 813-250-0500 to speak with a juvenile defense lawyer today.
Our Experience in the Juvenile Courts in Florida
Attorney Leslie Sammis has worked in the juvenile courts throughout the State of Florida. During part of her tenure as a former assistant public defender in the Sixth Judicial Circuit, Ms. Sammis was assigned to the juvenile court division where she helped hundreds of young people resolve their criminal cases.
Since entering private practice more than eight years ago, Ms. Sammis has continued to represent young people in juvenile court. Criminal defense in juvenile court is very different from the adult juvenile justice system. Talk with an attorney that has experience in juvenile court for the particular jurisdiction in which your child is charged.
How We Can Help Your Child
The juvenile justice system is suppose to be geared toward rehabilitating the child, however, all too often, overzealous prosecutors focus on taking a course of action that can be devastating to the child's future, without adequately addressing the root cause of the behavior.
An accusation against a juvenile can result in juvenile delinquency record, and possible placement outside of the home. Protecting the child's future career and educational opportunities are crucial. In many of these cases, the prosecutors and the courts seek to place the child in State Run programs that group troubled children together instead of addressing the root cause of the problem in a more beneficial setting.
Juvenile Crimes under Florida Law
At the Sammis Law Firm, P.A., we have experience representing juveniles in Florida in a wide variety of juvenile defense cases, including:
- Juvenile Driving Under the Influence DUI (Zero Tolerance .02 Legal Limit)
- Juvenile Burglary of Vehicle, Unoccupied Structure or Conveyance;
- Juvenile Burglary of an Occupied Structure or Conveyance (includes a business or residence);
- Juvenile Disorderly Conduct or Public Intoxication;
- Juvenile Criminal Mischief;
- Juvenile Trespass;
- Juvenile Sexual Misconduct;
- Juvenile Sexual Battery / Aggravated Sexual Battery / Molestation;
- Juvenile Assault and Battery;
- Possession of an alcoholic beverage While Under 21 Years Old;
- Drug and Alcohol Related Offenses;
- Juvenile Possession of Marijuana / Cannabis;
- Juvenile Gang-Related Activities;
- Criminal Mischief;
- Juvenile Theft / Shoplifting;
- Juvenile Robbery;
- Serious Traffic Violations;
- Juvenile Violation of Probation; and
- Possession of Drug or Alcohol on a School Campus.
Defending the Child Against the Juvenile Charges
In any juvenile criminal case, the first step is determining whether the prosecutor has sufficient evidence to prove each element of the offense alleged. Ms. Sammis will use cutting edge legal research techniques to determine the weakness in the prosecution's case. The next step is an investigation to uncover all facts that the defense can use to establish the child's innocence or mitigate any punishment.
Another common issue in juvenile cases is the restitution hearings. Often the victim in the case is seeking a much higher amount that the actual loss. Most importantly, we fight to protect the child from any long-term consequences that the prosecutor might seek to impose.
In most cases, the court will refer the case to the Juvenile Probation Officer for a recommendation regarding the child. When appropriate, we provide the Florida Juvenile Probation Officer with a complete biographical history of the child and mitigating factors that exist in the case so that more successful pre-trial negotiations can take place. When an experienced attorney begins a complete investigation early in the case more favorable results can be achieved.
Obtaining Private Counseling to Avoid Unnecessary Court Intervention
In appropriate case, the juvenile defense attorney can work with the child and parents to find appropriate counseling programs to address the root cause of the child's behavior, making additional court intervention unnecessary. The Sammis Law Firm works with some of the best child and adolescent psychologist in Tampa, St. Petersburg and Clearwater who can work with the child, providing the Florida juvenile defense attorney with favorable information to report to the court.
In those cases in which court intervention is necessary, Ms. Sammis is armed with the information needed to make it more likely that the court will continue in the treatment program already underway instead of being left to the mercy of State Run programs that group troubled children together often exacerbating the child's problems. Hiring an experienced juvenile defense attorney to protect your child's rights may be the most important decision a parent can make during this difficult time.
· Differences between Juvenile and Adult Proceedings in Florida
· Juvenile Probation in Florida
· Terms Used in Juvenile Courts in Florida
Stages of a Juvenile Case - Arrest Through Sentencing:
I. Juvenile Court Referral Process in Florida
II. Detention Hearings in Florida's Juvenile Court
III. Juvenile Intake Process in Florida
IV. Juvenile Diversion Programs under Florida Law
V. Juvenile Court Intervention in Florida
VI. Winning the Florida Juvenile Case at Trial
VII. Sentences Imposed if Juvenile is Found Guilty at Trial
VIII. Juvenile Charges Sent to Adult Court in Florida
How is a juvenile proceeding in Florida different from an adult's prosecution for criminal charges?
The circuit courts in Florida have jurisdiction over all cases in which a child is alleged to have committed a delinquent act or violation of law. A violation of the law is alleged through a delinquent complaint filed by a law enforcement officer when a juvenile in Florida is alleged to have committed a felony, misdemeanor, contempt of court or violation of a local ordinance.
Juvenile proceedings in Florida are not technically considered criminal proceedings. A juvenile proceeding is technically a civil matter. Although this distinction exists, the devastating consequences of an arrest and finding of guilt are very similar under Florida law. In a juvenile proceeding, the child can be convicted, and sentenced to imprisonment, residential programs that remove the child from his home, or probation. The child can be ordered to pay restitution and complete community service.
A juvenile does not have all of the same protections that an adult has to defend himself against a false or exaggerated accusation. Most notably, there are no jury trials in juvenile court under Florida law. If the case goes to trial, the juvenile court judge will determine your child's guilt or innocence. The juvenile does have certain valuable protections, such as the right to a speedy trial. Florida juvenile law requires the prosecutor for the State of Florida to bring the juvenile to trial within 90 (ninety) days of the juvenile's arrest, or the date the petition is filed, whichever occurred first. In certain cases, the attorney may need to waive the right to a speedy trial, however that is an important decision that must be decided carefully as part of an overall strategy.
If you need the advice of an experienced juvenile criminal defense attorney for a case in Hillsborough County, or any of the surrounding counties, including Polk County, Pasco County, Pinellas County, Manatee County, or Sarasota County, call 813-250-0500 to discuss your case with an attorney today.
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Stages of a Juvenile Case - Arrest Through Sentencing
I. Juvenile Court Referral Process
Once the juvenile has been arrested for a violation of a criminal law the child will be taken to the Juvenile Assessment Center (JAC) where the JAC will determine whether further detention is necessary.
After a child is arrested and detained, the juvenile is taken to a juvenile detention center in the county in which the offense allegedly occurred. During the intake process, the JAC staff will contact the juvenile's parents. A juvenile arrested in Hillsborough County, Florida, can be taken to either of the following Hillsborough County juvenile detention centers in Tampa:
- Hillsborough County Juvenile Assessment Center8605 N Branch Ave Tampa, FL 33604(813) 936-9099
- Hillsborough Regional Juvenile Detention Center East9504 East Columbus Drive, Tampa, FL 33619Phone Number: 813-664-4100 FAX: 813-664-4115
- Hillsborough Regional Juvenile Detention Center, West3948 W. Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd., Tampa, FL 33614
Phone Number: 813-871-7650 FAX: 813-871-4764
A juvenile arrested in Polk County will be taken to the following Polk County juvenile detention center, in Bartow, Florida:
- Polk Regional Juvenile Detention Center
2155 Bob Phillips Road, Bartow, FL 33830Phone Number: 863-534-7090 FAX: 863-534-7024
A juvenile arrested in Pinellas County, may be brought to the following Pinellas County juvenile detention center in Clearwater, Florida:
- Pinellas Regional Juvenile Detention Center5255 140th Avenue North, Clearwater, FL 33760Phone Number: 727-538-7100 FAX: 727-538-7318
A juvenile arrested in Pasco County will be taken to the following Pasco County juvenile detention center in San Antonio, Florida:
- Pasco Regional Juvenile Justice Detention Center28534 State Road 52, San Antonio, FL 33576Phone Number: 352-588-5900 FAX: 352-588-5909
In many cases, especially for misdmeanor or third degree felony offenses, the releasing officer with the Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ Counselor) will issue the child a "Juvenile Notice to Appear" that directs the parent, adult relative, legal guardian or other responsible adult to take custody of the child and promise to ensure that the child appears at the designated time for the arraignment. The notice also provides that if the child fails to appear in court for the arraignment or any additional conferences or appearances scheduled by DJJ or by the Court that the failure to appear may result in a custody order being issued and that the child may be picked up and taken into juvenile detention.
DJJ may also also ask the parent to sign a statement of authorization and use of social security account numbers by parents and guardians of youth being served by DJJ. The form provides that DJJ is authorized under Section 985.101(3) Florida Statutes to obtain and use the child's social security account number (SSAN) soley for the purpose of positive indenification of the parents including determining Medicaid eligibility. The use or sharing of the SSAN for any other purpose is forbidden under Section 119.071(f) Florida Statutes and DJJ Policy #1700.
Alternatively, after the juvenile is admitted to the Florida juvenile detention center, the juvenile will be taken before the juvenile court within 24 hours for a detention hearing. An experienced Tampa juvenile criminal defense attorney can represent your child at the detention hearing to provide your child with the best chance of being released while the case is pending.
Florida juvenile detention facilities are designed as a temporary program to house the juvenile prior to the resolution of the juveniles court case. Juvenile detention centers are used on a temporary basis to house juveniles while their cases are pending. If the juvenile is found guilty, the child can be sentenced to a long term residential program or a non-residential program as discussed below.
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II. Juvenile Detention Hearings in Florida
Within 24 hours of the juvenile being taken to the Juvenile Assessment Center (JAC), the juvenile will be brought before the court for a detention hearing. The juvenile can be represented by a Tampa juvenile criminal defense attorney at the hearing. At the juvenile detention hearing, the court will review the allegations, the juvenile's history, and other circumstances to determine whether the juvenile's detention should be continued, whether the juvenile should be released to his parent or guardian, or whether the juvenile should be placed on home detention. In certain cases, the child is released to his parents before the detention hearing, in those cases the child and his parent must appear at the detention hearing the next morning.
The Florida juvenile court judge can release the child at the detention hearing, or continue the detention for up to 21 days. Hiring an experienced Tampa juvenile defense attorney to appear at the detention hearing can make the difference between the child's detention being continued, or the child being released back to his or her parent.
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III. Juvenile Intake Process
The Florida Juvenile Probation Officer (JPO) will initiate the intake process by reviewing a copy of the charging report from the officer that made the arrest or the clerk of the court. The JPO then contacts the juvenile and his family to request additional biographical information about the child, his family, school, and activities. A juvenile defense attorney can assist the family in providing this information and presenting all favorable biographical information and mitigating factors to the JPO.
The information gathered during the intake process will be used by the JPO to make a recommendation to the court about how the charges against the juvenile should be resolved. The JPO's report and recommendation will address the type of offense charged, the juvenile's risk to the community, the wishes of the alleged victims, and the needs of the juvenile. The intake report and recommendation is then forwarded to the State Attorney's Office. Having a juvenile defense attorney involved with the intake process can often make a big difference in the way the case is handled by the State Attorney's Office.
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IV. Juvenile Diversion Programs
An experienced Tampa juvenile criminal defense attorney can fight to have the child placed in the most favorable diversion program. If the JPO recommends a non-judicial intervention program, also called a Florida juvenile diversion program, then this recommendation is reviewed by the Assistant State Attorney assigned to the case. If the State Attorney's Office agrees, then the juvenile and his parents must sign certain documents to take advantage of this program.
First, the juvenile and parents must sign a waiver of speedy trial rights and agreement to complete all of the requirements of the diversion program. The diversion program essentially "diverts" the juvenile away from the Florida juvenile courts and through a program run by the State Attorney's Office.
If the juvenile successfully completes the program, then the prosecutor takes no further action to formally prosecute the charges. On the other hand, if the juvenile does not successfully complete the program, then the state attorney's office will file a formal charge in the clerk of court's office, called a petition, against the juvenile. If the child is subsequently "rejected" from the diversion program, it is important to have an experienced juvenile defense attorney represent the child in front of the juvenile court judge.
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V. Juvenile Court Intervention
If the juvenile does not successfully complete the Florida juvenile diversion program, or if the State Attorney's Office will not agree to offer a diversion program that the juvenile agrees to take, then the State Attorney's Office will file formal charges of the criminal offense, called a petition, with the clerk of court.
In certain cases, an experienced Tampa juvenile attorney can discuss with the client and the parent the pros and cons of entering a juvenile drug court program which exists in certain counties throughout Florida, including Hillsborough County. Juvenile drug court is not appropriate in all cases, and it may not be in the juvenile's best interest if valid defenses to the charges exist, if the charges are not serious enough to warrant drug court, or if the child is innocent of the offense charged.
Hillsborough County has developed a Juvenile Drug Court which was established in 1996. The Hillsborough County Juvenile Drug Court is aimed at yours who have committed drug offenses or have a history of substance abuse issues. The benefit of Juvenile Drug Court is that if the program is completed successfully, the charges will be dismissed, and the child will not be convicted of a delinquent act.
The downside of the program is that the juvenile must enter a plea and be placed on probation. A violation of that probation could result in a harsher sentence, which could include the child being removed from the home. The program typically takes 12 months to complete. The juvenile must complete all contractual requirements that are negotiated before agreeing to the program, have a screening assessment, submit to a urine drug test, have a drug and alcohol evaluation, complete any recommended drug or alcohol treatment, stop using drugs or alcohol, and pursue a GED or attend school on a full-time basis.
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VI. Winning the Juvenile Case at Trial
Preparing a juvenile case for trial is very similar to preparing an adult case for trial. The attorney is allowed to speak to the witnesses involved, including public school resource officers, teachers, administrators, other children, and neighbors who may have knowledge about the case. When a felony offense is alleged, the attorney has the opportunity to take the deposition of the witnesses involved.
After a complete investigation of all of the evidence and witnesses that the State intends to introduce at trial, the juvenile defense attorney can also present witnesses or evidence that support the juvenile's side of the event. The juvenile defense attorney can file motions to suppress evidence and/or motion to dismiss the charges. In many cases in which the juvenile has been falsely accused the prosecutor will agree to drop the charges before trial.
The judge may dismiss the charges before trial based on a defense motion. In other cases, it may be in the juvenile's best interest to take the case to trial after pursuing all pre-trial motions to resolve the case. If the case proceeds to trial and the child is found not guilty, then the case is over. The juvenile's record will be sealed.
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VII. Sentences Imposed if Juvenile is Found Guilty at Trial
If the child is found guilty of the offense after entering an admission or being found guilty by the court after a trial, the following types of punishments can be imposed:
- Residential Commitment and Aftercare Supervision
- Adult Sanctions
Probation Sentences for Juveniles
The court can order a supervision program called probation after a juvenile has been found guilty of a delinquent act. Probation is a form of supervision that restricts the child's freedom and activities and is ordered instead of committing the child to the custody of the Department of Juvenile Justice.
A probation sentence usually orders the child to complete certain conditions such as community service hours, and paying restitution to the victims to compensate them for financial damages. A condition of probation can also involve submitting to an mental health evaluation and submitting to counseling. Counseling can involve anger management classes and substance abuse counseling.
The court can also impose a curfew and day treatment program, which provides additional supervision of juveniles in an educational setting.For certain offenses, the court can order the child to submit a biological sample for DNA testing.
Violation of Juvenile Probation
After a juvenile is placed on probation, a Juvenile Probation Officer (JPO) is assigned. The JPO will supervise the child to determine whether the child is complying with the court ordered special conditions of probation. The court may also order that the parents of guardian of the child report any violations of the court order by the child to the JPO and to the court.
If the juvenile commits a new offense or fails to timely complete the special conditions ordered by the court, the JPO will file a Violation of Probation Petition. If the court finds the violation of probation did occurred, the court may revoke probation and impose an alternative sentence, such as placement in a residential facility run by the Department of Juvenile Justice or any other sentence that could have originally been imposed.
Post Commitment Probation or Conditional Release
After the juvenile is released from a residential program, the juvenile will be supervised as part of post commitment probation or conditional release. Both post commitment probation and conditional release require the juvenile to comply with special conditions that are similar to those imposed in a probation sentence. Violations can result in the juvenile being recommitted into a more restrictive residential program.
Conditional Release supervision violations are governed by administrative hearings conducted by department staff of the Department of Juvenile Justice. The court is not involved in conditional release violations.
On the other hand, violations of post commitment probation are handled by the court in the same manner as violation of probation cases.
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VIII. Juvenile Charges Sent to Adult Court in Florida
For certain types of felony charges, it is possible for the juvenile's charges to be filed in adult criminal Circuit Court by either Direct File, Waiver or Indictment. Once the case is transferred to adult court, the juvenile can be tried and sentenced to adult sanctions, including prison.
In Florida, any person arrested for a criminal offense who is under the age of 18 is considered a juvenile. However, even juvenile offenses can be transferred to adult court. Any felony offense allegedly committed by a 16 or 17 year old person can be transferred to adult court. Even a 14 or 15 year old child can be charged in adult court for certain offenses such as grand theft auto, robbery, aggravated battery or possession of a weapon on school grounds.
Any offenses committed with a firearm under the "10-20-Life" provisions of Florida Law can be transferred to adult court. If the State Attorney's Office files the charges in adult court, then the juvenile is transferred to the county jail to a pod with other juveniles facing similar charges. Once the case is transferred to adult court, the juvenile is entitled to a bond hearing under the same provisions as an adult with similar charges.
After a plea or finding of guilt, the Department of Corrections will normally file a report that makes certain recommendations to the Court regarding the juvenile's charges. It is possible for a juvenile found guilty in adult court to be sent back to the Department of Juvenile Justice for the imposition of juvenile programs and sanctions.
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Terms Used in Juvenile Courts in Florida
Adjudication- finding by the Juvenile Court that a child accused of a delinquent act committed the act either after a plea or trial.
Disposition- services order or sanctions imposed by the juvenile judge (or agreed to in a diversion program) for the purpose of addressing juvenile's illegal act and holding child accountable for problematic behavior.
Detention- status of a juvenile being secured in a juvenile facility under order of the court on a temporary basis while awaiting a juvenile court hearing.
Petition- the document that formally brings charges against the child in juvenile court (analogous to the term "indictment" in adult court).
Secure Placement- status of a juvenile being held in a secure facility under court order for the purpose of complying with the terms of a disposition order (analogous to the term "incarceration" in adult court).
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Juvenile Delinquency and Juvenile Justice - resources provided by Florida State University.
Florida Department of Juvenile Justice - comprised of more than 4,000 employees in 15 district offices, with 20 regional detention centers and more than 150 commitment programs and facilities, operating on an annual budget of $330 million.
National Center for Juvenile Justice (NCJJ) - private, non-profit organization providing independent and original research on topics related directly and indirectly to the field of juvenile justice since 1973.
Parent's Role in Juvenile Court Proceeding - Find out more about a parent's role in the juvenile criminal case proceedings.
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Juvenile court is very different from adult court. Hire an experienced Florida juvenile attorney to represent your child in Tampa, Bartow, St. Petersburg, Clearwater, New Port Richey or Dade City. Contact Tampa juvenile court attorney Leslie Sammis to discuss your child's case by calling 813-250-0500.
The criminal defense attorneys at the Sammis Law Firm represents juveniles charged with crimes in Tampa and Plant City in Hillsborough County, Clearwater and St. Petersburg in Pinellas County, Bartow in Polk County, New Port Richey and Dade City in Pasco County, Brooksville in Hernando County, Bushnell in Sumter County, Bradenton in Manatee County, Sarasota and Venice in Sarasota County and the surrounding areas throughout Central Florida.
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