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The Florida Juvenile Justice System


If your child has been arrested or is under an investigation for a crime in Melbourne, Brevard County, or anywhere in Central Florida, your best protection is to retain an aggressive and experienced juvenile defense attorney at the earliest possible stage in their case.

Overview of the Juvenile Justice System

The Florida Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) is the agency charged with administering the juvenile justice system in Florida. DJJ makes recommendations to the State Attorney, who decides whether to proceed judicially or non-judicially with your child’s case. Generally, when children are charged with delinquent acts, they are taken to a juvenile assessment center (JAC) for an intake screening to assess whether some type of detention is necessary. The purpose of the assessment is to determine whether and to what extent the child posses a risk of harm to himself/herself or the community. If the assessor determines that detention is necessary, the child will be transported to the nearest DJJ facility. If the assessor determines that detention is not necessary, law enforcement will release the child to a parent or guardian and forward the charges to the Brevard County Clerk of Court. Other times, in lieu of transporting a child to JAC, law enforcement will release a child to his/her parents with a notice to appear for court.


When a child is taken by law enforcement to DJJ, a Juvenile Probation Officer (JPO) gathers information about the child and the alleged offense. The JPO then completes a risk assessment to make an initial determination of whether to release the child to his/her parents or to a juvenile detention center.

Detention Hearing

Under Florida law, a child is entitled to a Detention Hearing within twenty-four (24) hours of being taken into custody. The child is entitled to have a lawyer present at this hearing. At the Detention Hearing, the Court will decide whether there is probable cause that the child committed the delinquent act or violation of law and whether further detention is necessary. The Court will review the allegations, the child’s history, and the recommendation of the JPO to determine whether the child should be placed in secure detention, released to his/her parents/guardian, or placed on home detention. A Juvenile Court judge can release the child at the Detention Hearing or detain the child for another twenty-one (21) days. The Court cannot order detention longer than twenty-one (21) days pending trial unless an extension for good cause is shown. However, the Court has discretion to keep a child in secure detention for up to thirty (30) days if it finds that the child poses a grave threat to himself or the community.

Delinquency Petition vs. Diversion

After the Detention Hearing, the State Attorney determines whether to file formal charges. These charges take the form of a “delinquency petition.”

If the child is a first-time offender and the crime he/she is accused of is non-violent, the State Attorney might elect not to file formal charges and, instead, allow the child to participate in what is called a “diversion program.” These programs “divert” a child’s case out of Court and into the hands of a JPO, who monitors the child’s compliance with various intervention/rehabilitative services. If the child successfully completes diversion, the delinquency case is dismissed. However, if the child does not fulfill the requirements of the program, the charges are reactivated and the child will be prosecuted.

Arraignment Hearing

If and once a delinquency petition is filed, an Arraignment Hearing will be held. At the Arraignment, the child enters a plea of guilty, not guilty, or no contest. If and once a not-guilty plea is entered, the Court will set the Adjudicatory Hearing (or “Trial”) within twenty-one (21) days from the date that the child was placed into detention. If the child was not placed in detention, the next hearing must take place within ninety (90) days from either (1) the filing of the delinquency petition, or (2) the taking of the child into custody, whichever occurred first.

Plea Negotiations

A child charged with a crime may change his/her plea of not guilty at any time. Many times, the State Attorney and defense counsel can resolve a case without trial. Although trials are necessary in some cases, they eliminate certainty and control over your child’s case. With skilled counsel, you may be able to avoid trial and reach a resolution that best protects your child’s future.


If no agreement can be reached, the case will proceed to trial. The purpose of a trial is to determine whether the child committed the alleged delinquent act or violation of law. All juvenile trials are presided over by a judge as “bench trials.” There is no jury, and the judge acts as the sole finder of fact. The standard of proof is the same as in adult criminal court. The State must prove its case against the child “beyond a reasonable doubt.” At trial, the child has the right to present evidence and to cross-examine witnesses. At the conclusion of trial, if the State fails to prove that the child committed the delinquent act beyond a reasonable doubt, the case is dismissed. However, if the State is successful in proving that the child committed the delinquent act, the child may be adjudicated delinquent, and the Court will sentence the child, accordingly.

Disposition Hearing & Restitution

If a child pleads guilty or no contest or is convicted after a trial, the Court conducts a hearing to determine the disposition of the child’s case. The Disposition Hearing is akin to a sentencing hearing in adult court and gives the Court an opportunity to review reports, recommendations, and other relevant evidence related to the child and the offense.

The judge may impose three types of sentences: judicial warning, probation, or commitment to DJJ. If the child is adjudicated delinquent (the juvenile equivalent of “guilty”), the Court may order DJJ to prepare a predisposition report recommending sanctions for the child. The predisposition report provides the information as to the child’s background, criminal history, and family circumstances. This report assists the judge in assigning an appropriate sentence.


Juvenile probation is an individualized program that includes both a penalty and rehabilitative component. If sentenced to probation, the child will be assigned to a Juvenile Probation Officer and required to fulfill certain conditions of probation, which may include:

Are Parents Held Responsible for Their Child’s Actions?

Often, parents will ask whether and to what extent they will be responsible for their child’s actions. Under Florida law, parents and guardians are deemed responsible for their children and deterring them from committing delinquent acts. If a child commits a delinquent act, the emotional, legal, and financial responsibilities of the parents/guardians with regard to care, custody, and support of the child will continue so long as he/she is under the supervision of DJJ.

As it relates to restitution, the Court may order a child’s parents or guardian to pay restitution for any damage caused by the child’s offense. Whenever restitution is ordered, the amount may not exceed an amount that the child or parent could reasonably be expected to pay. The Court may also order the parents or guardian, along with the child, to complete community service if it finds that they did not make a diligent and good faith effort to prevent the child from engaging in the delinquent acts.


If the Court orders the child to be committed to a DJJ facility, the judge will make a determination as to what level of commitment is appropriate. There are four levels of juvenile commitment:

  1. Minimum-risk non-residential programs;
  2. Non-secure residential commitment;
  3. High-risk residential commitment; and
  4. Maximum-risk residential commitment.

Regardless of the level of commitment, the period of commitment cannot exceed the maximum adult sentence for the same offense.

If your child is facing juvenile charges, it is important to consult with a knowledgeable, aggressive attorney early in the process to protect both your child’s rights and your rights as a parent. The experienced juvenile defense attorneys at The Canina Law Firm can help safeguard the rights of your child and your family.

The Canina Law Firm | Juvenile Offense Attorneys

A juvenile should never go into the legal system alone. If your child has been arrested in Melbourne or anywhere in Brevard County, Florida, for a misdemeanor or felony offense.  CONTACT The Canina Law Firm today for your FREE Case Evaluation.

Brevard County Florida Criminal Defense Attorney

The Canina Law Firm proudly defends all residents of Brevard County and all cities and towns along Florida’s Space Coast including: Melbourne, Viera, Suntree, West Melbourne, Melbourne Village, Palm Shores, Palm Bay, Rockledge, Merritt Island, Titusville, Cape Canaveral, Cocoa, Cocoa Beach, Melbourne Beach, Indialantic, Indian Harbour Beach, Satellite Beach, Grant, Valkaria, Micco, Barefoot Bay, Scottsmoor, Mims, and Sebastian, as well as neighboring Volusia County, Seminole County, Orange County, Osceola County, and Indian River County, FL.

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