The Department of Juvenile Justice
What is DJJ and Who is Taken There?
For the most part, children and adolescents are not punished with adults or the same as adults when they have committed crimes that would be considered equal to an adult crime. Occasionally, a 16 or 17 year old could be tried in adult court, but that would occur only in one of three ways:
- Grand Jury Indictment
- The state filing of Information in adult court
- Transferring a juvenile case to the adult court upon motion by the State Supreme Court.
In recent years, the Department of Juvenile Justice has taken jurisdiction over the youth who committed crimes. Thirty five years ago, the number of gang and juvenile crimes began to increase. At that time there was no separate correctional facilities for juveniles. They were generally taken into the Department of Human Services and if they were found guilty of a horrific crime such as murder or rape, they were tried in adult courts and put in general prison populations.
In 1994, the state began to shift the juvenile delinquency cases away from social services and into an arena of corrections, and the Department of Juvenile Justice was created for adolescent delinquent crimes under the age of 18.
In the Juvenile Justice system today, approximately 600 cases are reviewed every month. The Juvenile Division located in West Palm Beach prosecutes the delinquent behavior of juveniles, including all felony and misdemeanor charges for the Fifteenth Judicial Court. This Juvenile Division handles the intake procedures, filing decisions, diversions, grand jury presentations and any filings to adult courts. Teenage traffic cases are handled by the county court in the youth’s jurisdiction.
The Legal Process for Juveniles in Florida
The process from the time of arrest is somewhat different than that for an adult. Say an enforcement officer picks up a delinquent youth for stealing. After the arrest, the officer has the choice to take the youth to his parent/guardian or to take him to the Juvenile Detention Center.
1. Taking the delinquent adolescent home to his parents is not releasing him because the officer will send the report to the State Attorney’s office for review, and they will make their decision the following day.
2. If the officer decides to take him to the JAC because of violence issues or prior arrests, the it is turned into the State Attorney’s office and returned that day. Then the youth begins the screening process. The JAC is a huge facility that prepares the initial screenings and holds the youth in detainment. There are offices for youth agencies within the DJJ system, the Intensive Delinquency Diversion Services, or IDDS, for the State Attorney and the school district police department’s Juvenile Court programs. The JAC houses the substance abuse program that most of the juveniles attend.
3. Next, the intake personnel give the youth a Department Risk Assessment Instrument, or DRAI, which assess the risk and violence level of the youth. The trained staff will then discern whether the youth should be placed in secure detention at DJJ, on home detention or house arrest, which would mean being released to their parent or guardian. It is their responsibility to be back on their court date.
4. If the youth is allowed by the court to remain at home until their detention hearing, they have gotten lucky. Typically, those who are released to a guardian have not committed a “violent crime,” and it is their first offense.
5. When it is decided that the youth will remain in custody or detention, he/she will be transported to the Palm Beach Regional Juvenile Detention Center Street in West Palm Beach. They will remain in custody until the next day when they have their detention hearing.
Detention Hearing and Consequences
The detention hearing is where the DJJ Judge decides if there is probable cause that the juvenile committed the crime, and he also decides whether there is a need for detention while awaiting the court order. No youth may be held in the DJJ Detention Center for longer than 21 days, unless the trial was already started or there was a continuance in process.
The youth has the option of pleading guilty, not guilty or no contest to the charges and requesting an attorney or a public lawyer. If the youth is found guilty of the crime, he can only be held in the DJJ Detention Center 15 days before being moved to a DJJ residential facility.
When the judge finds that the youth was guilty in participating in delinquent behavior, a Predisposition Report, PDR, is prepared and there are three dispositions for the adolescent.
- Impose probation with sanctions and withhold adjudication.
- Adjudicate the youth as delinquent with probation including conditions/sanctions.
- Adjudicate and commit to DJJ, with possible probation.
- Residential DJJ Program
Residential and Non-Residential DJJ Programs
All supervision of the adolescents is completed by DJJ, including residential and non-residential programs, daily education and DJJ sanctioned groups, which are required for adolescents that go home. The length of either program is determined by DJJ, but the adolescent cannot be committed longer than the statutory maximum period of incarceration for an adult who committed an equal crime.
There have been adolescents who chose not to follow through with the house arrest or the sanctions of their probation, and they have suffered. They were picked-up again, all sanctions were reinstated, regardless of how long they had served. They could also be instated into the residential program to finish their time.
Once the youth completes their entire program, including all requirements, they are dismissed from court supervision. If they stay law-abiding, their records are sealed. This entire process is sanctioned by Department of Juvenile Justice.
Contact The Umansky Law Firm
If your child has been arrested please contact one of our juvenile defense attorneys today for a free case review or call us at 407-228-3838.