Children under the age of 18 at the time of the alleged offense are considered juveniles in Florida. When charged with committing delinquent acts (criminal violations), they appear before circuit court judges in the Juvenile Division. Juvenile Court is located at the Main Courthouse in West Palm Beach, as well as in Belle Glade and Delray Beach. Although children are afforded many of the same rights as adults charged with crimes, including the right to an attorney, the right to a speedy trial, and the right to discovery, they are not entitled to a jury trial.
As an attorney for the child, the assigned assistant public defender represents the child’s express interest, even when that may differ from what the child’s parent, judge, prosecutor, or probation officer think is best.
A child accused with committing a crime may be summoned to court or may be arrested by a take-into-custody order (TICO) or a warrant.
If the child receives a summons, it will include the date, time, and location at which the child must appear in court. On that date, the judge will appoint an assistant public defender if the child qualifies.
If the child is arrested, the child is taken to the Juvenile Assessment Center (JAC) where the Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) evaluates the child. This evaluation includes the Detention Risk Assessment Instrument (DRAI), which is a score that determines whether the child will be released, placed in nonsecure detention, or placed in secure detention. Children in secure detention are detained at the Juvenile Detention Center (JDC) connected to the JAC.
Any child in detention will appear before a judge for a hearing within 24 hours of being detained. Detention hearings are held on weekdays at the Main Courthouse and on weekends at the Criminal Justice Complex. At the detention hearing, the judge will appoint an assistant public defender if the child qualifies. The judge determines whether the child will remain in nonsecure or secure detention, and the case is assigned to one of the juvenile divisions. A child in nonsecure or secure detention may only remain on that detention status for 21 days unless an adjudicatory hearing occurs, or unless waived by the child and his or her attorney.
The State may offer to divert a case to a diversion program. If the child accepts and successfully completes the diversion, then the State will not file charges. Otherwise, the State will file a petition alleging that the child has committed a delinquent act. The child may enter a plea or proceed to trial.
When a child is charged with certain felony offenses, the State Attorney’s Office may choose to “direct file” a case and transfer it to adult criminal court. If this occurs, the child will be taken into custody by the Palm Beach Sheriff’s Office and will appear at first appearances at the courthouse on Gun Club Road to have bond set. Out office will assign a specific direct file attorney to represent the child. A direct-filed juvenile will appear in adult court for all future court proceedings.
Recent U.S. Supreme Court rulings made unconstitutional, for juveniles, life sentences without the possibility of parole in non-homicide cases and mandatory life without parole sentences in homicide cases. In response, the Public Defender’s Office created a team of experienced lawyers and investigators to identify these cases and work with the more than 20 individuals from Palm Beach County who qualified to be resentenced.