Juvenile Crimes and The Florida Courts

Juveniles who are accused of committing crimes are often treated differently by the Florida criminal justice system. In fact, Florida has a criminal justice system set up just for juveniles, including a Department of Juvenile Justice, separate prosecutors, and judges assigned just to juvenile cases. It is important that you look for a lawyer who has experience with the juvenile justice system.

Florida law views and treats juveniles differently because, as the U.S. Supreme Court has stated, as compared to adults, juveniles have a lack of maturity and an underdeveloped sense of responsibility; juveniles are more vulnerable or susceptible to negative influences and outside pressures, including peer pressure; and juveniles’ characters are not as well formed.

In many instances, a juvenile charged criminal conduct is not criminal at all. In other instances, the juvenile has committed an act that could technically be considered a crime but perhaps they lacked the intent or knowledge that what they were doing was criminal. As a society, we do not absolve juveniles of responsibility for their actions simply because they are under 18 years of age; but, the Florida courts, based upon the precedent of the U.S. Supreme Court, note that juvenile transgressions are not as morally reprehensible as that of an adult.

Juvenile versus Teenager

The Florida courts do separate juveniles from “teenager” – meaning when someone is 18 years old they are considered an adult and are prosecuted for crimes in adult court. But even the U.S. Supreme Court has noted that “the qualities that distinguish juveniles from adults do not disappear when an individual turns 18.”

Developments in psychology and brain science continue to show fundamental differences between juvenile and adult brains. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, “in key ways, the brain doesn’t look like that of an adult until the early 20s.” According to one legal article published by the American Bar Association’s Juvenile Justice Center in 2004, the “evidence is now strong that the brain does not cease to mature until the early 20s in those relevant parts that govern impulsivity, judgment, planning for the future, foresight of consequences, and other characteristics that make people morally culpable…Indeed, age 21 or 22 would be closer to the “biological’ age of maturity.”

When seeking representation for your child – juvenile or teenager – keep in mind that it is important to seek representation of a lawyer who has experience in juvenile court or both juvenile and adult criminal court.