Children under the age of 18 who have been arrested or charged with a crime are first sent to juvenile court. The juvenile justice system is based on the premise that although children may violate the same laws as adults, due to their lack of maturity, children need a different response.
Teenage years are years of trial and error, short-term judgment and peer pressure. Home life and neighborhood situations influence developing children. Most youths who are arrested do not reoffend as adults. Intelligent intervention, supervision, detention and treatment can usually correct delinquent behavior.
When a child is taken into custody for the first or second time (and the charge is relatively minor and non-violent), the state may suggest the child participate in a juvenile diversion program instead of formal court proceedings. These juvenile diversion programs are Delinquency Prevention Services (DPS) and the Post Arrest Diversion Program, both operated by the Miami-Dade Juvenile Services Department. Participation is voluntary. The programs include a contract in which the state agrees not to prosecute the child if the child agrees to meet certain conditions. If the child fails to complete the diversion program requirements, the child can be brought back to court for further prosecution.
Children taken into custody in Miami-Dade County are transported to the Juvenile Assessment Center (JAC), a centralized processing center, by the arresting police agency.
At the JAC, the child may be evaluated and questioned regarding his life, family and peers as well as his or her involvement in the charges. The answers the child gives at the JAC will be shared and used by state agencies including the police and the state Attorney’s Office.
A DJJ probation officer at the JAC conducts a detention risk assessment to determine whether the child can be legally detained before the first court hearing. The risk assessment is based on a point system. Points are assigned for each charge. The more serious the charge, the more points assigned. There are additional points for having a delinquency history with the juvenile justice system. The DJJ uses the point score to determine whether the juvenile may be released or will be detained at the Juvenile Detention Center, a temporary holding facility for juveniles similar to jail in the adult system. Generally, if the child is taken into custody on a third degree felony charge of violence or any higher degree of felony, the child will be detained and transported from the JAC to the Juvenile Detention Center.
A detained juvenile is not entitled to bond. The child will appear before a judge for a detention hearing within 24 hours.
- Explain the nature of charges against the child
- Determine whether the police had probable cause to take the child into custody
- Determine whether the child’s family can pay for an attorney, and if they cannot, appoint the Public Defender
- Set a date for the adjudicatory hearing (trial)
- Determine whether the continued detention of the child is necessary
- The state can seek to have a grand jury indict, or charge, juveniles of any age. Indictments are usually for offenses that are punishable by death or life imprisonment, and cases where the child is younger than 14 years old
- A waiver motion is a request made by the prosecutor asking the juvenile court judge to transfer a child who is at least 14 years old to adult court. The judge conducts a hearing and reviews the child’s history, the charge and potential for rehabilitation, then either grants or denies the prosecutor’s request. The judge’s decision is based on legal criteria, the facts of the case and the child’s circumstances. A child of any age, with the consent of parent or guardian, can also request to be waived to adult court
- A direct file is a transfer to adult court by the prosecutor. There are two types of direct file: mandatory and discretionary. The juvenile court judge can’t prevent the transfer and no hearing will take place. This means that these juveniles have been transferred without the benefit of a judicial hearing, so there has been no judgment by a neutral judicial officer that there are services in the adult system for them, or that they are inappropriate for services in a juvenile court. Mandatory direct files stem from a state law requiring that for certain crimes a child 16 years and older be tried as an adult. The law allows no exception. The discretionary direct file law allows the prosecutor to file charges for certain crimes against a child 14 years or older in adult court. The decision to send a discretionary case to the adult court lies solely with the prosecutor. A judge cannot reverse a prosecutor’s discretionary decision to direct file a case, even if he disagrees. The prosecutorial decision to direct file a discretionary case is non-reviewable and non-appealable. If the prosecutor chooses to direct file, the charging document will be filed in adult criminal court
- Investigate the case further
- Proceed to trial
- Have an attorney represent him at trial
- Compel the attendance of witnesses at trial
- Confront witnesses who testify against him
- Testify at trial
- Remain silent at trial