Robin Fuson
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Summertime Means More Juvenile Crime: What To Do If Your Child Is Arrested?

Criminal Defense

You already know – by the temperature – that it’s now summer. Young people are out of school, enjoying the beaches, working at their summer jobs – and sometimes committing crimes. Here in the Tampa Bay area, since public schools dismissed for the summer, crimes involving juveniles have been on the rise in virtually every community and neighborhood. Three teens who appear – from the surveillance videos – to be from 15 to 18 years old are wanted for robbing the same store twice in St. Petersburg. In Riverview, several teens are wanted for distributing counterfeit bills. Polk County detectives are also looking for bogus bill-passers who appear to be teens.

Three teens who appear – from the surveillance videos – to be from 15 to 18 years old are wanted for robbing the same store twice in St. Petersburg. In Riverview, several teens are wanted for distributing counterfeit bills. Polk County detectives are also looking for bogus bill-passers who appear to be teens.

Police in St. Petersburg told Fox 13 News that summer vacation and winter break are usually times when there is a slight uptick in typical juvenile crimes – bicycle thefts, shoplifting, auto burglaries, vandalism, underage drinking, and marijuana possession, for example. Authorities are telling Tampa Bay area residents to avoid being victimized by a crime of opportunity.

Close your garage – lawn mower and tool thefts typically increase in the summer – and make sure to lock your vehicle whenever and wherever you park it. Authorities are urging parents to monitor their children’s activities, friends, and behaviors this summer.

ISN’T JUVENILE CRIME ACTUALLY DECLINING IN FLORIDA?

While juvenile crime rises slightly in the summer, a year-round overview tells us that juvenile crime in Florida has slowly been declining for years. Juvenile arrests were down seven percent statewide in fiscal year 2016, continuing a six-year trend, according to the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ).

Arrests of juveniles declined in all five of the state’s largest counties in fiscal year 2016 – by 12 percent in Miami-Dade County, by 8 percent in Broward County, by 7 percent in Orange County, by 6 percent in Palm Beach County, and by 2 percent in Hillsborough County. Over the last six years, total juvenile crime in our state has dropped by 37 percent.

No one can say precisely why juvenile crime has been decreasing in Florida so dramatically since 2010. Summer jobs programs, curfew schemes, and organized recreational activities come and go over the years, sometimes slightly reducing juvenile crime and sometimes having no impact whatever. What works? In a statement made last year, Governor Rick Scott indicated that the work of the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice has been “effective.”

Commenting on the plummeting rate of juvenile arrests in Florida, Governor Scott said, “The continued decline in juvenile arrests in Florida is a reflection of our commitment to keeping our communities safe and having the best juvenile justice system in the country. We will continue to support effective programs and services by making important investments in DJJ so Florida remains a safe state for all families and visitors.”

HOW DOES FLORIDA’S JUVENILE JUSTICE SYSTEM WORK?

In Florida, when someone below the age of 18 years of age is charged with a crime, the Department of Juvenile Justice recommends what it considers proper disciplinary measures to the State Attorney and the court. In many cases, a juvenile diversion program can resolve the case against a juvenile and provide the intervention that deters that juvenile from crime in the future. A youth admitted into a juvenile diversion program will have to admit his or her guilt and participate actively and honestly in the program.

Juvenile court judges have wide discretion regarding sentencing – which could mean anything from a verbal warning to placement in a juvenile detention facility. Florida operates 21 such facilities with the capacity to house 1,302 juveniles.

Along with diversion and detention, Florida juvenile judges have a number of other sentencing options available, including house arrest and electronic monitoring, placement with a guardian or foster family, and a variety of treatment and counseling programs. Serious crimes committed by juveniles are handled by the adult criminal justice system when a prosecutor decides to charge an underage defendant as an adult.

A prosecutor does not need a judge’s approval to charge a juvenile as an adult in Florida, which may be one reason why Florida tries more juveniles as adults than any other state. For the most part, however, the juvenile justice system in Florida focuses on rehabilitation and counseling rather than punishment, with the aim of keeping juvenile offenders from becoming adult offenders.

A first offense committed by a juvenile in Florida – particularly if it’s not a violent crime or a sex crime – probably will not ruin that young person’s life, provided that the young person learns his or her lesson.

WHAT SHOULD PARENTS KNOW?

Nothing is more important than your children. Juvenile cases must be dealt with swiftly. Parents should know that if your child is arrested and charged with a crime in the Tampa Bay area – this summer or any time in the future – your family will need to be represented by an experienced Tampa juvenile defense attorney who is familiar with Florida juvenile law, someone who routinely represents juvenile defendants and their families. Teenagers make mistakes and often make bad judgments, so it is vital to make sure that they do not break more laws or become defendants in future criminal cases.

What if your child is innocent and committed no crime? Innocent or not, do not let your child talk to the police without having an attorney present. Anything that is said could be used against your child in court. Being questioned by the police for the first time can be a frightening experience. An innocent teenager might confess to a crime that he or she did not commit. The moment you know that your child is in trouble with the law is the moment you need to contact a lawyer.

If your child is charged with a crime but is, in fact, innocent – that is, if someone else committed the alleged crime or if no crime was actually committed – an experienced Tampa juvenile defense attorney will use every legal tool available to prove it and will probably be able to prevail on your family’s behalf. In other juvenile cases, your attorney will negotiate for an appropriate penalty that will help put your child back on the law-abiding path. In all cases, an experienced juvenile defense attorney will work diligently and conscientiously on behalf of your child’s best long-term interests.

Robin Fuson
By Robin Fuson