Juvenile Justice Process

What to Expect During the Juvenile Justice Process 

Criminal offenses committed by a person under 18 years of age are handled by the Juvenile Justice System. Florida separates juvenile offenders from adult offenders in efforts to rehabilitate rather than punish. However, if your child is suspected to have engaged in criminal conduct law enforcement can interview him or her.

Once a law enforcement agency charges a juvenile with a law violation, depending on the seriousness of the crime the next step may be:

  • Take the juvenile to a Juvenile Assessment Center (JAC) for intake screening to assess their risks to the community and determine if detention is necessary
  • Call an “on call screener” to determine if detention is necessary if the JAC is not within the locality
  • Release the juvenile to a parent or guardian and forward the charges to the clerk of court and Department Of Juvenile Justice Probation Office
  • Release the juvenile to a parent or guardian with a referral to a diversion program

Detention Hearing

If the juvenile is held in a detention center, there will be a detention hearing within 24 hours of arrest. At the hearing the judge will determine whether to release the juvenile defendant and if any conditions need to be put in place. If there was a victim involved in the incident, the judge may order the defendant to have “no contact” with the victim.


  • Juveniles may be placed in a secure detention facility while awaiting court disposition
  • Juveniles may be confined for up to 21 days
  • If a juvenile violates a court order sanction they may be detained longer

State Attorney Investigatory Process

The Office of the State Attorney will receive the formal complaint affidavit from the law enforcement agency. Upon receipt, an Assistant State Attorney will review the case and determine if there is sufficient evidence to file a “petition” or formal charges. In some circumstances the State Attorney will not file formal charges and a “no petition” is filed. However, in some cases after a petition has been filed, new evidence arises, and the State Attorney may decide to no longer prosecute the case and a “nolle prosequi” is filed.

If either a “no petition” or “nolle prosequi” is filed, the case is closed. However, the juvenile will still have an arrest record which may be sealed/expunged.

Diversion-/Non-Judicial Intervention

  • Diversion is a form of non-judicial handling of a criminal case. A juvenile may receive help through a diversion program rather than going through the judicial process.
  • Upon successful completion of the diversion program, no further court action will be pursued, and the juvenile may qualify to have his or her record SEALED/EXPUNGED.
  • If the diversion program is not completed successfully, the State Attorney may file formal charges with Juvenile Court


Once a petition has been filed, the juvenile defendant is entitled to an arraignment. At this hearing, the defendant is notified of the charges against him or her. If the juvenile defendant has not already hired an attorney in Jacksonville, the judge will determine if one is needed. The juvenile defendant, or their attorney, will enter a plea of guilty, not guilty or no contest to the charges. If a plea of not guilty is entered, then the case will proceed. If a plea of guilty or no contest is entered, the defendant may be sentenced or the case may be set for a disposition hearing.

When Will a Child be Tried as an Adult?

In Florida, the criminal justice system has a “direct file” process that allows prosecutors to bypass the juvenile court system and charge a minor as an adult. This means that minors charged with certain serious crimes may be tried in adult court instead of juvenile court. In some cases, this could mean harsher punishments than if they were to proceed through the juvenile system. The types of offenses eligible for direct file vary by state. They can include felonies such as murder, sexual battery, armed robbery or burglary with a firearm, carjacking, aggravated assault, and other violent crimes.

Ultimately, it is up to the prosecutor whether or not a child will be tried as an adult. However, in many cases, the court may consider age, maturity level, and prior criminal history when deciding. Additionally, if the juvenile has already been through the juvenile court system and failed to comply with the orders of probation or rehabilitation programs provided by that system, then they may be more likely to face direct file charges.

It is important to note that while minors can be tried as adults in some cases, it is not an automatic process. If your child is facing criminal charges in Florida, you must seek legal advice from an attorney specializing in juvenile justice as soon as possible. An experienced lawyer can help guide you through this complex process and provide guidance on how best to protect your child’s rights. 

Adjudicated vs. Adjudication Withheld

If a juvenile has been “adjudicated” of an offense, then the judge has ruled that he or she has committed a delinquent act or violation of law and is adjudicated delinquent.

If a juvenile has “adjudication withheld” then a judge has concluded that the juvenile has committed a delinquent act or violation, but that a formal pronouncement of delinquency should be withheld.

A juvenile will have a delinquency record and a record of his or her arrest regardless of whether or not he or she is “adjudicated” or if “adjudication is withheld.” Click here to find out how to have this record sealed or expunged.

Conviction vs. Delinquency

A conviction only applies to a juvenile who has been tried and convicted or has pled guilty in Adult Court.

If a juvenile has pled guilty or is found to be guilty as a juvenile, in Juvenile Court, it is an adjudication of delinquency and is not a conviction. Florida Statute 985.35(6).

Our Jacksonville criminal defense attorneys do everything possible to ensure your rights and freedoms are protected. Call (904) 615-8950 now to schedule your consultation.

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