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People's Law Guide


Florida Juvenile Law: If Your Teen is Arrested


Lawlessness Often a Symptom of an Underlying Mental Illness

It’s a safe bet that an adolescent you know or someone in your family knows someone who has at this very moment stuffed in a pocket, knapsack, school locker, clothes drawer or bedroom closet one or more types of medications (over the counter, prescription or both) which are being ingested for non-medical reasons or are being exchanged for cash or favors. Each year, hundreds of thousands of adolescents throughout the United States find themselves entangled within in the criminal justice system. The adolescents possessing meds for non-lawful reasons are also likely to be heavy abusers of pot, alcohol or both. Almost certainly, the teens involved in these behaviors suffer from at least one form of mental illness, experts say. Though the substances they illegally possessed are seized from them during the apprehension process, their “underlying issues” are harder to strip away. Many other adolescents will be accused of “truancy” for skipping school.


Schools are given the legal authority to implement action when 5 or more unexcused absences occur within one month’s time or 10 or more absences take place within a 90 day period. Schools are lawfully required to provide parents or legal guardians with written notification when investigating the legitimacy of absences. The failure to timely respond within three (3) days of receipt of such notice authorizes the filing of criminal charges against a child’s parents or guardians. Though punishments for truancy offenses vary among Florida’s school districts, parents and guardians are wise to consult with qualified legal counsel, as they have the legal right to oppose actions school administrators may impose when juveniles are accused of truancy offenses. Further, actions proposed by school officials may fail to take into consideration a student’s behavioral or learning disorder or the existence of mental illness +such as post traumatic stress disorder or bipolar disorder. A school imposed action not addressing problems associated with behavioral or learning disorders or mental illnesses will result in the occurrence of future truancy violations. Attorneys providing representation in truancy cases will want a qualified mental health counselor conduct an assessment of the juvenile accused of truancy, so that a meaningful and productive action plans geared to successfully achieve school attendance can be recommended for imposition by school officials. Oftentimes, students engaging in truancy have learning disabilities or other types of disabilities or impairments which should lead to the implementation of 504 or IEP (individual educational plans) obligating schools to provide specialized learning programs addressing those problems which led to the occurrence of the truancy. Mental health providers working with children and teens and educational consultants are able to provide valuable and insightful input about programs and strategies school administrators and teachers should utilize to prevent future truancy, while making school more meaningful.

Alcohol & Drugs:

Though parents worry about daughters and sons trying cocaine, crack, and heroin, teen use of these “so-called” hardcore drugs, quite rare. Instead, parents should be concerned about the abuse of medications, pot and alcohol, according to a 2011 report co-published by National Institute on Drug Abuse, National Institute of Health and the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. Misuse of prescription pharmaceuticals such as OxyContin, Vicodin, Adderall, Ritalin and over the counter cold and cough medications remains alarmingly high. In fact, abuse of non-prescription cough medicines has increased over the past four years, with more than one of every 15 high school seniors now admitting to using these high-inducing alcohol based syrups at least one yearly. Among high school seniors, one in five use marijuana at least monthly, slightly exceeding the number smoking tobacco with similar frequency. Alcohol use among teens continues to be a problem. Since 2007, more than 65% of 12th graders admitted drinking beer, wine or other spirits in the prior year and in excess of 41% acknowledged consuming alcohol during the prior month, these same governmental agencies reported.

When teens provide medications or marijuana to friends, even when no money changes hands, they can be charged with “selling” drugs; the same criminal offenses filed against “pushers” financially profiting when making these illegal transactions. Teens don’t need to venture into dingy alleys to get meds to “feel good” or stay awake through early morning hours to “party” or “hit the books.” Police officers and school officials know prescription and over the counter meds, alcohol and pot is being shared, traded and sold in locker rooms, school hallways, classrooms, at school bus stops and on these, vehicles, as well as inside homes, shopping malls, restaurants and movie theaters situated across middle class and affluent neighborhoods.

Some of the incidents which school administrators treat as “bullying” offenses aren’t motivated as much to harass as to “shakedown” other students for cash, cell phones, other electronic devices, high priced footwear or popular apparel which can be swapped for medications, alcohol or drugs. Many burglaries, particularly those targeting residential premises, are committed by teens searching for cash or the types of possessions easily exchangeable for pot, alcohol prescription meds or over the counter pharmaceuticals. Other criminal charges commonly levied against teens include disorderly conduct, trespassing, loitering and prowling; all activities often associated with purchasing, selling or exchanging medications, pot or liquor. Surprisingly, its within the afternoon hours on school days just after classes let out, not days falling on weekends or holidays, when juveniles most actively engage in criminal conduct, according to the Florida Legislature’s Office of Program Analysis & Government Accountability. On non-school days, when relatively few teen crimes occur, youth tend to commit illegal offenses between 7:00 p.m. and 9:00 p.m., this agency reports. Why are teens more likely to commit crimes on weekday afternoons and to a lesser extent on non-school days during early evenings? These are the same time periods when teens typically are apart from their parents and unsupervised.

Consequences of Having Been Found Guilty of Criminal Behavior:

Technically speaking, teens in Florida are not placed under “arrest.” Instead, taking minors into custody is politely termed “a delinquency referral.” Few parents are aware of the seriousness of the long lasting consequences arising when their daughters or sons have been detained by law enforcement authorities, even for misdemeanor offenses (defined as “less serious” or “minor” crimes punishable by no more than 365 days in jail).

Prosecutors are more likely to press for adult-type criminal charges and the harsher penalties associated against those juveniles who were previously found guilty of committing other illegal offenses; for incidents in which drugs were allegedly given, shared or sold; if more than small quantities of marijuana had been seized; if weapons had been confiscated; and if someone had been seriously injured. Parents are typically unaware of the psychological impact and long-term and life changing consequences arising when teens find themselves apprehended by law enforcement. Especially when jail or prison terms aren’t likely to be imposed, parents and other guardians often mistakenly believe its “best” to “get things over with quickly and cheaply” without utilizing an attorney to protect the rights of the teens they care for. It’s unwise, however, to permit the criminal justice system to “just run its course.”

When teens are charged as juveniles for committing crimes, these consequences can occur:

- Being subjected to lengthy stays in facilities housing juvenile offenders, even while awaiting trial prior to determine guilt or innocence. If found guilty for serious offenses or for being a repeat offender, juveniles can be sentenced to stays in juvenile detention facilities or residential rehabilitative programs;

- Being barred from attending classes at one’s junior or high school;

- Becoming ineligible to join the U.S. Armed Forces;

- In certain circumstances, a finding of guilt in juvenile court can later be considered as a sentencing factor by a judge in adult court if found guilty of one or more crimes during adulthood;.

- Though many news organizations generally withhold identifying juvenile suspects by name, members of the news media are lawfully permitted to disclose all information obtained from juvenile court proceedings. Florida law authorizes law enforcement officers to release the names and addresses of persons 16 years of age and older after having been arrested on felony offenses;

- Parents or legal guardians can be ordered to pay restitution to victims up to $2,500 for each criminal episode a youth is found guilty of committing;

- Persons claiming to have been victimized by the actions of a juvenile are permitted to receive certain case-related documents and reports which normally are kept confidential and are not considered to be accessible public records open for review.

When teens are charged as adults for committing crimes, these consequences can occur:

- Non-U.S. citizens, even juveniles lawfully residing in the U.S., can be deported;

- Being barred from attending classes at one’s junior or high school and reduced prospects of being admitted into colleges, universities and higher level educational programs;

- Being denied entry to visit other countries (including Canada);

- Becoming ineligible to join the U.S. Armed Forces;

- A heightened risk of joblessness and being “under-employed” for decades to come, now that so many workplaces conduct criminal background checks;

- Being refused residency in apartment and condominium complexes;

- The denial of insurance coverage by auto, health and life insurance companies;

- Parents or other guardians of a child who was arrested are more likely to be sued by someone claiming to have physically or psychologically harmed during an incident which led to a “delinquency referral” or criminal arrest;

- Incarceration in a jail or prison facility, including those housing adult offenders. Though juveniles are supposed to be separated “by sight and sound” from adult inmates, such separation does not always occur. Florida’s Youthful Offender Act provides judges with discretion to issue sentences to “young adult” defendants 18 to 21 years of age to youthful offender facilities rather than placing them in the adult system.

Criminal Apprehensions Are a Common Sign of One or More Mental Illnesses:

The detention of a teen is the most recent of many previously occurring telltale signs of the occurrence of one or more mental illnesses. That’s why the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ ) cautions parents against viewing the involvement of the criminal justice system as being a mere “wake-up call” for frightening teens from engaging in further unlawful acts. With so-called “Scared Straight” programs now known to be both ineffective and sometimes causing harm, DJJ opposes use of fear tactics to deter future illegal conduct. Also, just tacking on more months or years to sentences handed down by judges for stays in “residential programs” won’t, in the absence of appropriate treatment, reduce the likelihood of the occurrence of future arrests, DJJ cautions. In fact, a DJJ report states “being detained can actually make things worse for some youth.”

Moreover, teens spending time in police custody almost always know they were experiencing a downward spiral and, except rarely, so do their parents or guardians. Police intervention denotes the existence of a problem, more likely a series of problems, which parents, guardians, teachers or other school officials should have responded to months or years earlier. When detained on anything other than the most minor of criminal offenses, judges will likely require numerous months of oversight by a probation officer having little or no training in mental health issues. Viewing this approach as the equivalent of placing a bandage on a badly mangled arm or leg, psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers and other mental health counselors favor frequent and ongoing treatment, lasting for many months, sometimes years, beyond a final court date following an earlier arrest.

Oppositional Defiant Disorders:

A significant number of teens coming into contact with the criminal justice system suffer from Oppositional Defiant Disorders (ODD); such as Attention Deficit Disorders; Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorders (ADHD); Conduct Disorders (CD); Depression; Personality Disorders (PD) and most often a combination of these and other types of mental health problems, according to James P. Chandler, Associate Professor of Neurological Surgery at Northwestern University. ODD, a psychiatric disorder, is characterized by aggressiveness and a tendency to intentionally irritate others. Teens displaying the behaviors and traits listed below, Chandler explains, are likely to suffer from one or more types of ODD.

Occurring at least once in the past 90 days:

- acting spiteful or vindictively

- blaming others for their misbehaviors or mistakes

Occurring at least twice per week:

- being “touchy” or easily annoyed by others

- lost her or his temper

- being excessively argumentative with adults

- actively defying or refusing to comply with instructions from adults

Occurring at least four times per week:

- acting in an angry and resentful manner

- deliberately annoying others

The simultaneous existence of multiple mental health ailments, referred to as comorbidity, is commonplace. Most parents are surprised to learn ODD rarely occurs in the absence of other psychiatric problems. For example, approximately 30% to 40% of teens with ADHD also have ODD. Having ADHD or other disorders while simultaneously suffering from ODD is “significantly worse” than suffering from just the non-ODD disorder, according to Chandler. Also, Chandler wants parents to be aware ODD is likely to lead to lifelong difficulties; sometimes transforming into one or more other psychiatric ailments.

Conduct Disorders (CD):

Even more severe than ODD is a Conduct Disorder (CD), which Chandler believes 6% to 10% of boys and 2% to 9% of girls suffer from. To be considered having CD, at least three one of the following must have occurred within the past year and at least one other criteria needs to have taken place in the prior 6 months:

Aggressiveness to people or animals:

- often bullies, threatens, or intimidates others

- often initiates physical fights

- has used a weapon capable of causing serious physical harm, such as a bat, brick, broken bottle, knife or gun

- was physically cruel to animals

- has stolen from a victim she or he confronted (such as a mugging, purse snatching, extortion, or armed robbery)

Destroyed property:

- deliberately destroyed property of another in any number of ways

- deliberately set a fire intending to cause serious damage

Been deceitful or committed theft:

- broken into a house, building or vehicle

- often lies to obtain goods or favors, to avoid work or other responsibilities

- has stolen non-trivial items in a non-confrontational way (shoplifting, forgery)

Committed serious violations of rules:

- often stays out late despite parental limitations, often occurring before 13 years of age

- has run away from home for lengthy periods at least twice

- often skips school, often occurring before 13 years of age

Chandler explains he has good reason to assume every teen diagnosed with CD is abusing drugs or alcohol until or unless it’s determined otherwise. Adolescents with CD are 7 times more likely than their peers to be addicted to marijuana, 6 times more likely to be alcoholics and are 5.5 times more prone to be habitual cigarette smokers. Obsessive compulsive disorders, ADHD, Tourette’s Syndrome and depression are common among teens with CD. When behavior is particularly extreme, those with CD are then referred to as having an Anti Social Personality Disorders (PD). Nearly 20% of teens with ODD/CD also have Anti Social Personality Disorders, with males being especially susceptible.

Many parents, if not most, mistakenly believe problemed teens not yet diagnosed with these disorders are “just going through a phase” or are “acting like all other adolescents.” However, teens having any type of a mental health disorder should be treated by qualified therapists, Chandler explains its particularly important for those with PD receive care, as 25% die prematurely. Properly prescribed medications and administered therapies will not only help the adolescent, her or his behavioral and attitudinal improvements will also bring significant relief to other family members, too, Chandler promises. Without therapeutic mental health care, however, Chandler forecasts that a young person experiencing these types of disorders will almost certainly become entangled time and time again in the criminal justice system.

If Notified “We Have Your Teen at the Station”:

By law, all juveniles apprehended by law enforcement officers have the right to be represented by attorneys at every stage of proceedings held in court, regardless of whether the prosecution occurs in the juvenile court or an adult court system. Among the important actions an attorney should promptly undertake is:

- assessing whether there was a lawful basis for the apprehension and detention;

- determining how a prosecutor who may wish to file criminal charges within the adult court system might be persuaded to keep a case within the more lenient and less harsh juvenile court system. By quickly bringing in a mental health counselor experienced with working with juveniles, the attorney representing your daughter or son may obtain a strong and compelling basis to persuade a prosecutor to forego adult-type punishment options by keeping legal proceeding in the juvenile court system.

Even if immediately retaining the services of a qualified attorney, which is the proper course of action, a parent or legal guardian will almost certainly have the first opportunity to speak with police officers and the juvenile who was apprehended. Here is a “checklist” of what parents or guardians should do:

1. Ask to speak with your daughter or son immediately. When speaking with your child or teen, you should anticipate that police officers are listening into your conversation, even if you believe privacy is being afforded. You should not ask your child “what happened” or “did you do this.” Also, you can be issued a subpoena to testify about any confession your child made to you personally. Should your teen initiate a conversation with you about his or her actions, provide firm instructions against doing so. Provide them with frequent reminding not to speak with police officers, facility employees and other detained young persons about anything other than their injuries or physical health. Inform your child to speak only with the attorney you have retained or are now hiring about arrest-related events and incidents, and prior acts which may have been illegal.

2. Do ask your child if she or he is injured or physically sick, so that you can bring this information to the attention of the personnel staffing the facility. If you believe medical attention is warranted, strongly insist it be provided. Significant blood loss, non-minor injuries, all potential head trauma, shivering, seizures, signs of apparent drug “withdrawal,” unconsciousness (even if lasting just briefly) and psychotic episodes are among the circumstances necessitating immediate medical intervention. If your insistence for medical attention is not being reasonably addressed, use your cell phone or a pay phone to summon 911 emergency medical services. You can dial and reach 911 services from pay phones without depositing coins. Once paramedics have arrived on the scene, police officers will almost certainly permit these first responders to have full access to your son or daughter.

3. Carefully listen to everything being said by your child, law enforcement officers, witnesses, persons who claim to be victims, paramedics and all other persons who seem to be involved in the case. Visually observe everything taking place, including occurrences which seem to be small, trivial or isolated. Ask people who may have been witnesses for their names, addresses and phone numbers. Its more important to quickly obtain these names and contact information than it is to find out what they saw, heard or know, all which can be done later on. It’s a good idea to have a note pad with you to write down events and comments you would otherwise forget.

4. Inform law enforcement officers and all other facility personnel you forbid them from talking to your child or teen about any alleged wrongful act, regardless of whether you are or are not present. Write down the names of all adults to whom you provided such instructions.

5. Parents and guardians should limit information they reveal to law enforcement officials to remarks involving your son’s or daughter’s health conditions, required medications or the need for medical attention to treat injuries or sickness. Other types of comments will be brought to the attention of prosecutors to strengthen the legal case now being initiated by law enforcement authorities. Among the types of utterances parents and guardians should avoid making are:

- “She’s done this type of thing before.”

- “I was concerned he would try something like this.”

- “He copied the acts of friends who did this same type of thing.”

- “She has been doing this since she began experimenting with drugs.”

Florida’s Juvenile Detention Facilities are Frequently in the News for Serious Deficiencies:

“The state [of Florida] has come under intense criticism for incarcerating high numbers of youths and dolling out more life sentences to juveniles for non-murder offenses than all other states combined,” according to an article on juvenile crime appearing in the Sun Sentinel (Broward County’s daily newspaper) on September 11, 2011.

Recall this article previously mentioned the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ ) cautioned parents against viewing the involvement of the criminal justice system as being a mere “wake-up call” for frightening teens from engaging in further unlawful acts and in its published report stated

“being detained can actually make things worse for some youth.” News reports have revealed numerous, long occurring problems within Florida’s juvenile detention centers. If a finding of guilt cannot be avoided, the attorney representing your son or daughter should utilize the services of at least one qualified mental health counselor, who after performing an assessment, can testify in court as to what the most appropriate sentence would be to avoid detention by implementing a heavily structured and carefully monitored treatment regimen specifically developed to meet the therapeutic and scholastic needs of your child. Here are some of the troubling headlines about Florida’s juvenile justice detention system which ran from January 1, 2009 through this article’s completion date of September 19, 2011:

Dosed in Juvie Jail; Investigators Focus on Antipsychotic Doses for Kids and Possible Fraud; Michael LaForgia, Palm Beach Post, Sunday, August 14, 1011.

State Seeks Reforms for Juvenile Lockups; Carol Marbin Miller, Miami Herald, August 3, 2011

Grand Jury to Probe Teens Death in Lockup; Carol Marbin Miller, Miami Herald, August 1, 2011

Mom Will Get Video of Son’s Death in Lockup; Carol Marbin Miller, Miami Herald, July 28, 2011.

Guard Suspended in Teen’s Death was Fired from Last Job; Carol Marbin Miller, Miami Herald, July 28, 2011.

Lockup Has No Medical Staff at Night, Nurse Says, Carol Marbin Miller, Miami Herald, July 21, 2011.

West Palm Jail Staff Failed to Call 911 Before Teen Died, Officials Say; Carol Marbin Miller,Miami Herald, July 18, 2011.

After a Century of Pain, former Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys Closes; Ben Montgomery, St. Petersburg Times, July 1, 2011.

A Dozier Boy’s Nightmares, Robert W. Straley, St. Petersburg Times, June 12, 2011.

State to Close Controversial Boys’ School Rocked by Scandals in Marianna; Ben Montgomery and Waveney Ann Moore, St. Petersburg Times, May 26, 2011.

Report: Broward Schools Too Quick To Call Police, Rafael A. Olmeda, Sun Sentinel, February 28, 2001.

State Steps in Less and More Kids Die; Carol Marbin Miller, Miami Herald, February 28, 2011.

Former Dozier School Sees New Management, Again; Morgan Carlson, Jackson County Floridian, January 15, 2011.

Dozier Getting a Facelift; New Programs, New Names, Few Layoffs; Ashley McKeen, Jackson County Floridian, May 23, 2010.

Pinellas Juvenile Detention Superintendent Charged with DUI; Shelly Rossetter, St. Petersburg Times, August 23, 2010.

Two Teens Attacked at Youth Facility, Suit Says; Linda Trischitta, Sun Sentinel, October 8, 2010.

Feds Won’t File Charges in Boot Camp Death; Associated Press, St. Petersburg Times, April 16, 2010.

Lawmakers to Consider; Is it Time to Close Dozier School for Boys?; Ben Montgomery, Waveney Ann Moore and John Frank, St. Petersburg Times, March 9, 2010.

Critical State Report Targets Juvenile Justice Chief Peterman; Steve Bousquet and Lee Logan, Times / Herald Tallahassee Bureau, January 27, 2010.

State Review Raises Questions About Juvenile Justice Secretary’s Spending; Steve Bousquet and Lee Logan, Times / Herald Tallahassee Bureau, January 8, 2010.

Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys Fails Annual Evaluation; Ben Montgomery and Waveney Ann Moore, St. Petersburg Times, December 30, 2009.

Florida Reform School’s Class of ‘88 Paints Picture of its Failure; Ben Montgomery and Waveney Ann Moore, St. Petersburg Times, December 6, 2009.

At Reform School Where Boys Were Beaten, Some Fear Closure; Andrew Grant; News Herald; December 1, 2009.

Governor Christ Orders Review of Juvenile Justice Secretary Peterman’s State Travel; Steve Bousquet, Times / Herald Tallahassee Bureau, November 19, 2009.

Florida Juvenile Justice Officials Tout Changes at Dozier School for Boys, but Don’t Show Them; Ben Montgomery and Waveney Ann Moore, St. Petersburg Times, November 10, 2009.

Legislative Chair Concerned About Dozier Abuse; Jim Schoettler, Florida Times-Union; October 7, 2009.

Florida Juvenile Justice: 100 Years of Hell at the Dozier School for Boys; Ben Montgomery and Waveney Ann Moore, St. Petersburg Times, December October 11, 2009.

Bill Seeks Compensation for ‘White House Boys’; Mary Ellen Klas, Times / Herald, August 4, 2009.

Former State Official Says “White House” Investigation Stalling, Jacklyn Barnard, First Coast News, March 24, 2009.

State Asks for Delay in ‘White House Boys’ Case; Andrew Grant, Daily News, February 25, 2009.

Dade’s Barreiro Fired from Juvenile Justice Post; Steve Bousquet and Marc Caputo, Times / Herald Tallahassee Bureau, January 16, 2009.

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Information contained in this article was accurate as of September, 19, 2011. This article is for general information use only and does not substitute for specifically tailored legal advice.

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