Juvenile Adjudication

January 12, 2015

Two teenage sweethearts were arrested in Panama City Beach, Florida, on Sunday, January 18th, after a crime spree across the South. Dalton Haynes, eighteen, and his girlfriend, Cheyenne Phillips, thirteen, had run away from their Kentucky hometown earlier this month and were spotted in South Carolina and Georgia, stealing vehicles and passing stolen checks.

During a court appearance on the 19th, Haynes elected to voluntarily return to Kentucky to face charges, rather than going through the formal process of extradition. Florida’s Department of Children & Families helped Panama City police to take Phillips in. She is not in state custody, but is being held in a safe location until arrangements can be made with her family to take her home. It is expected that Haynes will be charged with burglary, theft, criminal trespass, and criminal mischief. Phillips will face the same charges, but in juvenile court.

Juvenile Crime in Florida

Florida’s juvenile court system has authority over anyone charged with violating the law who is under eighteen. Thus, if Haynes and Phillips faced charges in Florida, only Phillips would be tried in the juvenile system. In Florida, juveniles are tried in two different ways: as juveniles, and as adults. A juvenile adjudication, which occurs when a juvenile is tried as a juvenile rather than as an adult, is not the same as a criminal conviction. Instead, a juvenile found to have violated the law will be adjudicated “delinquent.” The court treats juveniles differently based on the theory that their minds are not yet sufficiently developed to be able to have the criminal intent necessary for a criminal conviction. Juvenile detention centers are geared more toward rehabilitation than toward punishment.

Trial as an Adult

However, if a minor commits a serious offense, he or she may be tried and then punished as an adult. If a juvenile is charged as an adult, then he or she will always be charged as an adult for any future offenses, regardless of severity. Prosecutors often have discretion as to when to try juveniles as adults. There are several situations in which juveniles will be tried as adults. For example, a juvenile must be charged as an adult if he or she is at least sixteen, is charged with a violent crime, and has previously been adjudicated delinquent for any of several violent crimes, such as murder, sexual battery, or aggravated assault. The prosecutor has discretion to charge a juvenile as an adult if the juvenile is at least fourteen and is charged with a serious offense such as robbery, murder, or aggravated assault. If a juvenile is at least sixteen, the prosecutor always has discretion to charge him or her as an adult.

There are many serious consequences to being charged as an adult. Sentences are much more serious and are geared more toward punishment than toward rehabilitation. Arrests and convictions are part of the public record. Additionally, if a juvenile is charged as an adult, he or she will always be charged as an adult for any offenses committed in the future.

If your child is facing criminal charges, it is essential to obtain the advice of an experienced criminal law attorney to ensure that your child’s future is adversely affected as little as possible. For information and a free initial consultation, please contact West Palm Beach criminal defense attorney William Wallshein.