Juvenile Status Offenses
Juveniles sometimes make foolish errors that can result in criminal prosecution. These mistakes can lead a young person down a dangerous path toward more serious problems later on. The teenage years are an important developmental stage, so Florida law places extra restrictions on young people’s actions, called status offenses, in order to protect them. If your child has committed a status offense, you should consult with an attorney to review your child’s options and discuss the legal impact of his or her actions.Status Offenses in Florida
A status offense is an act that is prohibited simply because of the offender’s status as a minor. If an adult committed the act that qualifies as a status offense, there would be no legal consequences. Some common status offenses in Florida include:
- Running away from home;
- Ungovernability, or disregarding parental authority;
- Violating a curfew; or
- The use or possession of alcohol and tobacco.
In contrast, a child is a juvenile delinquent if he or she steals, assaults someone, possesses illegal drugs, or vandalizes property. These are actions that are illegal for everyone, not just juveniles. The commission of a juvenile delinquency offense is more serious than a status offense, and thus carries harsher penalties.Consequences
Since status offenses are designed to protect the children who commit them, the goal of their punishment is to help juveniles understand the consequences and dangers of their behavior. Though children need to learn that there are consequences for their actions, it is important to avoid harming them with harsh punishments for actions that are illegal simply because of their age, rather than any inherent wrongness. Thus, status offenses in Florida are often punished by:
- The revocation of driving privileges by suspending either a youth’s license or his or her eligibility to obtain one;
- Community service;
- Fines; or
- Substance abuse or mental health counselling.
Generally, however, incarceration is not a permissible consequences for a status offense.Family Services
Children in Need of Services (CINS)/Families in Need of Services (FINS) is a crisis response program in Florida to assist children who have committed status offenses and their families. CINS/FINS services are available to children who have been referred to the Department of Juvenile Justice for:
- Habitual truancy;
- Persistent running away; or
- Persistent ungovernability.
CINS/FINS provides both residential and nonresidential services in its intervention programs for helping families whose children are at risk of getting in more serious trouble. Residential services include a few days’ or weeks’ stay for the child, who will, during that time, get counseling, physical and mental health screenings, educational support, etc. Nonresidential services include individual and family therapy for the child. The juvenile court may get involved in a CINS/FINS case only after all less restrictive options have been exhausted.
Status offenses may not seem serious, but often, they lead to much more grave offenses as a child grows. If your child has committed a status offense, an experienced juvenile lawyer’s advice can help to ensure that he or she does not suffer unnecessarily harsh consequences. Please contact West Palm Beach criminal defense attorney William Wallshein for a free initial consultation.