A juvenile is a person who has not attained his eighteenth birthday, and juvenile delinquency is the violation of a law committed by a person prior to his eighteenth birthday which would have been a crime if committed by an adult.  A number of states consider persons to be adults for purposes of criminal prosecution at an age younger than eighteen years of age.

In Florida, most Circuits have a Juvenile Court Division handling all felony and misdemeanor cases, including felony traffic offenses, committed by individuals under the age of eighteen. Misdemeanor traffic offenses are typically handled in County Court.

Standard sentencing alternatives include probation and commitment programs administered by the Department of Juvenile Justice. In addition, there are many specialized diversion programs designed to address public safety concerns as well as the needs of the juvenile. Examples of such programs are as follows: Arbitration, Stop Theft Early and Learn, Shock, Tampa-Hillsborough Urban League, Wise Guys, Intensive Delinquency Diversion Services, Prodigy, Youth Opportunity Movement, Juvenile Drug Court, Walker Plan.

Florida has traditionally managed juveniles under a “rehabilitative” model of justice.  Youth continue to be managed under a strategy of redirection and rehabilitation, rather than punishment. Although Florida initiated the “Tough Love” plan in 2000 which signified a policy shift away from a social services model and toward a punitive criminal justice approach the system, it maintained focus on “treatment” designed to effect positive behavioral change.  The Florida Department of Juvenile Justice is charged under s. 985.02(3), F.S., with developing and coordinating comprehensive services and programs statewide for the prevention, early intervention, control, and rehabilitative treatment of delinquent behavior.  You can learn more about the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice at http://www.djj.state.fl.us.

While most juvenile cases are handled by state governments, the Federal government also has jurisdiction over juvenile offenses.  As long as the state is willing to accept jurisdiction over the juvenile and has available programs and services adequate for the needs of juveniles, the federal government will usually turn over a juvenile to the state for non-criminal juvenile treatment.  The Comprehensive Crime Control Act of 1984 allows certification for federal juvenile prosecution in felony crimes of violence, or an offense described in 18 U.S.C. §§ 922(x), 924(b),(g), or (h), or 21 U.S.C. §§ 841, 952(a), 953, 955, 959, or 960(b)(1), (2), or (3) where there is a “substantial federal interest in the case or offense to warrant the exercise of federal jurisdiction.” The federal government will continue to defer to state authorities for less serious juvenile offenses. See S.Rep. No. 98-225, 98th Cong., 1st Sess. 389 (1983).

With one limited exception, a juvenile cannot be proceeded against in any court of the United States unless the Attorney General, after investigation, certifies to the appropriate United States District Court that (1) the juvenile court or other appropriate state court does not have jurisdiction or refuses to assume jurisdiction over the juvenile with respect to the alleged act of juvenile delinquency; or (2) the state does not have available programs and services adequate for the needs of juveniles; or (3) the offense charged is a crime of violence or an offense described in 18 U.S.C. §§ 922(x), 924(b),(g), or (h), or 21 U.S.C. §§ 841, 952(a), 953, 955, 959, or 960(b)(1), (2), or (3) and there is a substantial federal interest that justifies the exercise of federal jurisdiction. See18 U.S.C. § 5032.

If the case remains with the Federal government, the decision to proceed against a juvenile as an adult in district court is delegated to the United States Attorneys.  Section 5032 of Title 18 provides several avenues for adult prosecution of a juvenile. The first arises when the juvenile has requested in writing, upon advice of counsel, to be proceeded against as an adult. A second involves the filing of a “motion of transfer” in cases involving juveniles thirteen years or older who have committed certain classes of offenses.  In the latter case, after filing of the motion to transfer (Motion to Proceed Against the Juvenile as an Adult) in the United States District Court, the court must conduct a hearing to determine whether such prosecution would be in the interest of justice. In making this determination, the court must separately consider each of the criteria set out in the fifth paragraph of 18 U.S.C. § 5032.

Upon an adjudication of delinquency, a federal judge has discretion to impose any of the conditions listed in 18 U.S.C. § 5037. These include restitution, probation (and conditions of probation), and official detention, but not fines.  There are currently no sentencing guidelines which are applicable to juvenile proceedings.  There are at present no federal facilities for juveniles; the Bureau of Prisons ordinarily places them in state juvenile or other suitable facilities under contract. When possible, they are to be placed in foster homes or community-based facilities located in or near their home communities. See 18 U.S.C. § 5039.

One important distinction between adult and juvenile court is that parents are involved in the juvenile process.  Federal law enforcement officers must adhere to the notification requirements of 18 U.S.C. § 5033. These include advice to an arrested juvenile of constitutional rights, and notice of custody to the United States Attorney and the juvenile’s parents or custodian. The arresting officer must also notify the parents or custodian of the rights of the juvenile, and of the nature of the alleged offense.

Records of juvenile proceedings are confidential in both the state and federal systems. Subsections (a) through (c) of 18 U.S.C. § 5038 guard against improper disclosure of juvenile records in federal court.  The Clerk’s Offices in Florida maintain the official records pertaining to all juvenile court pleadings and petitions in accordance with the statutory requirements of Florida Statutes §§ 39.411 and 985.04, giving special consideration to the confidential nature of these records.  Only a limited group of people are permitted access to juvenile case records.