The Juvenile Court Process in Fort Walton Beach and Okaloosa County
As parents ourselves, we cannot even imagine the fear you are feeling after your child has been arrested. Our goal is to help you understand the juvenile court process, learn a little bit about what to expect, and explain what we can do to help. Hopefully, this information will lessen some of your stress and anxiety so that you can make sensible and informed decisions for your family.
The seriousness of the crime along with your child’s background will dictate whether or not your child will be held at the Okaloosa County Juvenile Detention Facility. During the initial assessment after arrest, you will be notified of your child’s detention or release to you pending their scheduled court appearance.
Common Questions Regarding the Okaloosa County Juvenile Process
- What Is Secure Detention?
- What Happens After The Detention Hearing?
- What Is Judicial vs Non-Judicial Disposition?
- What is Diversion?
- What Are The Different Ways The Case Can Be Resolved In Court?
- How Long Will My Child Be Subject to the Court’s Control?
Similar to an adult arrest, a child must be brought before a Judge within 24 hours of arrest for a Detention Hearing. This hearing is to determine whether or not to release the child to their parents or hold them in Secure Detention until the case is resolved. Secure detention means your child will be housed at the Okaloosa County Juvenile Detention Center in Crestview.
The Judge uses a Detention Risk Assessment which is performed immediately upon your child’s arrival after arrest. Factors that are critical to the assessment include prior criminal history, parent activity and attention, friend associations, seriousness or dangerousness of the crime, and substance abuse history. The Detention Risk Assessment acts like a score sheet and assigns a point value to your child’s offense, with more serious charges carrying more points.
The Detention Risk Assessment also takes into account certain mitigating factors (which subtract points) and certain aggravating factors (which add points) to arrive at a final “score.”
Once this “score” is computed, the Judge will do 1 of 3 things:
- 0-6 Points: Release the child to parent or guardian.
- 7-11 Points: Release the child but place him/her on home detention.
- 12 or more Points: Child held in Secure Detention.
If the child scores 12 or more points, he/she can legally be held in Secure Detention for up to 21 days, at which time a final adjudicatory hearing must be held.
In a juvenile case your child will be assigned to a probation officer soon after arrest. A Juvenile Probation Officer (JPO) will contact the child and family to schedule an interview to gather information about the child, the family, the offense, etc. This interview is called an Intake Assessment.
The information gathered at the Intake Assessment assists the JPO in making an assessment and coming up with a plan to address the offense. Some of the factors the JPO will consider are:
- The nature of the offense;
- The child’s family dynamic;
- Whether the child has a prior record;
- The risk the youth presents to the community; and
- Damages suffered by the victim as a result of the youth’s actions.
The #1 thing that the JPO is trying to figure out at the Intake Assessment is the likelihood that the child will re-offend.
The JPO presents the results of the detention assessment and their intake assessment to the State Attorney’s Office with a recommendation on how the case should be handled.
The state attorney is not required to accept the recommendation of the JPO, but they almost always do. We always stress to our clients and their families that it is VERY important to take the Intake Assessment seriously and to make a very good impression. This is a critical step to securing a favorable outcome in your child’s case.
We attend the Intake Assessments with our clients to ensure that all mitigating factors are considered.
Judicial disposition means that the JPO sees the case as more serious. It means that a formal charge, called a petition in juvenile court, needs to be filed. This means that the JPO has handed the case to the state attorney for prosecution without input and further assessment. The case can still be resolved with diversion, but it will happen later in the process if the state attorney agrees.
Non-Judicial Disposition is the better option. This means that the JPO is recommending that the state attorney NOT file a petition, and instead refer the case to a diversion program. Diversion programs result in a full dismissal of all charges if they are completed.
Even at the court stage, a child’s case can still be sent to diversion. If the diversion program is successfully completed, the charge will be dismissed. This means a clean record for your child and the guarantee that this blemish on their record will not harm their future potential.
When a child is put on probation, it is not for a set period of time like it is for adults. Probation is open ended for a juvenile offender. The time frame is structured as an appropriate period of time to ensure that the offense has been addressed and the youth’s plan to avoid re-offending has been approved and accepted.
Several conditions will be put on a child sentenced to probation. Here are some of the more common conditions:
- School Attendance Required
- Obeying Parents Required
- Curfew Required
- Strict prohibition on associations
- No contact with other juvenile probationers
- No contact with victims or co-defendants
- Must not leave the State
- Consent to search at any time Required
It is rare in juvenile court, but if the offense is serious enough, the Judge may order a period of Commitment. Commitment can be anything from house arrest to long-term incarceration.
There are several levels of Commitment:
- Minimum-Risk – The child remains at home and participates at least 5 days per week in a day treatment program. Disqualifying offenses for minimum risk include sexual offenses, matters involving a firearm, or any felony that would classified as a first degree or life felony if committed by an adult.
- Low-Risk Residential – Children at this level have been assessed as low risks to public safety, but require 24 hour supervision. Again, offenses that are sexual, involve firearms, life felony or first degree felony if committed by an adult, do not qualify for this level of commitment.
- Moderate-Risk Residential – Moderate risk to public safety and require 24 hour supervision. Examples of this type of commitment include halfway houses, wilderness camps, and youth academies.
- High-Risk Residential – For youth assessed as a high risk to public safety that require close supervision in a structured residential setting that provides 24 hour secure custody. Examples of this type of commitment include intensive halfway houses, sex offender programs, and youth development centers.
- Maximum-Risk Residential – Youth in this level of commitment have been assessed a serious risk to public safety. They are housed with 24 hour close supervision in a max security setting. Placement in such a program requires a minimum length of stay of 18 months. This setting is a long-term maximum security program.
A child, as any adult, has a right to take their case to trial. The major difference between child and adult is the right to a jury trial. A juvenile does not have the right to a Jury Trial. The trial is a bench trial or Court trial, which means that the Judge acts as the fact finder and renders a verdict of guilty or not guilty.
The Court has jurisdiction until your child is 19. In some cases, the Court can hold jurisdiction until the age of 21.
We hope this information has been helpful. If you have questions, we welcome your call.
If your child has been arrested in Fort Walton Beach, or anywhere in Okaloosa County, call Tim Flaherty or Brandy Merrifield at (850) 243-6097 for a free consultation. We will help you get your family back on track.