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How The Juvenile Court Works

The Juvenile Division is responsible for the prosecution of all juvenile felony and misdemeanor offenses, excluding misdemeanor traffic offenses, for the Fifteenth Judicial Circuit. The division makes all juvenile intake and filing decisions, including diversion, direct files to adult court and grand jury presentations.

The Juvenile Division reviews approximately 600 cases per month for filing.  An Assistant State Attorney is on call 24 hours each day to respond to questions from law enforcement officers and Department of Juvenile Justice employees regarding law and procedure.

After a law enforcement officer takes a juvenile into custody for a violation of the law, they may either release the juvenile to the parent/guardian or to the Juvenile Assessment Center (JAC) where the detention process is initiated.

If a juvenile is released to a parent/guardian, the officer sends the charges to the State Attorney’s Office for review.

If law enforcement releases the juvenile to the JAC, the case is sent to the State Attorney’s Office that same day. The JAC, a centralized facility run by the Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ), is located at 3400 Belvedere Road in West Palm Beach, just west of Congress Avenue.

The facility contains a screening and detainment area, a substance abuse assessment unit, and offices occupied by representatives of several agencies within the juvenile justice system. They include the school district police department’s Juvenile Court programs, DJJ, Intensive Delinquency Diversion Services (IDDS) and the State Attorney.

Juveniles who are taken to the JAC for a law or probation violation are screened by DJJ intake personnel to determine whether they should be held in secure detention, placed on home detention (house arrest), or released to a parent/guardian. The DJJ intake personnel complete a Department Risk Assessment Instrument (DRAI) to make the determination.

If the juvenile meets statutory criteria for secure detention, DJJ personnel will transport him to the Palm Beach Regional Juvenile Detention Center, 1100 45th Street, Bldg. A, in West Palm Beach, for custody until their detention hearing the next day.

If the juvenile scores home detention, a home detention contract will be completed with the juvenile and parent/guardian.  The juvenile will be given a notice of the date and time of the detention hearing.

If detention is not required based on the score of the DRAI, the child shall be released to parent/guardian.

Juveniles who are held in secure detention or placed on home detention have a detention hearing the next day. The purpose of this hearing is for the court to determine the existence of probable cause to believe that the child committed a delinquent act and determine the need for continued detention.

On weekdays, detention hearings are held at the Palm Beach County Courthouse in downtown West Palm Beach, in the juvenile wing of the courthouse in Courtroom 3A, at 1:30 p.m. On weekends and holidays, the detention hearings are held in the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office courtrooms on Gun Club Road at 9:00 a.m.

The Detention Center, run by DJJ, houses juvenile pending adjudication, disposition, or the execution of a court order.  School attendance is mandatory for all detained juvenile.

As a general rule, a juvenile may not be held in any form of detention care more than 21 days unless an adjudicatory hearing (trial) has been started or the court has granted a continuance. After a finding of guilt, a juvenile may be held in secure detention for only 15 days if going to a residential DJJ program.

If a juvenile’s case is sent to a diversion program, the juvenile and parent/guardian will receive notice in the mail of this decision. This notice will tell the juvenile and parent/guardian which diversion program to which the juvenile has been referred and when and where to report to sign up for the program.

Participation by the juvenile in the diversion program is voluntary. If the juvenile participates and successfully completes the program, no further action will be taken on the case by the State. If the juvenile either fails to successfully complete the diversion program or chooses not to participate in the program, the case is sent back to the State Attorney’s Office to be reviewed for further court action. 

Florida law allows juveniles to be charged as adults by grand jury indictment, by the state filing of Information in adult court or by the court transferring a juvenile case to the adult court upon motion by the State. All transfers to the adult criminal court are accomplished by the filing of an indictment or information, the issuance of an adult arrest warrant and the juvenile being booked into the Palm Beach County Jail. Once the juvenile is booked into the jail, the case proceeds according to the criminal court procedures.

The filing of formal charges in juvenile court is accomplished by the filing of a petition. Once a petition is filed, the next step is an arraignment hearing. If the juvenile is on detention status, in most cases the arraignment will be held at the same time as the detention hearing.

If the juvenile is not on detention status, the clerk will issue a summons and attach a copy of the petition. A deputy sheriff who serves the summons, will direct the parent/guardian to attend the arraignment hearing and to produce the juvenile at that hearing.

If a juvenile does not appear at the arraignment, and has been properly noticed, the court will issue a Pick Up Order (PUO).  A PUO is the same as an adult arrest warrant. The PUO will direct law enforcement to deliver the juvenile to the JAC. Once delivered to the JAC the juvenile will be held in secure detention until the detention hearing the next day.

At arraignment, the court asks whether the juvenile pleads guilty or not guilty to the charges filed in the petition. The court then determines whether the juvenile is entitled to a court appointed attorney or must hire his or her own attorney.

If a guilty plea is entered, the case is set for a disposition hearing. If a not guilty plea is entered, the case is scheduled for an adjudicatory hearing. A written not guilty plea entered by a defense attorney at or before the arraignment waives the arraignment hearing.  When this happens an adjudicatory hearing will be scheduled by the clerk and notice sent to the defense attorney.

Juvenile court adjudicatory hearings (trials) are all non-jury, which means a judge decides the case. The state, and possibly the defense, will call witnesses and introduce evidence. The standard of proof necessary for the court to find that the juvenile has committed a delinquent act is beyond a reasonable doubt.

If a juvenile is found not guilty, the case ends. If the juvenile is found guilty, the court may proceed with disposition or set the case off for disposition and order DJJ to prepare a Predisposition Report (PDR).

Upon a finding of guilt or a plea of guilty, the court may select from three general dispositional options:

  • The court may withhold adjudication of delinquency and impose probation with conditions/sanctions
  • Adjudicate delinquent and impose probation with conditions/sanctions
  • Adjudicate delinquent and commit to DJJ with or without probation to follow the commitment

The PDR may be ordered upon a finding of guilt, but shall be ordered in every case where the anticipated disposition will be commitment to a DJJ program.

The PDR is generated by DJJ based on a multidisciplinary assessment that indicates the juvenile’s needs. It outlines a treatment plan, which recommends the least restrictive environment that will meet the juvenile’s needs and reasonably ensure public safety.  The court follows the recommendation of DJJ in the PDR unless there is compelling evidence that another option be imposed.

If a juvenile is placed on probation, the juvenile is supervised by DJJ and assigned a Juvenile Probation Officer (JPO).   Probation will include conditions/sanctions that include, but are not limited to, monetary restitution, community service work, curfew, and mental health and/or substance abuse treatment.

If adjudication has been withheld, the juvenile may be on probation until the juvenile’s 19th birthday. The length of probation for a juvenile adjudicated delinquent may be for the statutory maximum. Regardless of adjudication, the court may terminate the probation at any time. 

If a juvenile is committed to DJJ by the court, that means the juvenile will attend a program designated by DJJ. Programs can be residential or non-residential. Non-residential programs require that the juvenile live at home and attend a program during the day. Residential programs require the juvenile to live away from home for a period of months to years.

The length of stay for all of the programs depends mostly on the juvenile’s needs and participation in the program’s education and treatment. The period of commitment is for an undetermined period of time but must not exceed the statutory maximum period of incarceration that an adult would serve for the same offense. The judge may also impose probation with conditions/sanctions to follow commitment. 

If a juvenile on probation violates the conditions/sanctions of probation, a Violation of Probation (VOP) petition will be filed. If the juvenile admits the violation or the court finds that the juvenile violated probation, the court may revoke, modify, or continue probation and impose any sanctions that could have been imposed at the original disposition hearing. This means the court could then commit the juvenile to DJJ, regardless of whether the juvenile had already been committed.

Once the juvenile successfully completes the commitment program and/or all probation conditions/sanctions, he may be terminated from all court supervision.