Articles Posted in Juvenile

If you are a minor charged with a crime, it is essential to understand what sentence you might face prior to deciding to enter into a plea agreement. While certain crimes have mandatory sentences, in some cases it may not be clear what penalty applies to an offense under the terms of the statute.

For example, a Florida Court of appeals recently ruled that actual possession of a gun is not required for a court to impose a mandatory firearm enhancement sentence on a minor defendant who entered a plea for an armed burglary charge.  If you are a minor resident of Tampa facing criminal charges, you should consult with a Tampa criminal defense attorney to discuss whether entering a plea agreement may be appropriate in your case.

Factual Background

Reportedly, a witness saw four males trying to open a car in a parking lot. She contacted the police, who responded and ultimately detained the defendant. The officers became aware that a gun had been taken from a car burglarized by one of the four males. The minor defendant advised the officer that he knew where the gun was, and proceeded to lead the officers to the gun. A second male who was detained told the officers that a third male handed him the gun and he did it in a bush. None of the men indicated who removed the gun from the car.

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Under Florida law, the state is required to produce evidence that an officer is engaged in a lawful duty to convict a defendant charged with resisting arrest.  In a recent case, the District Court of Appeal of Florida, Second District reversed a conviction for resisting an officer without violence, due to the state’s failure to introduce sufficient evidence to support the argument that the arresting officers had probable cause to arrest the defendant. If you face charges for resisting an arrest, it is important to retain an experienced Tampa criminal defense attorney to analyze the facts regarding your arrest and any evidence the state may attempt to introduce against you. 

Facts of the Case

Allegedly, it is the internal practice of the Tampa Police Department to regularly check in on juveniles on probation to ensure they are complying with the terms of the probation.  If the police determine a juvenile is violating the terms of his or her probation, a “local pickup order” call will then be placed to pick up the juvenile for violation of probation. In this case, two police officers received a dispatch call to pick up the defendant for violation of probation. The officers went to the defendant’s house to arrest him and found him hiding in a closet. The defendant refused to walk down the stairs of the apartment and had to be carried out by the police officers. After the defendant was placed in the police car, he kicked out a window, and the officers had to restrain him. The defendant was subsequently charged and convicted of criminal mischief and resisting an officer without violence. The defendant subsequently appealed his conviction.

The U.S. criminal justice system understands that juveniles do not have the same brain development and decision-making capacity as adults. To acknowledge this, Florida passed the Florida Youthful Offender Act (the “Act”) which gives alternative sentencing options for certain individuals who are under the age of 21 at the time of sentencing. Your knowledgeable Tampa criminal defense attorney can help you determine whether you or a loved one are eligible for youthful offender status.

Florida Youthful Offender Act

In order to be eligible for consideration as a youthful offender, the defendant must meet certain requirements. Of course there is an age requirement. Defendants need to be between 18 and 21 at the time of sentencing. Defendants under 18 are also potentially eligible for youthful offender status if the case has been transferred to the adult court.

Youthful offender status is available only for felonies, however; it is not available for those who have been convicted of capital or life felonies. Defendants also need to have been found guilty or have pled nolo contendere (no contest) to their charges. Finally, defendants are only eligible for youthful offender status one time. Therefore, if they have already been sentenced as a youthful offender before, they are not eligible a second time.

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Florida law is often strict when it comes to doling out punishments for crimes, even when the person charged is a juvenile. Although the U.S. Supreme Court has established some limits on harsh sentencing for people under the age of 18, states still have a lot of leeway to put juveniles behind bars for long stretches of time. Florida’s Fifth District Court of Appeal recently explained that judges have the power to impose mandatory minimum sentences on juvenile offenders.Mr. Young was 17 years old when he was charged with armed robbery, a Florida gun crime that’s punishable by up to life in prison. He was convicted and sentenced to 10 years behind bars, the mandatory minimum punishment under state law. Young later appealed the sentence, arguing that it violated the U.S. Constitution. Young’s attorneys told the court that the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment bars the state from imposing mandatory minimum sentences. That’s because those sentences don’t allow judges to consider individual circumstances or to take into account that juveniles may have more capacity for reform, they said.

The Fifth District disagreed. “The court clearly allowed for the consideration of Young’s age in fashioning its sentence, as evidenced by Young receiving the lowest permissible sentence for his crime,” the court said. “Although we acknowledge that the 10-year mandatory minimum sentence required here does limit, to some extent, the discretion of a trial court in sentencing a juvenile offender, we do not view this modest limitation as a constitutional infirmity.”

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The U.S. Supreme Court in Miller v. Alabama held that the Eighth Amendment of the United States Constitution prohibits sentencing guidelines that require life imprisonment without parole for juvenile offenders. In response, the Florida legislature passed a new set of guidelines for sentencing people convicted of Florida juvenile crimes. The guidelines ensure that juveniles have any long-term sentences reviewed by a judicial body.

Under the new framework, the status of an offender as either an adult or a juvenile at the time the crime was committed is a crucial threshold question. Florida’s Third District Court of Appeals recently remanded a case to determine whether the defendant was a juvenile at the time the crime was committed.

The defendant appealed his conviction because there were discrepancies in his age. The defendant’s arrest affidavit showed his date of birth as December 3, 1963. However, the Florida Department of Corrections listed his date of birth as December 3, 1962. The offenses for the defendant’s crimes ranged from March to May 1981. The appeals court remanded the case to the trial court to determine the defendant’s correct date of birth. If the defendant was born in 1963, the defendant could be eligible for relief under the Florida Supreme Court decision in Atwell v. Florida.

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