Juvenile Defense in Pinellas County

What happens when a child or young person who is under 18 years old gets in trouble with the law?

A juvenile can be detained by a law enforcement officer. If the officer has probable cause that the child committed a crime, the juvenile can be taken to a juvenile assessment facility.

In Pinellas County, FL, the child might be handcuffed, put in the back of a police cruiser, and fingerprinted at the juvenile assessment center at 14500 49th Street North in Clearwater, FL.

From the juvenile assessment center, the child might be released to the parents immediately or held overnight for an advisory hearing the next day in front of the judge in juvenile court.

The judge might release the child to the parents on home detention.

If the judge decides to hold the child in secure detention for twenty-one (21) days, the child will be transported to the juvenile detention center at 5255 140th Ave. North, in Clearwater, Florida.

The child is entitled to hire a private criminal defense attorney to represent them at the first appearance. As a practical matter, this usually involves the parents hiring an attorney on the child’s behalf.

A criminal defense attorney can file a motion to change the detention status as new information becomes available.

The prosecutor might be seeking probation or other sanctions for cases not eligible for diversion. The most severe cases can be transferred to adult court.

Attorney for Juveniles Defense in Pinellas County, FL

If your child was accused of a crime or detained at the juvenile detention facility in Pinellas County, FL, contact an experienced juvenile defense attorney at Sammis Law Firm.

We represent young people accused of crimes prosecuted in juvenile court. We are familiar with all of the juvenile diversion programs in Pinellas County, FL.

The best result is getting the charges dropped by the prosecutor or dismissed by the judge.

Then the child might be eligible to seal or expunge any record of the initial detention.

Contact the attorneys at Sammis Law Firm. Visit our office at 14010 Roosevelt Blvd Suite 701, Clearwater, FL 33762-3820, near the Criminal Justice Center (CJC) courthouse.

Call 727-210-7004. 

Juvenile Diversion Programs in Pinellas County, FL

The child’s case might be diverted into a pre-arrest diversion program for less serious offenses, often using civil citations. The pre-arrest diversion programs leave less of a record.

Offenses eligible for a pre-arrest diversion program include shoplifting, retail theft, possessing contraband (alcohol, marijuana, or a firearm), a battery not resulting in serious injury, or trespassing.

The diversion programs in Pinellas County require some sanctions aimed at improving the child’s behavior which might include the following:

  • attending a counseling assessment
  • completing educational classes or experiences
  • performing community service
  • writing a letter of apology or an essay assignment
  • attending school without any unexcused absences
  • paying restitution

The case might be referred to one of the following types of juvenile diversion programs in Pinellas County, FL:

  • Juvenile Arrest Avoidance Program
    • In Pinellas County, FL, JAAP helps young people accused of a first-time misdemeanor offense. The case might be “direct” diverted. In a direct diversion, the arrest affidavit is never filed, and the child earns a non-arrest record on a potential misdemeanor charge.
  • Juvenile Arbitration in Pinellas County, FL
    • Juvenile Arbitration is for first-time offenders.
    • After being referred to the program, a hearing is held, and the following type of sanctions might be imposed:
      • restitution
      • a letter of apology
      • an essay assignment
      • school attendance and behavior improvements
      • counseling assessment
      • community service
      • educational classes
    •  The program offers more than twenty (22) different classes and experiences, such as:
      • Conflict Resolution
      • Drug Awareness
      • D.O.S.E.
      • Alcohol & Tobacco Awareness
      • To Catch A Thief
      • a maximum-security jail tour
      • Judicial Education, Truancy-Related Law
      • Medical Examiner’s class
      • Crime Scene Intervention
      • ACE
      • USF College Tour
      • Career Orientation
      • Removing Intoxicated Drivers
      • Controlling Abuse of Prescriptions
      • the Ambassador program
    • Follow-up hearings are held at the end of six (6) to eight (8) weeks to determine if all requirements were successfully met.
  • Juvenile Drug Court
    • Juvenile Drug Court is offered in Pinellas County.
    • For juveniles accused of any misdemeanor or felony drug charge, the juvenile drug court program in Pinellas County, FL, allows the charges to be dismissed if the child enters and completes the program.
    • Participants are required to submit to drug assessment and random urinalysis.
    • A hearing master conducts the initial hearing, and appropriate sanctions are applied.
    • Hearings are held monthly or more often as needed to monitor participants’ progress.
  • Service & Treatment for Offender Prevention (STOP)
    • For juveniles with repeat misdemeanor or third-degree felony offenses, STOP is a long-term intensive arbitration program that requires juvenile offenders to complete specified sanctions.
    • not all types of charges are eligible for STOP including any offenses involving personal violence, use of a weapon, or grand theft auto.
    • If the child completes the program, the child might avoid prosecution and a juvenile record.
    • Additional sanctions might include fifty (50) community service hours and mandatory weekly phone contact.
    • The program lasts about one hundred and twenty (120) days and involves weekly call-ins and an additional mid-point hearing to assess a juvenile’s progress within the program.

The Difference Between Defending Juveniles and Adults

According to the Florida legislature, the main goal of juvenile court is to change the young person’s behavior by directing the child away from destructive, harmful, and illegal acts.

In the adult system, on the other hand, the prosecution focuses on punishing the offender. These differences also impact how a juvenile defense attorney handles cases involving clients under 18.

In Pinellas County, FL, the juvenile courts have jurisdiction over young people who are under the age of eighteen. The Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) is the state agency charged with administering juvenile delinquency programs.

Although an adult can often post a monetary bond after being arrested for a crime, when a juvenile is arrested, the child will be kept behind bars only if the judge finds that the child qualifies for secure detention.

The judge in juvenile court determines points based on the child’s prior record, the type of crime charged, and numerous other factors determined by statute.

Florida law requires that the state and county have a joint obligation to pay for the costs of secure detention care provided for juveniles.

The Florida legislature recently revised how each county must pay the costs for care in detention. Sometimes, the court can require the child’s parent or guardian to pay some of those costs.

Juvenile Pick-Up Orders in the Sixth Judicial Circuit

Under Administrative Order Number 2008-031 PI-CIR, signed on June 15, 2008, the order seeks to create a more uniform procedure for how young people who have reached their 19th birthday are processed in Pinellas County.

To create those more uniform procedures, the rules apply to court’s Juvenile Delinquency sections, the Juvenile Assessment Center, and the Juvenile Detention Center.

The order requires that unless a judge provides explicitly otherwise in the order, the Juvenile Assessment Center and the Juvenile Detention Center shall treat all “pick up orders” involving a juvenile who has reached his or her 19th birthday as a “screening only order.”

That juvenile shall be processed and released so long as there is no outstanding adult “pick up order” and so long as that juvenile is not in a Maximum Risk or post Level 10 status.

The Parent’s Role When a Juvenile is Charged with a Crime

The attorney must explain to the parents and the child that the attorney is being retained to represent only the child and not the parents, even though the parents might be paying for the attorney fees.

The child, attorney, and parents then work together to resolve the case in the child’s best interest and according to the child’s wishes.

Secure Detention of a Juvenile in Pinellas County

A child must be placed in secure detention care until the child’s detention hearing if:

  • the child is classified as a prolific juvenile offender –
    • under Sections 985.255(1)(f), F.S., the term “prolific juvenile offender” means the child that is:
      • charged with a delinquent act that would be a felony if committed by an adult;
      • has a prior adjudication or adjudication withheld for a delinquent act that would be a felony if committed by an adult;
      • has five (5) or more arrests, adjudications, or adjudications withheld;
      • three (3) of which must have been felony offenses.
  • the child is charged with possessing or discharging a firearm on school property in violation of s. 790.115, F.S.

Additional Resources

Juvenile Section of the Clerk’s Office in Pinellas County – Visit the Clerk of Circuit Court website in Pinellas County, FL, to find information on the juvenile section. The clerk’s office serves juvenile court in juvenile delinquency cases and the juvenile arbitration program by working with the Unified Family Court to maintain case files, process documents, and schedule court hearings.

Juvenile Arrest Avoidance Program (JAAP) – Visit the website of the Sixth Judicial Circuit in Pinellas County, FL, to find information on JAAP which helps resolve cases for juveniles accused of a first-time misdemeanor offense. Cases in JAAP are “direct” diverted for an opportunity to resolve the case without creating an arrest record.

Pinellas County Regional Juvenile Detention Center – In cooperation with the Department of Juvenile Justice, the Pinellas Regional Juvenile Detention Center provides services to detained children pending court action in juvenile court in the Sixth Judicial Circuit in Pinellas County, Florida. The phone number to the detention center in Clearwater, FL, is 727-538-7100 ext. 250, located at 5255 140th Ave N, Clearwater, FL 33760.

State Attorney on Juvenile Diversion in Pinellas County – Visit the website of the State Attorney’s Office for the Sixth Judicial Circuit in Pinellas County, FL, to find out more about special juvenile diversion programs, including the Adult Division Special Program (Project Safe Neighborhood Anti-Gang Initiative), the Community Prosecuting Attorney Service System COMPASS, and the Retail Theft Diversion and Abatement Program.

Pinellas County Juvenile Justice Council – The PCJJC, along with other County Juvenile Justice Councils throughout the state, is sanctioned by Florida Statute Section 985.664(1) to “provide advice and direction to the department [of juvenile justice (DJJ)] in the development and implementation of juvenile justice lawyer programs and to work collaboratively with the department in seeking program improvements and policy changes to address the emerging and changing needs of Florida’s youth who are at risk of delinquency.” All meetings of PCJJC are open to the public.

Pinellas Regional Juvenile Detention Center in Clearwater, Florida

This article was last updated on Friday, April 21, 2023.