Articles Posted in Juvenile Crimes

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In Florida, the laws regarding weapons, violence and threats of violence at school have become much more strict over the last several years. Every now and then, there will be a news story of a child getting arrested or suspended for seemingly harmless conduct. In a recent criminal case south of Jacksonville, Florida, a child was arrested after the school principal found a pocket knife with a 3 3/4 inch blade in his pocket. Under Florida law, it is illegal for a student to possess a firearm or any other kind of weapon at school, on the school bus or at any school-sponsored event. A violation of this statute is a felony. The ramifications of a student getting a felony conviction, or adjudication, at a young age for such a violation are obvious.

The question, of course, is: what is considered a weapon? The criminal statute clearly indicates that box cutters and razor blades are not allowed unless otherwise permitted by the school. However, what about pocket knives, which are fairly common possessions of young kids? Florida law does define the term “weapon” by giving some examples of weapons and also says that any knife is a weapon except common pocket knives, blunt table knives and plastic knives. For some reason, in the case cited above, the principal, the police, the state attorney’s office and even the judge all thought the child’s possession of a 3 3/4 inch pocket knife was serious enough to convict the kid of a felony charge (a conviction is actually referred to as an adjudication when juveniles are involved). Fortunately, the appellate court read the statute and reversed the child’s conviction by finding that the 3 3/4 inch pocket knife was a common pocket knife which is not considered a “weapon” under the Florida criminal statute, and the case was dismissed.

Of course, a school has a right to ban such items from school grounds, however possessing a common pocket knife cannot be the basis of a felony crime in Florida.

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The 8th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution forbids the government from imposing cruel and unusual punishment. The Florida Constitution has a similar provision. This issue normally arises in death penalty cases. However, the U.S. Supreme Court is reviewing the issue of whether it is cruel and unusual punishment to sentence a juvenile to life in prison for committing a crime that did not involve a murder.

Two of the cases being reviewed by the USSC are Florida cases- one involved a 13 year old who was convicted of the rape of an elderly woman, and the other involved a 17 year old who was convicted of armed robbery and other related charges. There are 77 prison inmates who have been sentenced to life in prison for crimes that did not involve a homicide. Florida seems to have more than most, if not all, other states. The judges on the Supreme Court can decide to keep the status quo and allow criminal courts in Florida to impose life sentences for juveniles who commit serious but non-homicide crimes, abolish the practice altogether or come up with some middle ground where the judges are required to weigh certain factors before imposing a life sentence in such cases.

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The arrest of a child is often a traumatic and distressing experience, both for the youngster and his/her parents. Juvenile criminal activities refer to those perpetrated by anyone under the age of 18. If adjudicated delinquent, the defendant is inducted into a rehabilitation program drawn up by the Florida Department of Children and Families. If your child or someone you know has been taken into custody or accused of a crime by law enforcement officers, here’s what you need to know:

• While law enforcement officers have the right to take your child into custody, they must inform you or the child’s legal guardians.

• A child can be questioned without his/her parents or legal guardians present, but the court has the right to accept the resultant testimony based on whether the accused youngster was aware of his/her constitutional rights.

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The population of juveniles in Jacksonville and throughout Florida continues to increase, however, fortunately, the crime rate among those juveniles in Jacksonville and other areas of Florida are not necessarily matching the population increase. For instance, according to the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice, the juvenile crime rate in Florida has decreased from 87 delinquency referrals per 100 juveniles during fiscal year 2002 – 2003 to 77 delinquency referrals per 100 juveniles in fiscal year 2006 – 2007. Placement of juveniles in residential delinquent treatment facilities decreased from 9035 to 7187 during that same time period.

As far as the crimes committed the most by juveniles in Florida, assault and battery are the number one misdemeanor crimes and burglary is the number one felony crime.

However, the news on crimes committed by juveniles in Florida is not all positive. Serious crimes committed by juveniles has increased approximately 4% between the fiscal year of 2004 – 2005 to the fiscal year of 2006 – 2007. These crimes include murder and manslaughter, armed robbery, burglary, auto theft, aggravated assault and aggravated battery, sex offenses and drug offenses involving marijuana, crack, cocaine and other illegal drugs as well as unauthorized prescription drugs like Oxycontin, Xanax, Percocet and others.