Juvenile Arrest and Juvenile Charges

Part 1: Rights, Some Differences with Adult Criminal Court.

There are some important things to know if your child is arrested or charged with a crime.  The first is that the purpose of the Juvenile Justice System in Florida is to protect society by trying to rehabilitate the child who committed the crime.  The purpose is not simply to punish the child.  Punishment is, though, one of the purposes of the adult criminal system in Florida.  Also, the Juvenile criminal system in Florida is known as Juvenile Delinquency.  Juvenile Dependency is a separate, but related, system that deals with children who have been, or at risk of being, abused, neglected or abandoned.  Understand that the term “child” in Florida generally means anyone under the age of 18.

Florida Juvenile Delinquency courts work with many different entities, including the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice, the State Attorney’s Office, the child’s attorney (usually a criminal defense attorney), and the Judge to devise a rehabilitation plan for the child who is in trouble with the law.  The court will attempt to ensure the child learns from the experience.  This is so the child has a better chance of returning to society as a productive citizen without suffering permanent harm.  Adult Criminal Court may hope to return an productive adult to society, but they also have goals of prevention of future crimes by the same person, deterring others from committing similar crimes, and simply punishing those who commit crimes.  The adult criminal system is, therefore, much more unforgiving than the Juvenile criminal (or Juvenile Delinquency) system is.

Many rights that adults have in criminal court are mirrored in Juvenile Delinquency Court.  Some of these rights are not the same, though.  One in particular, is the right to a trial by a jury of your peers.  While an adult charged with a crime is entitled to a jury trial, a juvenile charged with a crime is entitled only to a trial with a Judge.

A child, though, does have the right to remain silent.  As it is with an adult who speaks with law enforcement, anything the child says can be used against that child in court.  So should your child cooperate with law enforcement if he or she is questioned?  This is not a simple yes or no answer.  Your child should be cooperative, but should NOT answer any questions regarding the allegations or the charges until and unless you speak to an attorney.  Confessions of children are NOT automatically deemed not admissible simply because the suspect is a child.  In other words, it is entirely possible for a child to confess to a crime.

Children, like adults, have the right to an attorney before answering any questions.  The child has the right to request an attorney just like an adult.

Law enforcement is allowed to take your child to the county jail and hold them for questioning for a limited amount of time.  They may be fingerprinted and photographed upon law enforcement’s reasonable belief that the child has committed a criminal act.  These records, though, are not public.  After this period of time has elapsed, the child may be released to a parent or an alternate responsible adult relative of the child.  The child may also be detained in a secure juvenile detention facility.  Finally, the Department of Children and Families can be contacted if circumstances allow for this.  This may happen if the child has no parent nor adult relative to take the child.

A child may be put into detention care while they are awaiting a court hearing.  This may be in a juvenile detention facility or home detention.  This detention may not normally last beyond 24 hours without a hearing in front of a Judge who determines whether or not the child should be held for a longer period of time.  If a child is placed into detention, that child has the right to an adjudicatory hearing (or a juvenile “trial”) within 21 days.  In most cases, the juvenile system runs much more swiftly than the adult criminal system.

If you have any other questions concerning charges filed against a child, please feel free to contact me to schedule a free consultation.

Shawn L Hungate Attorney at Law, 811 Patrick Street, Kissimmee, FL 34741  407-846-1529

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Bankruptcy Basics

Bankruptcy Basics

by Shawn Hungate.

Here are some very basic concepts about Bankruptcy.  Please understand that every case is unique and these statements may not necessarily apply to your unique case.  But if you are considering filing a bankruptcy, some questions you may have are:

Do I qualify for a Bankruptcy?
What does a Bankruptcy do for me?
How long does a Bankruptcy take?
Do I need an attorney to file a bankruptcy?

Well, it depends on what chapter you are filing.  A chapter 7 bankruptcy (consumer) is generally for individuals who earn under $40,766.00 per year.  This number can change every year.  This allowed amount also goes up depending on family size.  A married couple can earn up to $49,729.00, a 3 person family can earn up to $52,840.00, and a four person family can earn up to $62,742.00.  These amounts are simply the easiest way to qualify for a chapter 7 bankruptcy, as you do not have to pass what the Bankruptcy Court calls  a “means test”.

NOTE:  These values can and do change!

For incomes higher than these, you would either have to pass the “means test” or consider filing a chapter 13 bankruptcy.  Other chapters do not generally apply to individuals or families, such as chapter 11 bankruptcies.  There are also Chapter 7 bankruptcies specifically designed for businesses.

Additionally, if you have recently filed a bankruptcy, you may not qualify to file another one for several years.  Feel free to call me for any questions about this at 407-846-1529 (407-846-1LAW).

The goal of a chapter 7 consumer bankruptcy is to give a family or individual a fresh start.  It discharges all allowed debt and will liquidate all unprotected assets.

The debts allowed to be discharged, for the most part, are credit card debt, medical bills, and other unsecured debt.  It can also discharge certain secured debt (mortgages, car loans, etc.) if you do not wish to keep the security (the home, the car, etc.).  It cannot usually discharge certain debts like student loans, taxes, or debt on secured property you wish to keep.

The assets that you can protect are generally:  Your homestead (if you wish to reaffirm the mortgage, or own your home without a mortgage), your personal property up to $1000.00 in value for an individual or $2000.00 for a married couple, equity in a vehicle (again $1000.00 for an individual or $2,000.00 for a married couple), most retirement plans, and certain other exempt assets.  Additionally, in Florida, you are allowed a $4,000.00 “wildcard” exemption if you do not use your homestead exemption.  These exemptions do not necessarily mean you will lose the assets that are unprotected, but you would have to “buy” the assets back from the trustee if they are not exempt.

A bankruptcy can also often stop pending lawsuits and eliminate judgments.  Once filed, it also stops harassing telephone calls from creditors.

If you want to stop harassing telephone calls from creditors, please give me a call at 407-846-1529 (407-846-1LAW).

There are several steps in a bankruptcy, beginning with the initial filing of the Petition and related schedules.  The time frame for filing depends on the complexity of your individual case.  If you have few creditors, it can be done rather quickly, but with many creditors, the preparation of the petition can take several months, with a lot of communication between my office and you, the client.

After the Petition is filed, it will generally take about a month or two to get to your meeting of creditors.  Once that is done, and if there are no objections or filings by the creditors to challenge the bankruptcy, it takes a minimum of 90 days before a discharge can be granted.  The case is closed soon thereafter.

Even if this seems to take a long time, understand that it is important to carefully prepare the filing of a bankruptcy in order to avoid problems that can result in you having to appear in front of a Federal Judge.  A rushed bankruptcy is not something anyone should try.  Additionally, many of the benefits of the bankruptcy are realized upon filing (such as creditors generally stop calling), instead of at the end of the case.

The time can vary from file to file, but I will always respond promptly to your questions and issues.  Give me a call at 407-846-1529 (407-846-1LAW) if you have any questions.

Technically, no, you do not.  But I would NEVER recommend someone file a bankruptcy without an attorney.  Filing a Bankruptcy is extremely detailed and complicated.  Only an attorney can correctly evaluate your case and file a petition while giving you advice on every step.  Additionally, an attorney can attend your meeting of creditors with you.  If you do see an attorney about filing a bankruptcy, ask if they will personally attend the meeting with you, or if they hire someone else to cover the hearing for them.  I always personally attend all meetings with my clients.

Also, the chances of messing something up increases greatly without the aid of an attorney.  If you do make a mistake when filing a bankruptcy, you may end up with your case dismissed or even investigated by the FBI.  You really should strongly consider hiring an attorney to help you through this complex and detailed legal procedure.

If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me.  You can schedule a free initial consultation by calling me:

Shawn L Hungate Attorney at Law, 811 Patrick Street, Kissimmee, FL 34741  407-846-1529

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Contested Divorce Basics

Contested Divorce Basics

by Shawn Hungate.

When someone hears the word “divorce”, a contested divorce, with all its procedures, is what often comes to mind.  This process begins with a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage filed with the clerk of courts.  This Petition can be filed by either the Husband or the Wife (or either “party”).  That party becomes the Petitioner.  This Petition is then served on the other party, who is called the Respondent.  The Respondent typically has 20 days to answer the Petition.

The Petition contains allegations about the marriage.  It must allege that the marriage is irretrievably broken.  It may contain other allegations including, but not necessarily, a request to divide assets and debts, a claim for time sharing with children, a claim for child support, and claims for alimony, among other things.

The Respondent then must file an Answer or risk being defaulted, allowing the Petitioner to go forth to the Judge for a final hearing.  The Respondent may also file a Counter-Petition.  The Counter-Petition would contain allegations just like a Petition would and must be answered by the other party.

Often times, financial disclosure is provided with, or soon after, service of the initial Petition for Dissolution of Marriage.  If this is not done, financial disclosure (or “Mandatory Disclosure”) is required within 45 days of the service of the initial petition.  The amount of disclosure can vary depending on the parties’ incomes and expenses.  This financial disclosure is often required prior to temporary relief hearings.  In Osceola County, Mediation is usually also required before temporary relief matters are heard.  In all cases, at minimum, a Financial Affidavit is required.

Mediation is a major part of a contested divorce and is required in most cases (cases without a default entered) to give the parties an opportunity to settle their case prior to going to a final hearing.  This can help the parties avoid a protracted process preparing for a trial.  The purpose of mediation is not to save a broken marriage, but to give the husband and wife a chance to dictate there own terms of the divorce without the Judge deciding their case for them.  The parties should realize that compromise is important in a mediation if you want to successfully settle their case.  There can be one or several mediations in a single divorce proceeding.  A mediation can settle some issues, all issues, or no issues.  Mediations are attended by the Husband, the Wife, their attorneys, and a mediator.  Third parties are typically not allowed to attend mediations.

If the case is not settled at mediation, the parties can still attempt to settle out of court, or have their attorneys try to work toward a settlement.  If no settlement is reached, cases often proceed with depositions, interrogatories, and further discovery.  Eventually, the parties would go to a final hearing (a Trial) and have the Judge decide the issues that were not settled on at mediation.  At this Trial, each side will have an opportunity to present their side and make their requests to the Judge.

Anyone going through a divorce, especially a contested divorce, should realize that it is unrealistic to expect to be “happy” with their divorce.  A divorce can be emotionally and financially devastating.  The parties now living apart and, often times, alone can be difficult.  In cases with children, the time spent away from them can be very trying.  Finally, the simple fact that there are two households to support instead of one is enough to cause a serious financial strain on the parties.

It is always a good idea to consult an attorney before you proceed with a divorce and I would be happy to talk to you about your own unique circumstances.

Shawn L Hungate Attorney at Law, 811 Patrick Street, Kissimmee, FL 34741  407-846-1529

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Basics About Divorce in Florida


by Shawn Hungate.

Going through a divorce can be a trying time for anyone.  Dealing with custody, visitation, child support, alimony, property division only adds to the stress and emotional turmoil that comes with a divorce.

Before you decide to take legal steps to file for divorce and end your marriage, you should make sure that you have taken the steps to see if you can save it.  There is help out there from professional help, to religious organizations, even talking to family and friends.  Ultimately, if you do decide to file for divorce, it is important that you consult with an attorney to know your rights.

A divorce in Florida is officially called a Dissolution of Marriage.  In Florida, you do not have to prove that anyone is at fault for the divorce.  Thus, Florida, as far as divorce law goes, is a no-fault state.  This can reduce potential harm to the parties and their children, fi they have any, by not having to show things like adultery or abandonment.  The most common grounds for divorce in Florida are simply that the marriage is irretrievably broken.  Additionally, either the Husband or Wife must have been a Florida resident for at least six months.  Circumstances that would otherwise constitute “fault” can sometimes be used, though, in the determination of alimony or child support.  Be sure to speak to an attorney about this, though, as many factors that may feel like “fault” will not be considered by the Court.

Divorces in Florida can be handled in many ways.  One way is the traditional “Contested Divorce”.  This is where one party files a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage with the Court and has the other party served with the Petition.  The other party must answer within a given time period and the lawsuit proceeds from there.  Usually, Mediation is had and, if the case does not settle there, further litigation will likely be required.

Another way to get a divorce in Florida is an “Uncontested Divorce”.  This is where the parties enter into an agreement about how their property will be divided, how they will continue to raise their children (with a “Parenting Plan”), what child support will be paid, and if alimony is to be paid.  Although this sounds like an easier process, it is still imperative to seek out a lawyer to help you with this process.  You still need to be advised of your rights.  Additionally, the likelihood of having to go back to court later on is increased greatly if you try to do this on your own or simply hire a paralegal to prepare documents, as they are unable to give you any kind of legal advice.  A special kind of Uncontested Divorce is a “Simplified Divorce” and is filed only in certain circumstances.

A third way to get a divorce in Florida is through a rather new method called a “Collaborative Divorce”.  This is where both parties obtain counsel, but it is done with the idea of reaching a settlement.  Both parties, and their attorneys, must enter into a Collaborative Agreement.  I will discuss more about Collaborative Divorces in a later post.

Additionally, Judges and Clerks cannot give legal advice.  They can only answer the most basic questions you may have, and this is normally limited to procedural questions.  Only an attorney can give you legal advice about your Divorce.  Call my office or email me and I would be happy to set up a time to speak with you about your unique case.

Shawn L Hungate Attorney at Law, 811 Patrick Street, Kissimmee, FL 34741  407-846-1529

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