Part 3: Right to Counsel
A Juvenile’s right to counsel is governed in part by Florida Statute 985.033. It states that “A child is entitled to representation by legal counsel at all stages of any delinquency court proceedings…”
In the Juvenile Delinquency system, the State Attorney’s Office represents the State of Florida, just as they do in the adult criminal system. They have all the same resources at their disposal as they do in the adult criminal system. It is therefore very important that a child charged with a crime have competent experienced legal representation, just as it is in the adult criminal system. I have represented Juveniles in Florida since 1998 in both matters that have stayed in the Juvenile system and have been direct filed to the adult system.
Many times, the child is unaware that they have the right to counsel when they are questioned by law enforcement. They are also unaware that they can request that, at a minimum, that they speak with their parents. This is not always communicated to the child before they start to speak with law enforcement. It is important, therefore, as parents, to inform your child of his or her rights under the law. This may be an uncomfortable conversation, but knowledge is sometimes the child’s best defense when they are being accused of a crime they may not have committed.
Additionally, a child’s right to counsel can not be interfered with by an unwilling parent. Many times parents may be frustrated with their child and do not wish to hire an attorney for their child. If the parents and the child are deemed indigent, a Public Defender may be appointed to represent the child in a Juvenile Delinquency proceeding. If, however, the parents or legal guardians are not declared indigent, even if the child is indigent (which is usually the case, as children rarely have their own financial resources) then those parents or legal guardians are required to secure counsel for their child. Florida Statute 985.033 states, in part, that “A parent or legal guardian of an indigent child who has been ordered to obtain private counsel for the child and who willfully fails to follow the court order shall be punished by the court in civil contempt proceedings.” This may come as somewhat of a surprise that a parent can be forced into hiring private counsel, but it is not necessarily all bad news. Many attorney’s, including myself, charge significantly less to represent a juvenile than an adult for similar offenses.
Another important thing to consider when hiring an attorney to represent a child in a Juvenile Delinquency proceeding is that your child’s attorney represents the child, not the parents or legal guardians. This means that the child’s discussions with the attorney are confidential. The parents, although often present during consultations, do not have a right to be present during the consultations. The attorney represents the interests of the child, which may be contrary to the interests of the parents. Understand, though, that these are the child’s rights. Practically, most of my Juvenile clients wish their parents to be involved in the entire process and I take the parents input very seriously. I will be as cooperative as I can be with the parents of the child, but I cannot violated confidences between the child and myself unless the child wishes me to do so.
Finally, its is important to hire an attorney to represent a child so that the attorney may determine whether there is any legal basis for the charges against the child as well as whether all the legal requirements were property met prior to the charges being filed.
I am happy to discuss any issues you may have if your child is charged in delinquency court during a free consultation.