Court Holds the Right to be Tried as a Juvenile Can be Waived Under Florida Law

Under Florida law, criminal suspects under the age of 18 are afforded certain rights based on their age, such as the right to be tried in a juvenile court. The juvenile court system may be more lenient and result in less stringent penalties than would be issued in adult court. The right to be tried as a juvenile is not a fundamental right that is guaranteed, however, but can be waived due to inaction.

A Florida district court recently upheld a juvenile defendant’s conviction in adult court for vehicular homicide, where the defendant’s attorney did not object to the jurisdiction until after the jury issued a verdict. If you are a juvenile Clearwater resident facing criminal charges, you should consult a skilled Clearwater crimal defense attorney to discuss the facts of your case and available defenses.

Procedural Facts

Reportedly, the defendant was charged with multiple offenses, including vehicular homicide, arising out of an incident that occurred when he was 15-years-old. Despite his juvenile status, the case was direct-filed in adult court. He entered a plea and was subsequently tried in front of a jury, which resulted in a hung jury and mistrial. A second trial subsequently commenced, after which the defendant was convicted of all charges. Shortly prior to the defendant’s sentencing hearing his attorney raised an objection to the court’s jurisdiction by filing a motion to vacate and remand to juvenile court. The defendant’s attorney had not raised any objection to the adult-court’s jurisdiction at any previous point in the proceedings. The state argued that the direct-filing in adult court was proper and that the defendant waived the right to object to the court’s jurisdiction prior to the conclusion of the trial. The court agreed, denying the motion. The defendant subsequently appealed, arguing ineffective assistance of counsel.

Direct-Filing in Adult Court

Florida law affords the juvenile division jurisdiction over all juvenile proceedings unless jurisdiction is waived or the crime alleged falls under a statutory exception. Under Section 985.557(1)(a), the State has the discretion to allow a juvenile to be tried in adult court for certain enumerated crimes, including manslaughter, if the juvenile is 14 or 15 years old when the crime is allegedly committed. The court stated, however, that lesser included offenses are not incorporated into 985.557(1)(a). As such, vehicular manslaughter, which is a lesser included offense of manslaughter, was not one of the crimes for which the State could direct-file in adult court.

Waiver of the Right to be Tried as a Juvenile

 The court then considered whether the defendant waived his right to be tried as a juvenile. The court noted that the right to be tried as a juvenile was not guaranteed but could be waived by inaction. The court stated that while a delay in objecting to the adult-court’s jurisdiction did not automatically constitute a waiver of the right to be tried as a juvenile, where the objection is not made until after a jury issues a verdict, the objection is untimely. As such, the court found the defendant’s counsel waived his right to be tried as a juvenile by waiting until after the jury found him guilty to raise the jurisdictional issue. Regarding the defendant’s ineffective assistance of counsel claim, the court held that it was not an issue properly raised in an appeal, and allowed the defendant to raise the issue in a motion for post-trial relief.

Meet with a Trusted Clearwater Criminal Defense Attorney to Discuss Your Case

If you are a juvenile in Clearwater and are facing criminal charges, it is essential to retain a criminal defense attorney who will fight vigorously to help you retain your rights. William Hanlon of Hanlon Law is an experienced Clearwater criminal defense attorney who will aggressively advocate on your behalf. Mr. Hanlon can be contacted at 727-897-5413 or through the online form to schedule a conference.

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