Florida Appellate Court Overrules Conviction Due to Improper Waiver of a Juvenile’s Right to Counsel

Florida, like most states, treats minors charged with crimes differently than adults. The Florida Rules of Juvenile Proceeding provide more safeguards for protecting the rights of juveniles charged with crimes, and the failure to comply with the rules can result in the reversal of a conviction. This was illustrated in a recent case out of the Florida appellate courts, where the court reversed a juvenile conviction on the grounds that the trial court had not properly established the juvenile defendant’s right to counsel. If you are a juvenile resident of Clearwater facing criminal charges it is in your best interest to consult a knowledgeable Clearwater criminal defense attorney to help protect your rights.

Trial Court Proceedings

Allegedly, the defendant, who was a minor, was on probation for various charges. The state filed affidavits alleging the defendant was in violation of his probation. The case proceeded to a plea hearing, which the defendant attended alone without the presence of a parent, guardian, or adult relative. He advised the court that he wished to waive his right to an attorney and admit to violating the terms of his probation. The court subsequently found the defendant waived his right to counsel freely and voluntarily and scheduled a date for the disposition of defendant’s charges. The defendant was not represented by counsel at the disposition hearing. He was adjudicated delinquent and committed to the Department of Juvenile Justice to be placed in a residential program. The defendant subsequently appealed, arguing that the trial court erred as a matter of law by failing to properly investigate his waiver of the right to counsel.

Florida Rules of Juvenile Procedure

Under the Florida Rules of Juvenile Procedure, a court is obligated to appoint counsel to any juvenile defendant unless the juvenile waives the right to an attorney at each stage of the case. To properly establish the waiver of the right to an attorney, the court must complete the process of offering the juvenile the assistance of counsel and thoroughly question the juvenile to determine his or her understanding of the offer of the assistance of counsel. In doing so, the court must ensure the juvenile is capable of intelligently waiving the right to counsel. Additionally, the court is required to verify in writing that the decision to waive the right to counsel has been discussed with the juvenile. In sum, the court must advise the juvenile of the benefits of the assistance of counsel and determine whether the juvenile is capable of voluntarily waiving the right to counsel and whether any circumstances existed that would prevent the juvenile from representing his or her self.

Appellate Court Ruling

The court explained that while the rules regarding juvenile waiver of the right to an attorney are procedural, they were established to ensure a juvenile’s right to counsel is protected. Here, the court found no evidence of record that the trial court discussed with the juvenile whether he had consulted an attorney regarding his decision, or that the trial court inquired into the juvenile’s level of understanding regarding his choice. Additionally, the court found that no parent, guardian, or adult relative was present when the juvenile waived his right to counsel, or that the juvenile’s waiver was knowing and voluntary. As such, the court found the juvenile’s waiver to be invalid as a matter of law and subsequently found his plea invalid as well. It reversed his adjudication and remanded the case to the trial court.

Meet with an Experienced Clearwater Criminal Defense Attorney

If you are a Clearwater juvenile resident charged with a crime, it is important to retain an experienced criminal defense attorney who can help you formulate a strong defense. William Hanlon of Hanlon Law is a Clearwater criminal defense attorney with the knowledge and experience needed to help you obtain a favorable result under the circumstances.  Contact our offices at 727-897-5413 or via the online form to schedule a meeting.

More Blog Posts:

Court in Florida Looks at Probation Violations when Affidavit is Missing November 12, 2018, Clearwater and St. Petersburg Criminal Lawyer Blog

Florida’s Youthful Offender Sentencing System March 25, 2018, Clearwater and St. Petersburg Criminal Lawyer Blog

Florida Plea Deals and the Pitfalls of Breaking Your Word March 8, 2018, Clearwater and St. Petersburg Criminal Lawyer Blog

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