Protecting your child from criminal consequences

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Last year, approximately 10,000 children in Florida were charged with minor crimes and punished through the criminal justice system. About 620 of them were no older than 12, and a few were as young as seven. Perhaps you fear that your child will be one of those, and that this one mistake will affect his or her future forever.

You probably can't imagine your son or daughter in a jail cell, and you know that the experience will forever change your child, likely for the worse. Fortunately, almost every county in the state is working on an alternative program for youthful offenders.

Diversion programs for first offenses

Instead of placing children under the age of 18 into the criminal justice system after they commit non-violent crimes, authorities may soon have options that are more appropriate. The first is to send them to pretrial diversion programs. The programs give youthful first offenders opportunities to steer away from a life of crime by providing guidance and accountability. Instead of jail, your child may receive certain mandatory interventions, including:

  • Doing community service
  • Attending substance abuse classes
  • Receiving counseling
  • Attending high school or completing a GED program

Those who propose these programs hope, as you do, that they will offer children a chance to refocus on goals that are more positive and avoid sending them into adulthood with a criminal record and the psychological baggage that often accompanies it.

Citations and their drawbacks

The second option would be for law enforcement to issue your child a civil citation - instead of arresting and charging him or her with misdemeanors - if your son or daughter commits certain non-violent crimes. Many law enforcement agencies in the state have already adopted this practice because of the cost of criminalizing youths.

Some are concerned about the sweeping scope of the law because they feel there may be some circumstances when police should arrest a youth for committing a misdemeanor. For example, if your child should hit you, police could not arrest him but could only issue a citation.

Is your child eligible?

If your child is facing his or her first offense, a pretrial diversion program would certainly prove a more positive experience than a conviction and criminal record. In many cases, after successfully completing the program, you child's record could be expunged.

Discussing your child's case with an attorney is advisable. An attorney with years of experience in criminal law will explain the rights and options available to your child and work to help him or her avoid a criminal record that could haunt them for years to come.

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