The Juvenile Justice System in Lee County, Florida
When a person under the age of 18 is charged with a crime in Florida, the case is usually handled in the Juvenile Justice System. The Juvenile Justice System is different than the adult Criminal Justice System. This guide was developed to assist parents of arrested youth and others who are interested in understanding how the judicial process typically works with arrested youth in Lee County.
Note: Traffic offenses are handled in Traffic Court, which is not the same as the Juvenile Court. Some youth may have both traffic charges and criminal charges, in which case, they will be involved in two separate court processes.
When a youth comes into contact with a law enforcement officer due to suspected illegal activity, the law enforcement officer gathers the facts and makes a decision on whether there is good reason to believe that the youth has committed a crime. If the officer decides that there is enough evidence to show that the youth committed a crime, the officer may “take the youth into custody.” When a youth is taken into custody, the law enforcement officer takes temporary physical control of the youth. Typically the arrested youth is transported to the Juvenile Booking Facility which is attached to the Juvenile Assessment Center.
Juvenile Booking Facility
The arrested youth is booked into the Juvenile Booking Facility by Lee County Sheriff’s Office personnel. While at the Juvenile Booking Facility an arrested youth will have his or her fingerprints, palm prints, and a booking photograph taken. Arrested youth who are charged with a felony also have a DNA sample taken. The arrested youth is screened by Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) personnel for any substance abuse or mental health issues. The youth is also screened for detention, which considers the seriousness of the crime and whether the youth has had any previous arrests. Based on the youth’s detention screening score, he or she may be taken to secure detention, placed on home detention, or directly released to his or her parent or guardian from the Juvenile Assessment Center. Assessment Center staff advise the youth and the parents of the youth’s court date.
Secure detention is a jail-like facility that is used to hold youth who have been assessed as being a risk to public safety while they await court proceedings. In Lee County, youth placed in secure detention go to the Southwest Florida Regional Detention Center at 2525 Ortiz Avenue in Fort Myers. It is operated by the Department of Juvenile Justice.
Youth placed on home detention are released to their parent or guardian. Both the youth and the parents sign a home detention agreement which states the conditions which the youth is to follow. This generally includes that the youth must attend school, abide by a curfew, and other requirements.
For some minor crimes, a law enforcement officer has the option to issue a civil citation instead of arresting the youth. The youth has to admit to the charge and must agree to participate in the civil citation program. If the youth agrees to participate in the civil citation program then he or she is not arrested. The youth meets with a Civil Citation Coordinator who assigns community service work hours, a service learning project, and or may require the youth to participate in other services. Once a youth completes his or her case plan he or she will have no arrest record and the case is closed. If the youth does not successfully complete his/her case plan, he/she will be arrested and the case will go through the regular court process. Youth who have been issued a civil citation should call (239) 258-3466 to schedule a meeting with the Civil Citation Coordinator within seven business days of receiving the civil citation.
State Attorney Review of the Case
After a youth is arrested, the State Attorney (sometimes called “the State”) receives a formal complaint from law enforcement about the case. An Assistant State Attorney reviews the facts of the case. The State determines what charges, if any, will be filed against the youth with the court. The State Attorney can decide to handle the case non-judicially (not going through the court process) or to handle the case judicially (to go through the court process).
Non-Judicial Handling of Cases
For some cases the State Attorney may decide not to file formal charges against the youth. Then a “no petition” is filed. The reasons for this decision may be that there is a lack of evidence, the victim desires to have the case dismissed, the State is not able to locate a witness, and/or there are other legal defects in the case.
Sometimes new evidence is discovered after the State has already filed formal charges. Based on the new evidence, the State may decide not to prosecute the case. This is called a “nolle prosequi” and is commonly know as “nol pros.”
If either a “no petition” or a “nol pros” is filed, the case is closed and does not go to court.