Has your child been arrested in Duval County? Was your teenager taken into police custody in Clay County? Was your son or daughter accused of a crime in St. Johns County? If so, you may be wondering about the Florida juvenile criminal laws that apply. Florida’s juvenile criminal laws can be found in Chapter 985. While there are many laws within this chapter, Florida Statute Section 985.245 is one that pertains to the initial detention of a minor. When a Jacksonville juvenile lawyer represents a child, she must evaluate a risk assessment sheet. The risk assessment sheet sets forth a score. This is used to determine if the child should be placed on detention pending the outcome of a the criminal case. Section 985.245(2)(b) states:
“The risk assessment instrument shall take into consideration, but need not be limited to, prior history of failure to appear, prior offenses, offenses committed pending adjudication, any unlawful possession of a firearm, theft of a motor vehicle or possession of a stolen motor vehicle, and probation status at the time the child is taken into custody. The risk assessment instrument shall also take into consideration appropriate aggravating and mitigating circumstances, and shall be designed to target a narrower population of children than s. 985.255. The risk assessment instrument shall also include any information concerning the child’s history of abuse and neglect. The risk assessment shall indicate whether detention care is warranted, and, if detention care is warranted, whether the child should be placed into secure or nonsecure detention care.” Fla. Stat. Ann. § 985.245 (West)
As a Jacksonville juvenile attorney and criminal defense lawyer, I have seen mistakes on juvenile risk assessment sheets. A mistake could mean the difference between secure and non-secure detention. The law provides that “If, at the detention hearing, the court finds a material error in the scoring of the risk assessment instrument, the court may amend the score to reflect factual accuracy.” It is important to check the accuracy of risk assessment sheets, because in some cases, a one-point difference will lead to a child being placed in a juvenile detention facility instead of on home detention. In some cases, a judge may deviate from the risk assessment sheet, but the law does not favor this, and it is restricted. The Florida First District Court of Appeals addressed a case in which a judge sentenced a juvenile to secured detention when the juvenile did not score enough to qualify for secured detention. The appellate court explained the purpose of a risk assessment for Florida juveniles facing criminal charges:
“An order detaining a child in the custody of the state pending a juvenile delinquency hearing must comply with the statutes authorizing juvenile detention. See R.W. v. Soud, 639 So.2d 25 (Fla.1994); S.W. v. Woolsey, 673 So.2d 152 (Fla. 1st DCA 1996). Section 985.24 provides that a child may be detained only for the specific reasons given in the statute. Additionally, section 985.245 states that, in the absence of a specific statutory exception, an order placing a child in detention ‘shall be based on a risk assessment of the child.’ The risk assessment is done uniformly throughout the state on a standardized document known as a Risk Assessment Instrument. According to the criteria set by this instrument, a child who has a score of twelve or more points qualifies for secure detention, a child who has a score of seven to eleven points qualifies for home detention, and a child who scores below seven points does not qualify for any form of detention.” K.E. v. Dep’t of Juvenile Justice, 963 So. 2d 864, 866 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 2007).
The Florida appellate court stated that a juvenile “judge may deviate from the level of restrictiveness required by the scoring.” However, if the judge feels compelled to deviate, he or she “must explain why the deviation is necessary.” The court set forth the law:
“Section 985.255(3)(b) directs that “[i]f the court orders a placement more restrictive than indicated by the results of the risk assessment instrument, the court shall state in writing, clear and convincing reasons for such placement.” (emphasis added) The written statement of the clear and convincing reasons for deviating from the level of restrictiveness indicated by the standardized scoring is not optional; it is required in order to make a more restrictive placement lawful. See D.B. v. State, 848 So.2d 1219 (Fla. 3d DCA 2003). The procedure for justifying a deviation promotes a broader legislative policy of controlling the use of detention. This policy is expressed in section 985.02(4), in the following terms: ‘The Legislature finds that detention should be used only when less restrictive interim placement alternatives prior to the adjudication and disposition are not appropriate.’ Other parts of Chapter 985 also reveal a legislative intent to minimize the use of detention.” Id. at 867.