Just like adults, minors may be charged with serious crimes. This includes the possibility of a felony for fighting. The difference between adults and children is in how their felony charges are processed in the criminal justice system. Offenders who are under the age of 18 typically go through the Florida juvenile justice system, which focuses primarily on rehabilitation as opposed to punishment.

This means that a juvenile may be charged with a felony, but without necessarily experiencing the same harsh sentencing as an adult. Instead, they may be sentenced to probation or a commitment term in a juvenile detention facility. Repeat juvenile offenders, however, may have their cases moved to adult court where they face the prospect of being sent to prison.

If your child has been arrested for a crime, contact a Sarasota underage crimes lawyer right away. Call Erika Valcarcel, Criminal Defense Lawyer, P.A. at (941) 363-7900 or use our online contact form.

Juveniles May be Charged with a Felony for Fighting

In November 2018, a fight broke out at a youth detention facility in Polk County, Florida. As a result, three of the teenagers involved–all of whom were under the age of 18–were charged with felony battery. Usually, battery is considered as a misdemeanor, but when there is evidence of aggravating circumstances, the offense becomes a felony–and adults and children alike may be charged with this crime.

Felony battery is defined at section 784.041 of the Florida Statutes. A prosecutor may charge you with this offense if there is evidence that you intentionally touched or struck another person without their consent, and the physical contact caused great bodily harm, permanent disability, or permanent disfigurement. If convicted of this third degree felony, you face up to five years in prison along with fines reaching $5,000.

A similar offense is aggravated battery, which according to section 784.045 occurs when you commit a battery with a deadly weapon, or against someone whom you knew or should have known was pregnant. Note that a deadly weapon doesn’t mean a knife or a gun. For legal purposes, a deadly weapon is any object capable of killing someone, so any solid or sharp object used to hit someone may potentially be construed as a deadly weapon. Aggravated battery is a second degree felony involving a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

Absent the aggravating factors enumerated above, battery is treated as a misdemeanor of the first degree, punishable by up to one year in jail and a $1,000 fine. The vast majority of school yard tussles would fall under the misdemeanor category, but it is not uncommon for fights between teenagers to involve aggravating factors that might justify a felony charge.

A Child May be Charged With a Felony Just for Threatening Someone

People often confuse the crime of battery with assault. Unlike battery, which must involve some physical contact between the victim and the assailant, assault may be charged where there is absolutely no physical contact or harm involved. According to section 784.011 of the Florida Statutes, an assault occurs when:

  • You use words or actions to threaten violence
  • You have the apparent ability to complete the threats
  • The threats put the victim in a well-founded state of fear

This offense is a second degree misdemeanor, punishable by 60 days in jail and a $500 fine. But assault becomes a felony if the assault occurs while you are wielding a deadly weapon, or if you have the intent of committing another felony. Like felony battery, aggravated assault is a felony of the third degree.

When Might a Child’s Case Move from the Juvenile System to the Criminal System?

Children over the age of 14 may be processed as adults, but only if they have previously had multiple run-ins with the law, or they are now being charged with a capital offense such as murder. If a teenager is charged with felony battery after a fight, their case may be moved to adult court under the following circumstances:

  • The prosecutor files charges directly in adult criminal court, although this only happens when the child has a such a dangerous history that “the public interest requires it.”
  • More commonly, the prosecutor will request a hearing for determining whether the juvenile court should give up its jurisdiction over the case. Before the hearing, the Department of Juvenile justice prepares a report on the child, which may be challenged at the hearing.

In any event, the transfer of a fighting case from the juvenile system to the criminal system should only occur for children who have been adjudicated delinquent–meaning they are beyond hope of rehabilitation after a pattern of repeat offenses. Once a child has been convicted and sentenced as an adult, they will be treated as an adult for any subsequent charges.

For this reason, it’s essential that you retain the assistance of an experienced Sarasota juvenile attorney to keep your child’s case in juvenile court. If the prosecutor motions to move the case to adult court, your legal team can raise objections and prove that your child is capable and deserving of rehabilitation. For more information about how to defend against juvenile felony charges, call Erika Valcarcel, Criminal Defense Lawyer, P.A. today at (941) 363-7900 or use our online contact form for a free consultation.

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