Stephen G. Cobb - Florida Criminal Defense Lawyer

Juvenile Procedure And Terminology


Disclaimer: This article is in response to questions frequently asked of Mr. Cobb and is an unedited dictation transcript. Just like talk to text on your smartphone, there may be misspelled words or sentence fragments.

Now, this is one of the segments as part of the client education series where I have to tell you some things that are counterintuitive. For example, juvenile cases. Juvenile cases are governed under Rule 8, not Rule 3. And they can generally be described as a stabbing pain in the, you know where. Why is that? Because I will have parents say, “Why is it so expensive for you to defend my child?” And the answer is because there is a lot of work. Under Rule 8, you have completely different timeframes. Basically, if someone is in secure detention, you have got court every two weeks. Now, some judges will allow telephonic appearances by the lawyers, many judges will not. So, when we handle juvenile cases, it is a whole different ballgame. Now, the first thing that happens is there is going to be an arrest and there will be a detention review proceeding in many cases but not all.

If it is a misdemeanor case, possession of tobacco under 18, they are probably going to be released to parents. If it is a felony, a detention review scoresheet will be prepared, there is a magic number of points and here is how it works. If the person scores too many points, then instead of going home to their parents, they are taken to secure detention. What is the secure detention? Well, to be blunt about it, it is a nice way of saying juvenile jail where they are hanging out with all the kids you never want your kids hanging out with, so we do not want young people in secure detention. Now, secure detention is normally ordered for 21 days, which does not seem very long until you realize, or under rule 8 or not under rule 3, things happen very quickly. And so, you are going to have a first appearance, which is that detention review hearing. You are also going to have an arraignment proceeding, which is formal charging. And one key difference between the felony, misdemeanor and juvenile is a lot of judges like to and have got to do this, I know that a lot of people do not think this is popular but I have to use air quotes because a lot of judges want to “Teach them a lesson”.

If my eye roll did not give it away, I will tell you straight out, that is a waste of time, an absolute waste of time. Can you imagine somebody is down on vacation from Washington State and they have to come all the way back for an arraignment proceeding on a minor in a possession charge because there are some judges who will not let you waive appearance. However, most judges are not like that. Generally speaking, if the case is local, there must be an attendance at arraignment. And the reason is that they start arraignment with the judge sending a whole bunch of juveniles to juvenile jail to “teach them a lesson”.

Now, I think that is worthless and I will tell you why. If you go to the doctor because your child has sneezing, coughing and a running nose. If the doctor were to go, “Hmm, yes. Hmm, I have analyzed your child very carefully. And your child has sneezing, coughing and a runny nose”, you would go, “No kidding. Of course, my child has all those things because that is why I have brought them here. What is causing it?” Well, with “teaching them a lesson”, there has been no brain imaging, there has been no background, there has been no mental status exam, there has been nothing to indicate – diagnosed first, there has been nothing to indicate – based on the actual diagnosis that that will be an effective treatment. Instead, there is a cultural belief that results in a colossal waste of time and this is what increases legal fees on juvenile cases is because – and I have to be blunt about this – much of juvenile procedure within the state of Florida is a complete and total waste of time.

Now, I could candy-coat crap or I could tell you the truth. I think you can figure out which way I am going with this. There is a lot of time-wasting and stress in juvenile cases. If your child is arrested for just about anything, they are going to be kicked out of school. And parents are horrified by that because then, they have got the choice of the online school or the “Alternative school”, the kids you do not want your child hanging out with. And that is completely separate from the criminal justice system. Quite often, as lawyers, we cannot help you with that. Now, they will tell you, you have a right to a hearing, to contest that kicking out of school. And this is what is known as a bogus rubberstamp proceeding. I cannot tell you how I really feel about this bogus rubberstamp proceeding because I am afraid I would melt my videographers camera with the language I would use. So, these types of things are going to be part of a juvenile case. Your child might get kicked out of a school. If we can give you advice and counsel and help you with that, we will. But, please, understand that is an outside of the criminal justice system aspect.

Now, procedurally, in addition to no waivers for local cases, you are also going to have a pre-trial conference every two weeks. This is quite a bit. You are going to court a lot as a lawyer. And sometimes, you cannot get discovery. What is the discovery? Police reports, witness statements, videotapes, video digital recordings that are not on tape, audio recordings etc., you have to do a motion to continue, “Oh, you are back in court in two weeks”. That increases the legal fees because you are constantly going to pointless court. Oh, my gosh, I cannot believe I said that. Shouldn’t I be saying something more respectful about Florida’s court system, it is filled with the pointless court. Court that has no useful purpose for you as a parent, for your child, for you as a defendant if you are an adult, and for the defense attorneys involved. The prosecutor and the judge, they have to be there anyway. So, what happens is this mindset of, “Oh, we will just handle that in court”, which results in a tremendous waste of time. If you go to court and the case has continued for five or six times because you are having trouble getting discovery or other things taken care of, this can really be a burden for families.

Now, please, understand. Where we can eliminate the burden, we will do so, we will get it out of there but in juvenile cases, the timeframes are much shorter, the idea is to close cases faster but we have this weird belief that your child should actually have a fair legal proceeding. And sometimes, there is just no way to shortcut that. Now, if there are ways to shortcut it, we will. Now, there will be a proceeding that is a disposition review proceeding and may have different names and different jurisdictions but basically, that is docket day. That is what is plea day in misdemeanor court in Escambia County, or jury trial review, which is the last chance to change your plea from not guilty to no contest. In those proceedings, it is the same thing in juvenile court, that is the last time to change a plea is disposition review. It is not called docket day.

And then, finally, you do not have a right to a jury in a juvenile case. Instead, you have what is known as a Disposition Hearing. It is the same thing as the trial but like a bench trial in the adult felony or adult misdemeanor, there is no judge. The judge is the trier of fact and also the trier of law. In other words, they make legal rulings and factual findings. So, those are some key differences between juvenile cases and that is why the legal fees are what they are is because there is consta-court. It feels like you are always in court as a lawyer never getting anything done. And you could get more things done if you were not sitting around a courtroom waiting your turn. And that is why you see so many lawyers on their cellphone constantly because they have work to do. And so, if this is your child, probably the same thing is going to happen. And we are mindful of your time and we are not going to try and draw things out just to draw them out. If we can get your child’s case over quicker with a result that you are happy with, okay, let’s do that.

However, if getting your child’s case over quicker means, “Oh, they are going to be in secure detention until they are 19”, well that is probably not such a good idea if we can get something substantially better and that is usually the case.

So, the thing I want you to take away, juvenile procedure is radically different than the adult misdemeanor or felony procedure. The same is true for juvenile violation of probation procedure. It moves at the speed of light comparatively speaking. But either way, some things are basic to all cases and that includes the use of coping with stress during the criminal prosecution. And parents, I am looking you right in the eyes and I am telling you if you are not reading, if you are not listening audios and you are not watching videos, you are off-target and you will be a stabbing pain in the rear-end to deal with. I know this because I have dealt with parents for over a quarter of a century. And when you start talking about somebody’s baby even if that baby is 6’2” and 16 years old, parents get very hyper-defensive. If your mind is in the wrong place at the wrong time, you run a risk of a defense that fails 100% of the time called “That ain’t right”. And I use to hear this as a child of the south growing up all the time, “That ain’t right”. Then, I became a lawyer. And what did I start hearing, “That ain’t right”.

Now, it may come out more grammatically correct but it is basically a feeling that the system is not fair, therefore I am going to trial. Now, I want you to imagine I am standing in front of a jury or the case of a juvenile case standing in front of a judge going, “Your Honor, Members Of The Jury, our defense is simple. That ain’t right. Please find my client not guilty”. It is like what? That does not even make sense. You know what though if you are stressed out as a parent, you run the risk of that, you run the risk of blowing your child’s life up. And this is the time when you are walking through the minefield that is Florida Criminal Law as it pertains to juveniles, it is critically important that you go through this minefield with a clear head, a sharp mind and with skilled legal counsel.

Now, if you have questions, feel free to ask us. But if they are outcome questions such as what if, what do you think is going to happen kinds of things that require us to speculate on decisions made by other people, how is the judge going to rule on this motion, we may think we know but at the end of the day, if it is a decision a prosecutor’s going to make on charging or settlement or plea bargaining or charging additional count, separate cases, whatever, waiver to adult court, the answer to those types of questions, I can tell you that right now. Here is the answer and you have heard it before if you have watched the other videos in the series. Maybe, I do not know. Why would it be “maybe, I do not know”? It is because we need more information and that information may be as simple as a police report missing or it could be something as nerve-wracking for anybody who has got a family member who is charged as the words coming out of a judge’s mouth in real time.

Every jury trial I have had, every juvenile trial I have had, my client, in the case of juveniles, the parents, has looked over it after the end of the case and they go, “What do you think is going to happen”. My answer has been consistent since August of 1990. You will know when I know. Unfortunately, sometimes we do not know the answer in your child’s case until the judge says it. This is why it is so critical for you to use coping with stress during criminal prosecution. Your body language, how you are dressed, how you are breathing is going to make a difference. Think about this. What did someone who is depressed look like? Are they smiling like this? Of course, not. They are looking sad, they are looking down, they are closed in. They are not out like this. And how are they breathing? Are they breathing deep diaphragmatic, powerful breaths? No. They are breathing in the upper part of their chest and they sink deeper and deeper.

In other words, when you think of a depressed person, you get an image in your mind. And when someone is stressed out as a parent in a courtroom, the prosecutor notices and they either notice one of two ways, along with the judge consciously or unconsciously. Now, if they notice consciously, that means they are very perceptive and very discerning. If they notice unconsciously, that is actually a bigger problem. Why? Because they are making decisions without realizing they are being influenced. And if you are a stress bucket in court, it is going to influence everything from the verdict to the plea bargaining to what the judge orders.

If, on the other hand, you are following dress instructions for court; if, on the other hand, you are doing the things from coping with stress during criminal prosecution, you must do for your young person who is before the court, then we cannot guarantee an outcome but I do know this. Since you are dressed correctly and your mind is in the right place, we have a higher degree of influence on the outcome that can make a radical difference and benefit your child for the rest of their life.

Disclaimer: This article is in response to questions frequently asked of Mr. Cobb and is an unedited dictation transcript. Just like talk to text on your smartphone, there may be misspelled words or sentence fragments.

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Stephen G. Cobb, Esq.

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