A blog by Miami Criminal Defense Lawyer Brian Tannebaum. Commenting on criminal law issues of local and national interest.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Our Failure: Juvenile Court

Today I will walk into Juvenile Court and accept diversion for a client who was involved in a misdemeanor battery. She will do her 15 hours of community service. The case will be dismissed.

And I couldn't be more angry, for two reasons.

First, when did a scuffle in school become an arrestable offense? Answer: When we as adults admitted our failure to and lack of interest in raising our children. That we can't take two fighting kids into the office and discipline them without having the meeting end with officer friendly (maybe the real officer friendly) snapping on the cuffs, is our disgrace. We suck. We failed. We are to blame.

Second, my "child" is getting diversion because the "victim agreed." Victim's rights are a big things these days. The mantra of "criminals get more rights than victims," has resulted in, well, victims gaining the right to run our system. Another failure of leadership.

In Florida, we have a Constitutional amendment that allows victims to be heard and notified of all court appearances. Prosecutors have interpreted this to mean they can offer plea deals. It makes things easier for the upcoming story in the paper or on TV to say that the "victim approved the plea," or not.

Sometimes, a prosecutor who has some guts, will ovcerride the vindictive victim - the one who won't agree to diversion or probation because they "want jail" for a minor offense or first time offender. Maybe the prosecutor knows the victim is looking for an advantage in a pending or soon-to-be-filed civil case.

My "child" and the victim hate each other and have for a long time. Reason? My client is a foreigner, and her "victim" has been taunting her. So one day my "child" hauled off and hit her.

Good. That ended that.

The prosecutor, overworked with other "why is this in juvenile court" cases, told me my "child" could not get diversion unless the victim agreed.


"She hates my client," I said.

"What if she doesn't agree and gives you no reason?"

"Sorry, I don't think I can override (this 15 year old) her."

"Sure you can."

"I don't think so."

The prosecutor tried, initially telling me that the victim was "waivering." Still, there would be no diversion until this victim agreed. The prosecutor was paralyzed by bad training, and a system that has succeeded in giving crime victims more rights than defendants.


I don't know why this victim finally agreed. I would like to think her mommy and daddy told her about forgiveness and second chances. Maybe the prosecutor did a good job convincing her to agree.

That this is how we are resolving disputed between our children, is disgusting, in so many ways.

Brian Tannebaum is a criminal defense lawyer in Miami, Florida practicing in state and federal court, and the author of The Truth About Hiring A Criminal Defense Lawyer.Share/Save/Bookmarkokdork.com rules Post to Twitter


  1. what really irks me about the whole "victim's rights" mentality is that it's not a two way street. If the victim had said it was all a big misunderstanding I don't want to prosecute you would probably be in the same place.

    If you are really serious about victim's rights shouldn't you do what they want all the time.?

    Oh well - no one says prosecutors have to be reasonable. I sometimes wonder if they take an oath to be unreasonable.

  2. How do we get our own kids to settle their disputes knowing that someone else will do it for them? In fact, how do let our kids know that they can stand up for what's right (another kid getting beaten/teased and my boys step in ) when they've got this to fear?

    No wonder we are a mess.

  3. Anonymous12:06 AM

    On a recent (adult) burglary case I had the prosecutor also ran the plea bargain proposal by the victims. It worked out well for the suspect. 30 days in county jail and probation for a guilty plea to 9 felonies. Good lawyering!

  4. Anonymous12:18 AM

    How do you feel about school bullying as an issue for the courts to address?

  5. It is absurd that this is a criminal matter to begin with and more so that it is a criminal matter in which a 15 year old gets to determine the outcome.

  6. But the client, no matter how much we all hate to say this, assaulted someone. Your client hit someone. They struck the first blow. If someone had hit you, you would want some sort of revenge or justice. I agree that while parents are no longer raising their children to be as respectful as they should be, and that some parents are checking out of raising their children, but we do still need to make children understand that they will be accountable for their actions.

    If the prosecutor had let your client off with no punishment, what's to stop them from hauling off and hitting the next person who teases them? Your client needs to understand that people aren't always nice, but you have to deal with what they say.

    Teaching a child to hit someone who teases them just causes more fights.

  7. Anonymous11:11 PM

    horsey pucky the one doing the teasing struck the first blow and continued it till finaly forced to stop by VIOLENCE sometimes that is the ONLY thing some people seem to understand. Sorry if you continually pick at and abuse someone don't be suprised when they finaly get fid up and try and remove your head. of course since your an idiot your not really using it anyway and probably won't miss it. so what's the old saying

    "no harm! no foul!"