Parents in Broward County know that sometimes kids make mistakes that can get them into trouble with the police. And contrary to what is commonly thought to be true, most people begin abiding by the rules and laws of society after a series of trials and errors, not simply as a matter of natural course. When the juvenile justice system gets involved, a primary goal is to protect young people against severe penalties, as well as give them the chance to make a fresh start.

While recent theft allegations in Fort Lauderdale involve a 21-year-old — not a juvenile — the circumstances of his arrest may serve as an example for parents who are concerned about their own children.

The young man from Coral Springs has been accused of prying a Broward County judge’s nameplate off a courtroom door. Authorities say they received a tip that a picture of the 21-year-old holding the nameplate appeared on his girlfriend’s Facebook page.

According to the Broward County Sheriff, the nameplate is valued at $40. The accused young man already has a number of petty theft convictions, and because he was on probation at the time of his arrest, he now faces felony charges.

Even if the photo of the young man is deemed admissible in court, the prosecution may have a difficult time proving he committed theft. The police claim they received a tip that the 21-year-old committed the crime, but if no witnesses can say they saw it happen, then there may not be enough evidence to convict. After all, the young man may have acquired the nameplate through other means.

When criminal charges are filed against Florida residents — juveniles and adults — it is important to remember that being accused of a crime is not the same thing as being guilty. Florida and federal laws offer certain protections for defendants, and being fully aware of one’s own rights may be the first solid step toward a reduction or dismissal of charges.

Source: The Miami Herald, “Broward Sheriff: Man stole judge’s nameplate,” March 9, 2012

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