Should Florida’s Red Flag Law be Used Against Minors?

March 6, 2024 Criminal Defense, Juvenile Offenses, Violent Crimes

When a person in Florida is believed to pose a danger to themselves or to others, they may be required to abide by certain restrictions under the State’s Red Flag Law.

Florida Courts provide that only law enforcement can request a court to enter a Risk Protection Order against someone who they believe to be a threat. While the legislation was implemented to prevent gun violence, some are arguing that it is being used against juveniles in excess. In some cases, children younger than 10 have been given restrictions under the Red Flag Law.

This blog post aims to review the restrictions under the Red Flag Law, along with the responses to one Florida county’s exceedingly high number of Risk Protection Orders against children.

Red Flag Law

Florida’s response to the tragic 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School was enacting new legislation to prevent potentially dangerous individuals from possessing or purchasing firearms.

When an individual is alleged to pose a danger or threat to themselves or to others, law enforcement can file a petition for a Risk Protection Order (RPO). Under Florida Statute Section 790.401(3)(b), if the petition is granted upon notice and a hearing on the matter, the court must issue an RPO for a period it deems appropriate, up to 12 months.

An RPO requires a person to surrender any weapons, firearms, or ammunition in their possession to law enforcement or a third party. A person who fails to surrender any weapons as ordered in the RPO can be charged with a third-degree felony. A third-degree felony conviction carries up to a $5,000 fine and up to five (5) years in prison.

To find out more about the Red Flag law and the process for filing RPOs, refer to our page here.

Polk County’s Exceedingly High RPOs Against Minors

According to a local news report, Polk County has been increasingly issuing RPOs to minors, some as young as 8 and 9-years-old. Investigators with WPTV attempted to address the concerning data with Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd, but he “barely budged” when presented the information showing that Polk County has filed more RPOs than any other county in Florida.

An analysis found that around 20% of RPOs issues by Polk County are filed against minors. This comes to around 450 red flag petitions, all filed against individuals who are too young to legally purchase a gun, and some too young to operate a car or even sign their name. More than half of the RPO cases involved minors who were 15 or younger, and about a quarter of cases involved minors who were 13 or younger.

However, all the petitions filed against minors in Polk County arose from some type of threat with a firearm. Yet the report questions whether these were more likely to be tantrums than threats to conduct violence. An RPO petition filed against an 8-year-old who claimed he “wanted to kill himself by jumping off a cliff and ‘wanted to get a gun and kill everyone’” told police that he feels this way when he gets mad. Although the judge denied the RPO in this case, the 8-year-old was detained under Florida’s Baker Act law.

In another RPO case involving a minor, an 11-year-old showed a classmate a 9mm bullet and claimed he had a firearm in his backpack. The classmate reported the incident to police, stating that the boy threatened to kill his classmates because “people said he had do-do stains on his pants.” However, the 11-year-old told police that the bullet was found on the ground and that his parents did not own any firearms. However, the RPO was still granted.

“We’re not going to apologize for keeping children safe,” Sheriff Judd said in response to his agency filing so many RPOs against minors. “If you’re old enough to threaten to kill somebody, you’re old enough to go to court, and you’re old enough to be held accountable.”

Responses Against Using RPOs Against Minors

There have been multiple responses to Polk County’s approach to RPOs. David Carmichael, a Polk County attorney who handles Red Flag cases for police departments, commented on Sheriff Judd’s methods for issuing RPOs: “He [Judd] has a very aggressive approach to how we’re doing RPOs.”

 “Sometimes appearing before a judge in court hearings and coming to this courthouse and appearing in front of witnesses and bailiffs has a strong deterrent value,” Carmichael said, adding his concern regarding minors in the justice system.

This is not the only sentiment worrying about the focus on minors. Kendra Parris, an attorney based in Orlando, first addressed her issues over RPOs for minors in 2019. Parris claimed that RPOs filed against children who don’t intend to commit harm could now be haunted later in life by their cases being public record.

“Is that severe enough to put a child on track for life, potentially?” Parris questioned. “I mean, these records stay online forever. I have very serious problems with that.”

Orlando-based Florida Rep. Anna Eskamani commented on her concerns over RPOs being filed against minors:

“An RPO is not supposed to be used in this way because we’re supposed to have other statutes that prevent that from happening in the first place, and we don’t. The fact that we don’t have safe storage laws in place in Florida is a big reason why these kids are even able to access these firearms in the first place.”

Despite these concerns, Judd has issued no plan to slow Polk County’s department down from filing Red Flag petitions, regardless of the age of the individual. “Shooting words matter,” Judd said. “If you say it, until we can determine otherwise, we’re accepting you at face value whether you’re eight or 80. It makes no difference.”

Are These Methods Lowering Gun Violence in Florida?

A Judge in Hillsborough County placed the temporary restriction of firearm privileges from more than a dozen people in recent hearings. When asked if RPOs save lives, Judge Denise Pomponio didn’t hesitate to respond, “Absolutely.”

However, data indicated an increase in gun-related murders in the county. Despite judges in Hillsborough County granting nearly 1,000 RPOs from 2018 to 2022, homicides involving firearms increased from 52 in 2018 to 83 in 2022, nearly a 60% increase.

“An RPO injunction is a piece of paper. People need to remember that. Yes, we’re glad they do it,” Judge Pomponio said. “But we always need to remember it’s a piece of paper and people will find a way to do what they want to do.”

Impact of Juveniles in the Criminal Justice System

The Florida Juvenile Collateral Consequences Checklist by the Juvenile Justice Center provides information pertaining to minors who have been accused of delinquent acts. Some of the issues mentioned in the Checklist that can seriously impact a juvenile and their future include:

  • Courtroom hearings for juveniles are open to the public unless a judge chooses to close it, and nothing prohibits the publication of a juvenile’s hearing;
  • A juvenile delinquency adjudication can affect the minor’s eligibility for public benefits, housing, or food stamps in certain cases;
  • A juvenile delinquency adjudication can prevent a minor from enlisting in the military;
  • A juvenile who has been adjudicated delinquent will be unable to possess, use, or obtain a license to possess a firearm until they reach the age of 24;
  • Certain juvenile cases, including certain withhold of delinquency) can result in the minor losing their driving eligibility for periods ranging from six months to five years;
  • A juvenile who is arrested or adjudicated delinquent can face expulsion from their school, or have access to higher education barred if they are found in possession of a firearm or weapon on school property, or if they make a false report involving the school or school personnel; and
  • A juvenile who is convicted of certain offenses such as a drug charge while receiving federal funding for student loans, grants, or other educational purposes can have access to the financial aid restricted.

It’s also worth noting the financial burden that is placed on a juvenile and their parents. A juvenile may be required to pay court costs, including:

  • $50 for Crimes Compensation Fund;
  • $3 for Teen Court;
  • $50 for Felony and $20 for Misdemeanor Crime Prevention;
  • $65 for Crime Ordinance;
  • Restitution (if ordered by the court); and
  • Attorneys’ fees if you choose to hire one.

The implications for minors accused of crimes are severe. If you are a minor who is being accused of a delinquent act, or if you’re the parent of a juvenile having an RPO filed against them, consider working with a legal expert. Juvenile cases differ from adult cases and sanctions, but still require the knowledge and expertise of an attorney.

To help avoid the restrictions that can come with a RPO petition or a delinquent act, contact an experienced Tallahassee Juvenile Criminal Defense Lawyer with the  Pumphrey Law Firm.

Contact a Weapon or Firearm Defense Lawyer in Leon County

Accusations of threatening violence with a weapon or firearm are taken seriously by Florida law enforcement. If you’ve been accused of a written or verbal threat, or if you are facing restrictions under Florida’s Red Flag law, consult a defense attorney to review your case. It can immensely help to have a defense lawyer on your side during the petition’s hearing. To receive a free consultation from our team, contact our office at (850) 681-7777.

Pumphrey Law Firm provides criminal defense to those in need in Leon County, Wakulla County, Liberty County, Bay County, and the surrounding North Florida region.

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