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By Times staff

© St. Petersburg Times, published December 18, 2000

In the juvenile system, children who are arrested or named in criminal complaints have their cases referred to the state attorney. This is officially called a referral, but police and juvenile justice workers often say this child is "charged" with a crime. That same wording is used in these stories.

However, not all of these children will be formally charged by the state attorney. Some will have their cases handled non-judicially, which means they are not required to appear in court. In these cases, the state attorney puts the child in a special program. If it's completed successfully, the case is closed without the child ever being formally charged.

This series is based on dozens of interviews with the families of young children, police, attorneys, judges, government officials and others. It also is based on a review of hundreds of pages of police reports and official data.

All children named in this series were interviewed with the cooperation of at least one parent.

Much of the information about specific arrests comes from felony police reports, which are public under Florida law, even though many other records relating to juvenile crime are closed.

The Department of Juvenile Justice provided a database of information about under-12-year-old offenders, which the St. Petersburg Times analyzed.

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