Has your child been accused of a crime? Are you concerned about what may happen if your child is convicted? Criminal convictions, even of a minor offense, can haunt your child for years—making it difficult to get into college or secure a job.
An act of delinquency is handled much differently than an adult crime. Juvenile courts have a unique set of rules for processing and sentencing. When your child has been charged with juvenile delinquency—anything from ignoring curfew, underage alcohol consumption, to armed robbery—you need the assistance of an experienced juvenile defense lawyer who understands the juvenile system and can develop a defense strategy to protect your child.
At Karnes Legal Services, our attorneys will dissect the charges against your child to refute them. We can recommend alternative sentencing options that keep your child out of juvenile detention.
Juvenile Matters – An Overview
Juvenile law deals with crimes committed by children. By federal law, a juvenile is a person under the age of eighteen when he or she violates the law he or she is charged with. Governmental bodies, including the federal government, states and cities, prosecute various crimes committed by children, from traffic violations to felonies like rape and murder. If your child has been charged with a crime, it is essential that you seek legal counsel from an experienced juvenile defense attorney at once so that you can preserve his or her rights and future.
Children involved in juvenile court matters have many of the same rights their parents would have if they were accused of a crime. These rights include the right to remain silent, the right to cross-examine witnesses against them and the right to be represented by an attorney. Additionally, in most states, juvenile court records are not open to the public, but are sealed, so that no one will be able to access a juvenile record. A juvenile defense attorney can explain and clarify your local practices and take some of the mystery out of a frightening situation.
The purpose of juvenile court is not to punish young offenders, but to reform them. If a juvenile is found to have committed a crime, he or she is not “convicted,” but “adjudicated.” If a juvenile is incarcerated for his or her actions, he or she will not necessarily serve the same amount of jail time as an adult convicted of the same offense. Most states require juvenile offenders to be released from custody when they become adults. A juvenile adjudication will generally not count as a conviction of a crime, for future job applications.
In recent years, many states have made the emphasis of juvenile court more like that of adult court, and focus on the punishment of young offenders. More juveniles are being tried in adult courts. An experienced defense attorney can explain how your child’s case may be handled in your state.
Juvenile Defense Procedure
All lawyers involved in the juvenile justice process, whether they are prosecuting or defending, must adhere to a complex set of rules of procedure to ensure a fair trial. Although juvenile court is often less formal than adult court, the procedures are still complicated. Due to this complicated procedure, it is important to have a lawyer experienced in juvenile law to navigate the intricacies of the juvenile justice system on behalf of the accused. Defense lawyers should become involved in the matter as early as possible, ideally before a child is questioned by the police.
The police are obligated to inform possible defendants of their right to counsel and the right to have counsel appointed by the court if they cannot afford one with their own resources. Most people have heard these warnings, “Miranda” warnings, in television police shows and crime dramas.
If a juvenile is found to be guilty of a crime, he or she may receive probation, have a fine imposed, perform community service, make restitution or pay back the losses caused by the criminal acts, or be sentenced to serve time in a juvenile correctional facility. An experienced juvenile defense attorney may work with the prosecutor to negotiate a deal that provides for the least severe punishment or, if a deal is not possible, the defense lawyer can zealously represent the defendant in court.
What To Do If Your Child Is Arrested
There can be few more frightening or intimidating telephone calls that a parent can receive than one saying that his or her child has been arrested. The initial reaction of most parents is to panic. However, your first task is to avoid giving in to that panic. Your child needs your help now. To help you and your child in this most difficult time, you should consult an experienced juvenile defense attorney.
As a parent, your second task is to keep the disciplinarian in you from clouding your judgment. Many parents of children who are arrested for relatively minor offenses, such as vandalism or shoplifting, are inclined to let the justice system “teach a lesson.” Although all children need discipline, a child who is under arrest faces a system that is going to be far more frightening and intimidating than any he or she has ever encountered before. Your child needs your support.
What Happens Now?
After a child is arrested, the officer in charge decides whether the child should be held in custody and charged, released or transferred to another program. This decision is based on information obtained from the victims of the crime, statements, or admissions made by the child and any past records the child may have in the juvenile justice system.
Nearly half of all juvenile court cases are heard informally. Most of these cases end up being dismissed with an “informal disposition.” This happens when the child admits guilt and agrees to settle the charges by meeting requirements set by the court. Among these requirements may be:
- Restitution-the child is required to reimburse the victim for the property damage he or she caused
- Community service-the child is required to spend a certain number of hours working in the community without pay
- School attendance-the child is required to attend school regularly and make satisfactory grades
- Counseling-the child is required to participate in counseling for drug or emotional problems
Although the hearing is labeled “informal,” it is a serious manner, with potentially severe consequences. Legal representation is important at this stage of proceedings. Before the hearing, you should consult a experienced juvenile defense attorney at Karnes Legal Services.
When the requirements are set and all of the parties agree, the child will be placed on probation while he or she meets the obligations set by the court. During this probation time, the child will be monitored by a probation officer. After all of the requirements are met, the case will be dismissed. If the child fails to meet all of the requirements set by the court, he or she may have to face a formal hearing.
If a formal hearing is necessary, a decision will be made as to how the case will be heard. In many states, a formal hearing may be held in either juvenile or criminal court. The prosecutor usually has the discretion to decide where the hearing will take place. Most cases involving juveniles are heard in juvenile court. Many states have laws that require some serious offenses to be heard in criminal court.
A juvenile court proceeding is not only an action against a child, but may give rise to an action against a parent. A seasoned attorney can tell you if you face liability for the actions of your child, and what your liability may be.
To speak to one of our legal professionals who is dedicated to communicating with you, is sensitive to your needs and is an effective and skilled advocate, contact the law firm of Karnes Legal Services, at 731-668-9529. Or, if you prefer, send us an e-mail using our secure online form. We accept all major credit cards.