What Should You Look for When Hiring a Private Attorney to Defend a Juvenile Case?

Interviewer: When a child gets into trouble, what are some good attributes the parents should look for when they are looking for a juvenile attorney to hire versus other factors that should scare them off entirely?

Jack: Just because someone declares him or herself to be a criminal defense lawyer doesn’t mean they are suitable to handle a juvenile delinquency case. Make sure you distinguish throughout the body of this that there are really two aspects to juvenile court, which are Juvenile delinquency and neglect. The neglect side is when there is an issue when the parent’s neglect the child, so always refer to it as the attorney of not only juvenile delinquency matters

Experience Is an Important Factor When Hiring a Juvenile Defense Attorney

Make sure the attorney has experience in handling juvenile delinquency matters. Again, I have been doing it for 42 years and in the early stages of my career as a lawyer I was a part-time juvenile prosecutor so I’ve seen it from both sides.

Again, I have seen these lawyers come over to juvenile court that primarily handle adult criminal cases, and some of the top attorneys in the profession are at a loss when navigating the juvenile system.

Unless you have experience in juvenile court you may have difficulty properly representing your client. This because juvenile court is a whole different set of rules and a whole different set of procedures. As a parent interviewing potential attorney’s you definitely want to make sure the person has a lot of experience, specifically with juveniles.

Defending a Juvenile Case Where the Crime Concerned Other Family Members

Interviewer: How about in cases where the juveniles commit crimes against their own parents, their own family. How is that different?

Jack: Good question. I just had one case the other day. On Thanksgiving, the juvenile wanted to eat his meal in front of a video game or something similar, and the parents insisted he eat at the table and he shoved them both. The father became scared and called the police.

In some situations the parents just want the police to talk to them, but when an assault has taken place, breach of peace or criminal mischief because damage was done, then they write up the summons.

The tricky part is that the parents come in, the parents are the victims and the parents are also the ones retaining me, but the juvenile is the client. It’s a fine line to walk but I think I balance it all pretty well.

Interviewer: Even your child commits a crime against you, you would have to pay for his or her defense, is that right?

Jack: Or you can wash your hands of it and say, “Get yourself a public defender. I don’t care.” A parent or guardian still has to go. If you’re the victim and you’re angry, the court could appoint a lawyer as guardian ad litem, guardian for the purpose of that proceeding. A different family member could agree to serve as guardian. There’s ways to get through that.

Can a Juvenile Be Tried as an Adult?

Interviewer: What about if you commit a crime and you’re close to being 18, will you be pulled into adult court?

Jack: That’s a good question. For example, if the case is going to result in probation, frequently the court will put them on probation until they turn 18. So, when you’re 17 in 10 months you’ll be put on probation for 2 months.

Interviewer: In some cases will they try to say, we’re going to charge them as an adult because they are so close to being 18?

Jack: If the charges are of such a serious nature your case sent to adult court, you can be dealt with in adult court, but that’s rare. Those are the most serious of all.

I work very hard to make sure that the juvenile has no permanent record and the only way a record follows you past the age of 18 is if it is considered a serious juvenile offense and those are certain delineated crimes.

I work very hard in negotiating to try to get the serious juvenile offenses reduced to non-serious offenses so that the file stays sealed and there is no adult record for that offense.

By Jack O’Donnell

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