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Keeping Your Teenager's Criminal Case In Juvenile Court

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If your teenage son or daughter is charged with a serious crime, you want to focus a lot of effort into making sure that his or her case is heard in the juvenile court system instead of the adult one. These are the things you need to know.

Why is juvenile court better than adult court?

Juvenile courts exist because the law has started to recognize that the juvenile mind doesn't fully develop its ability to think in long-range terms or fully understand the consequences of certain actions. The juvenile court system offers defendants a lot of advantages that the adult justice system does not:

  • safer facilities for inmates
  • the ability to be released to the custody of a parent pending trial
  • the possibility of a quicker resolution in less-crowded juvenile court
  • more judicial discretion when it comes to sentencing
  • a time limit on how long someone can serve, no matter how severe the crime
  • more opportunities for educational development
  • a focus on rehabilitation and therapy, not punishment

If your son or daughter is convicted, he or she will likely face fewer social repercussions in the future if the case is kept in juvenile court. An adult record usually follows someone for a lifetime, but juvenile records can be sealed and don't have to be revealed to future employers or prospective landlords.

Why aren't all cases involving kids under 18 placed in juvenile court?

Many teens (and adults) don't realize exactly how easy it is for a case to be moved to the adult court. 

The laws in all 50 states allow some juveniles—those charged with the most serious crimes, like murder—to be charged as adults. New York and North Carolina allow anyone 16 and older to be sent to adult court for any offense. Several other states consider children who are 16 or 17 to be criminally responsible as adults. This means that the older your teen and the more serious his or her crime, the more likely the prosecution will try to push the case into the adult court.

How can you help keep your teen's case in juvenile court?

The first thing that you need to do is impress upon your teen the seriousness of his or her situation. Your child needs to understand that if he or she seems unwilling to listen to you or other authority figures, the judge is less likely to regard him or her as a child. A judge is definitely not going to release your teen into your custody unless he or she is convinced that your child will obey you and the court's rules.

You can also help your attorney gather evidence that will convince the judge that your teen's mental development is still somewhat immature—which means that he or she deserves to be treated like a child. If your child has taken medication for depression, anxiety, or received counseling for a mental health issue, make sure that your child's attorney knows this. Provide your child's attorney with the names of any treating sources and release forms so that he or she can get your child's records.

If your child has struggled in school and showed signs of slow development due to a learning disorder or a processing disorder like autism, provide your child's attorney with copies of the child's IEP and any other evaluations that have been recently done. That can also help your attorney show the judge that your child is still mentally underdeveloped.

Your child's attorney will likely ask the court to order your teen to take another psychological evaluation and probably speak to an evaluator from the juvenile court system. Again, it's important that your teen cooperates with these professionals in order to show that he or she can benefit from the rehabilitative services offered juveniles. Whatever you can do to encourage your teen to cooperate will help his or her case.

For more information, contact a criminal defense attorney, such as Thomas A Corletta.