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Archive for the ‘Juvenile Justice’ Category

Being tried as an adult

Saturday, June 14th, 2008

It is, without a doubt, one of the most controversial movements in the American justice system over the last twenty years: the push to have children who commit serious crimes be tried as adults. The belief that as time goes on and the perception that children just aren’t as innocent or as ignorant as they use to be that their actions should carry adult punishments if they are caught. Just like abortion or any other controversial topic, both sides argue passionately about their point of view and since states try crimes differently, you have this confusing and frustrating patchwork of rules in place. What may be grounds for trying a minor as an adult in Maine may not be the same standards for trying a minor as an adult in Ohio. Let’s take a look at several of the factors that juries and justice departments take into account when deciding if a child should be tried as an adult or not.

Obviously, the first thing that is taken into consideration is the crime that was committed. In almost all cases, children who are tried as adults are accused of murder or of similarly heinous crimes. The argument is that once a child reaches a certain age they know the difference between right and wrong just like an adult and they understand the difference between life and death. Others argue that children are far more emotional and impulsive than an adult and can act without completely thinking through what they are doing first.

Second, the mental capacity of the child is also usually taken into account. The few occasions when it isn’t, such as a recent case in the state of Texas when a child with diminished mental capacity was executed, caused so much national outrage that there is a very slim chance of an incident like that ever being repeated. If the child is suffering from a degree of mental retardation or some other similar condition, the child may still be tried like an adult, but his condition will often be considered during sentencing so that harsh penalties are not considered.

Historical precedent is often taken into account, as well. Texas has been a state that has tried many children as adults for various crimes in the last 20 years. When you state has a documented history of this type of practice, it can be much easier to cite prescient and justify the continuation. That is why so many states are hesitant to try even a single child as an adult since it opens the door for more such cases to be prosecuted in the future.

In the end, it is simply a judgment call among those looking to prosecute crime – did the child understand the repercussions of his or her actions when he or she took them. If, through analysis, interviews and investigations, the court decides that yes, the child understood, you can expect more and more children to be treated like adults.

Choosing the best juvenile justice attorney to represent you

Saturday, June 14th, 2008

If you have a child that is being accused of a crime, you understand how serious the repercussions can be. With more and more kids being tried as adults, the once solid division between the two drastically different types of law has all but disappeared. Here are a few essential tips for finding the best juvenile justice attorney for your child.

The first impulse most parents have when it comes to finding the best lawyer for their kid is to open their wallet, bank account and college savings stash and throw as much money at a lawyer as they can, but just because a lawyer is more expensive doesn’t mean that they are always the best. Often times, high end lawyers are extremely busy, and they may not be able to devote as much time to your son or daughter’s case as you might like. Of course, experience and a good report with a judge are very important, but simply going out and buying the best lawyer you can isn’t always the fastest way to beat the rap. Sometimes, a younger and far hungrier lawyer can be just what the doctor ordered. By going with a younger lawyer, you will get someone who will memorize your case and fight for you tooth and nail. The most important thing is that you find someone who will be dedicated to your case and to your situation.

Second, juvenile law encompasses a wide range of crimes, so make sure you find a juvenile lawyer that deals specifically with cases involving whatever the charges are against your child. Often times, juvenile lawyers will market themselves as criminal attorneys for juvenile cases, but it is always a good idea to ask what part of juvenile justice they specialize in. It doesn’t do you much good to have an attorney who specializes in theft cases try to defend your child if they are being tried for manslaughter.

While trusting your gut is never a recommended method for anything, when choosing a lawyer, it is a good idea to go with the person you feel that you communicate with better than any other. Your lawyer is going to be your lifeline through this entire, and likely lengthy, process so it is extremely important that you partner yourself with someone who you can trust, someone who you can talk to easily and someone who takes the time to explain what all of the confusing legal mumbo jumbo is about along the way. Without that ability to communicate, your relationship will likely be fraught with difficulties.

Finally, you need your lawyer to care. It is true that to your lawyer, the fate of your child is simply another case, but to you, it is akin to life and death. If your lawyer doesn’t understand that, find a new one right away. Being a juvenile lawyer is about compassion, caring and trying to help above all else, so you should look for those qualities along with everything else outlined here.

Having your juvenile record sealed

Saturday, June 14th, 2008

It is a phrase that most of us have heard of, even if it is something we don’t quite understand. Having your juvenile records sealed is not something that happens automatically, even though most juveniles simply assume that once you turn 18, any records of any crimes that happened just go away. It is important that you realize that they don’t, and that if you want your records sealed, you have to complete an entire process within the court system. Let’s take a look at how this system works and why it is necessary.

If you choose to have your records sealed, it means that no one can have access to the crimes you committed or the court cases that dealt with those crimes while you were under the age of 18. This can be very important, especially if you are later accused of a crime as an adult. The prosecution can’t use your previous trouble against you in a court of law. It is simply a smart way to protect yourself in case you should happen to run into trouble later on in life. The only person who can ask that these records be unsealed is you. No judge, no official, no one at all can unseal these records but you.

It is important to note that any records where you were tried as an adult can not be sealed and are a part of your permanent record for the rest of your life. Any requests to seal these records will be rejected immediately.

To seal your juvenile records you must take several steps. The rules for sealing and unsealing your records likely differ from state to state, but the rules in California are typical of the hoops you will be expected to jump through to protect yourself from future problems due to your juvenile records. First, you will be asked to fill out a pair of forms, known as a “Record Sealing Application” and an “Affidavit and Petition for the Sealing of Records” to the state to begin the process. You will then be asked to attend a screening where the basic rules of sealing your records are gone over and a decision will be made regarding whether your records qualify to be sealed. If you pass that screening, a more in-depth look at your own personal situation will take place. The whole process from top to bottom usually takes somewhere around five months, but it can be longer if the system is backed up.

You will receive a letter in the mail telling you that a court date has been set to hear your request to seal your records. In most cases, if your attempt to seal your records is not being contested, it is a formality and you don’t even have to show up. However, if someone is contesting it, then you will be required to show up in court. The hearing simply goes over your record and a decision is made one way or the other.

While the process can seem lengthy, it is always a good idea to try to seal your records to protect yourself in the future.

The best and worst juvenile justice systems

Saturday, June 14th, 2008

It may come as a surprise to many to learn that the United States does not have a central juvenile justice system. Instead, it has a collection of over 50 separate justice systems that sometimes surpass everyone’s expectations and other times fail miserably to serve the very kids they are meant to help. With the precipitous rise in the number of cases of children being tried as adults, it is more important than ever for the juvenile justice system to reach out and help kids like never before. Let’s take a look at some good juvenile justice systems and some not so good ones.

Easily, one of the worst juvenile justice systems in the country and one of the most widely criticized is the system in Texas. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that in a state that has been dominated by Republican rule for the last several years that a social program that benefits the poor would be overlooked, but not even the most pessimistic critics could foresee the problems that have taken place in the Lone Star State. In an April 2007 exposé in the Washington Post, the various problems that Texas faces were listed for the world to see and the results were far from pretty. There were children who had been incarcerated for years beyond their limits in seemingly every detention center. Widespread abuse in juvenile detention facilities and multiple cover ups by the officials who were supposed to protect the very same children. Now, with a state as large as Texas, no one expects there to be a problem free juvenile justice system; there are simply too many kids, too little money and too many problems, but as the Post article outlined, there was simply too much negligence and intentional cover-ups for this situation to be ignored any longer.

It would be tough to find a state that didn’t at least have scattered problems similar to the ones found in Texas, however, some states, like California, seem to be taking reform seriously. A bill passed last year by the state legislature outlined serious changes in how children are to be detained, for how long and by whom. It is hoped that these changes will help cut through much of the red tape that keeps real change for happening in many juvenile justice systems all throughout the country. This new style of juvenile reform puts an emphasis on the child staying close to home and getting one on one counseling instead of simply locking up the problem. Under the new plan, only the most violent and most dangerous juvenile offenders will be locked up, the rest will be helped by experts to change their ways. There is no way to tell at this point of the California system will reduce abuse and negligence but many child experts agree that it is a step in the right direction.

No one can say that their state has the perfect juvenile justice program but with the proper refinement, the perfect system might be in the works as we speak.

The Juvenile Justice System: A Brief History

Saturday, June 14th, 2008

In the United States, there are two separate but equal justice systems, one for adults and one for those under a certain set age that differs from state to state. Some states rule an adult as anyone 16 or above while others choose 17. Most states choose 18 or above to define an adult, however, there are many cases in which a child can and will be tried as an adult.

Prosecuting a case with a child defendant isn’t really much different than prosecuting a case with an adult; however, the punishments tend to be quite different. If a child is convicted of a crime, the most common sentence is for them to be confined to juvenile hall, which is like a jail, but only for children under a certain age. Some juvenile hall facilities break their wards into groups based on age, while others do not. Juvenile hall is considered to be a very serious place but not as serious as an adult jail. Juvenile hall also has a much stronger emphasis on rehabilitation and counseling than most jails since the belief is that a child is still “recoverable” and has a better chance of becoming a functioning member of society.

While the juvenile court system is very similar to the ones adults use, there are a few safeguards in place to help keep juvenile cases as low profile as possible. First, no court case that involves a juvenile is ever open to the public. The media can report on the goings-on in the case and report the verdict, but they aren’t allowed to ever put cameras in the courtroom or show the child’s face on television, even if they are the one accused and not the victim. Before the trial even starts, the laws in most states require that either a lawyer representing the child or the parent of the child be present before any kind of questioning. The idea behind this rule is that the child might feel coerced or tricked into admitting guilt without the assistance of a parent. In most states, a case involving a juvenile will only be heard by a single judge instead of a jury to help keep the matter as private as possible. Also, juveniles have the option in most jurisdictions to seal their criminal records once they reach the age of 18 and become an adult.

Much of the United States juvenile justice system was copied from international systems, especially that of the French. The ultimate goal of the juvenile justice system in both countries isn’t necessarily punishment, although that is an important part of the proceedings. Instead, the whole system is done with the idea that the child can be reformed and taught to avoid illegal activities in the future. The effectiveness of that system is highly questioned, but many agree it is better than the reforming record of the adult justice system.

As you can see, the juvenile justice system plays an intricate part in society and it is constantly being refined and retooled as the years go by.

What happens once your child gets arrested

Saturday, June 14th, 2008

Depending on the state that you live in and what they are charged with, your child will face several different possible outcomes if they are ever arrested. They could be released after being booked or they could be kept in custody for an indeterminate amount of time. The first thing you need to do is to stay calm and to call a lawyer immediately. If you have a family lawyer that you have dealt with on a regular basis and you have a rapport with, call him or her; if not, simply pick one for now and head to the police station with your lawyer in tow. Let’s take a look at some things you might expect if your child is arrested. Again, it is important to note that every state works differently when it comes to handling cases involving minors.

If your child was arrested but then released, one of two things will likely happen. If it was a serious crime or a crime that the police believe needs to be followed up on, they will give you a notice to appear in court paper that will give you a date and a time to appear with your child to stand in front of a judge. You may also get a note that says that you are to go to the probation department. Again, it depends on the crime committed.

Now, if you are informed that your child is to remain in police custody, you can expect one of several things to happen. They may simply be holding your child so that you can come down to the station and claim him or her. A record of the arrest will be made and you will be given proper instructions on how to proceed from there. A second option is that your child will be sent to an agency for the night, or maybe even for a week, that will shelter, feed and counsel your child for a period of time. You will be given a date in which your child will be released back to you or you will be given instructions that you must complete to show the state that you are determined to get your child back. The worst case outcome is that your child will be sent to juvenile hall. He or she will be given the option of making two phone calls, just like after an adult arrest. One call must be to a parent and the other to a lawyer. You child will never, ever be held for an indeterminate amount of time without you knowing about it.

Your child will also have his or her rights read to them, just like an adult. In most cases, they will not question your child without a lawyer being present or without you being present since most juries would assume the answers would be coerced.

Having your child arrested can be a scary thing, but if you stay level headed, you can get through this disturbing time in one piece.