What is a Juvenile Lawyer?
A juvenile attorney is a lawyer who has special training to represent minors in a juvenile court proceeding. The term “juvenile” refers to minors or children who are under the legal age of majority, which is normally 18 years of age or younger in most states, but can vary in accordance with state law.
In general, a juvenile attorney is typically hired when a minor violates the law or commits a criminal offense and must appear before a juvenile court. Thus, most attorneys who are trained to handle juvenile cases tend to be well-versed in criminal law matters and may even practice criminal law as their primary legal occupation. Other juvenile attorneys may have specifically gone to law school to specialize in juvenile law and child advocacy work.
A minority of juvenile attorneys may be nonspecific litigators who are required to have knowledge of all areas of the law, such as family law and administrative law matters. One last area that juvenile attorneys may have special training in is mediation and counseling. This last group usually includes social workers who have decided to get their law degree.
In addition, juvenile attorneys are employed by many different types of establishments, including private law firms, juvenile courts, public defenders’ offices, non-profit organizations (e.g., Legal Aid Societies), child welfare agencies, and state offices of guardians ad litem. Some juvenile attorneys may also practice in other areas of the law on a regular basis, but may choose to handle juvenile cases on the side or as pro bono work.
Therefore, if you or your child is in need of a juvenile lawyer, there are a number of places you can contact in order to find and hire one.
What are Common Examples of Juvenile Crimes?
Although juvenile lawyers are usually hired to represent minors who have violated the law or committed a criminal offense, juvenile proceedings are actually considered civil matters, not criminal. Thus, while a minor may be brought before a juvenile court because they have committed a crime, they will typically not be charged with a crime, but instead will be ruled to have “delinquent” status.
Some common examples of juvenile crimes include:
- Vandalism or graffiti charges;
- Petty theft;
- Running away from home;
- Simple assault (e.g., fighting incidents);
- Underage drinking;
- Breaking curfew; and
- Joyriding (i.e., driving or riding in a stolen vehicle).
Once a minor is labeled a delinquent, the court has discretion to punish them as it sees fit. Though some proceedings may result in sending a minor delinquent to a juvenile detention center, minors tend to have more alternative sentencing options than their adult defendant counterparts. For example, a juvenile court may order a minor to attend counseling, abide by curfews, or complete a set amount of hours of community service.
The reason as to why minor delinquents are given more options for sentencing than adults who are convicted of a crime is because the law believes that children have a greater potential to still turn their life around before reaching adulthood.
How Can a Juvenile Crime Lawyer Help?
Juvenile crime is a very specialized area of the law that requires understanding the differences between juvenile and adult criminal proceedings. It also requires knowledge of what legal rights apply to minors, the various protections they have access to, and the types of punishments they can receive.
The more experience and awareness that a lawyer has about juvenile law and proceedings, the better a minor’s chances are of receiving a fair hearing and corresponding punishment. Lawyers who have extensive knowledge about juvenile crimes will know when to request certain protections that adult defendants are not entitled to, such as asking that a minor’s name be kept confidential and making sure that a juvenile’s record is sealed.
Therefore, if you are a minor or the parent of a child who has been accused of violating the law and are potentially facing consequences of juvenile detention, then you should contact a local juvenile lawyer immediately. An experienced juvenile lawyer can tell you more about your rights as a juvenile and can assist you in navigating the procedures and requirements of the juvenile court system.
Your lawyer can also appear with you in juvenile court and will be able to determine whether there are any defenses available that you can raise against the charges. Additionally, your lawyer can request an alternative sentencing option than what is proposed and can advocate on your behalf on why you should receive that punishment instead.
Finally, your lawyer will also be able to explain what will happen during the court proceeding, can predict the potential outcomes of your case, and can discuss the consequences of how a sentencing may affect the rest of you or your child’s life. In the event the juvenile court determines that you or your child should be tried as an adult, your lawyer can help you with this process as well.