Mrs. I addressed me, an attorney specializing in juvenile justice cases, in order to protect her 15-year old child, who has recently stolen a car, was driving without license and crashed this vehicle into a storefront. The woman was concerned because, in her opinion, her offspring can possibly be abused in county jail he is held in. According to her words, the maximum sentence assessed is 6 years, while the minimum sentence – 200 hours of community service and two weeks in county boot camp program. I invited her to my office to discuss the details of the situation and give her legal advice she was asking for.
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When Mrs. I has arrived, the first thing she asked me was “How do you charge?” Apparently my answer suited her, and we proceeded. As every woman whose child was in a legal trouble, she was nervous and at first couldn’t understand what I was telling her. I offered her some water and decided to wait until she calms down. The first thing I asked her was “Can you tell me the whole situation in details?” She retorted “Sure” and I started putting down important facts for the investigation. As it was revealed during her storytelling, her son has never been arrested previously, has never been in detention after classes; he was never grounded in his life. When a boy heard that his father is filing divorce papers and is moving out of the house to live with another woman, he was devastated. Once an obedient child, the boy turned into a rebel. A couple of days ago Mrs. I had an argument with her son, because he wanted to drive to school in his own car. When she refused to give him money, he ran out of the house, stole neighbor’s car, drove very fast into the nearest gas station, lost control of a car and crashed it into a storefront. My next question was “Are there any witnesses of a crime?” The woman retorted that two gas station workers, one customer and a shop-assistant saw everything and will be witnessing against her son. Then I started explaining her situation from a legal side. As a parent, Mrs. I is responsible for her son’s actions and any inflicted damages. Moreover, she must have an insurance to cover lesion and provide it to attorney before the hearing. Another important aspect is to gather positive characteristics of the boy from school teachers, psychologist and neighbors.
The next thing I explained to her was the fact that children who haven’t reached the age 18 go through juvenile justice system. As I understood, the boy was taken into custody by a police officer and was referred to a juvenile court. In such a situation, according to the juvenile justice system, juvenile court officer is to make a decision on whether to dismiss the matter, to handle it off the record or to file formal charges for the crime. If the charges are filed, the following will happen: (1) arraignment: minor will be formally charged before a juvenile judge; (2) hearing: court will either take jurisdiction over the case or, if a juvenile is to be tried as an adult, the judge will set a “fitness hearing” to establish whether this is an appropriate option; (3) entering a plea: minor enters a plea, and based on the plea, may proceed to trial; (4) going to trial: juvenile court differs from adult court and a judge, not a jury, will be the one hearing the evidence and deciding the guilt or innocence of the defendant; (5) sentencing: if judge concludes that the charges are true, then the judge will sentence the minor accordingly; (6) post-sentencing: often minors will be required to appear before the court periodically to track progress. There are certain factors that generally are considered when deciding whether or not to file charges: severity of a crime, minor’s attitude, age, past record and problems, evidence of wrongdoing, whether parents are capable of controlling the minor, minors appearance, gender, socio-economic status, ethnicity and level of politeness (Siegel, Welsh, 2012). It should be mentioned that in juvenile cases detention and imprisonment are the worst case scenarios. More often judges take into account “The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child”, according to which, “best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration” (Siegel, Welsh, 2012).
I also explicated for Mrs. I that juvenile justice system is characterized by two key factors: (1) age of clients and (2) categories of cases under juvenile jurisdiction. Age determines whether a person is processed through the juvenile or adult justice system. Four types of cases fall under the jurisdiction of the juvenile justice system: delinquency, status offenses, neglect and dependency. In this case we are dealing with delinquency: it occurs if children commit acts that if committed by an adult would be criminal – for example assault, robbery, and auto theft (Cole, Smith, 2008). According to the law, “juvenile proceedings are to be committed in a non-adversarial environment, and a juvenile court is a place where the judge, social workers, clinicians, and probation officers work together to diagnose the child’s problem and select a treatment program to attack that problem”(Cole, Smith, 2008). The main thing for Mrs. I to understand is that no one wants to put her child into jail. The very essence of whole juvenile justice system is not to allow minor child’s misbehavior to transform into serious violation of the law. Another thing is that juvenile court protects society from potential delinquents. Attorney is expected to do his best to get leniency and reduced sentence for young offender in the court. It should be acknowledged that Mrs. I’s son will have to face charges in court and can lose any driving privileges for a substantial period of time. Before the hearing, it is needed to gather evidence about young offender being a diligent student, obedient child and respectful of law citizen. If I were a judge and the offender in question pleaded guilty, his characteristics from school and neighbors were positive, he cooperated with investigation and remunerated all the damage caused, then my sentence would be 200 hours of community service and two weeks in county boot camp program. These reasons, the fact that he is underage and it was his first offense will be the key criteria for me.
The most essential difference between the juvenile and adult justice systems lies in the fact that the former strives to be an informal, private, non-adversarial system that stresses rehabilitation rather than punishment of youth. The common thing between the two is mostly that community protection is the primary goal, law violations must be held accountable, probable crime's cause must be established, accused offenders may be held in custody to ensure their appearance in court, detention alternatives of home and electronic detention are used, standard “proof beyond a reasonable doubt” is required, rights to be represented by an attorney to confront witnesses and to remain silent are afforded, court decisions are influenced by current offence, offending history and social factors. However, juvenile and adult justice systems have major differences. Firstly, in juvenile justice system, youth behavior is malleable, rehabilitation is a viable goal, while in the adult justice system sanctions should be proportionate to offense, general deterrence works and rehabilitation is not a primary goal. Secondly, in juvenile justice system court proceedings are confidential and juvenile offender faces a hearing, rather than a trial, while in adult justice system court proceedings are opened to public and offender is put on trial. Moreover, in juvenile justice preventative detention is preferable and generally there is no jury trial, while in adult justice an offender in most cases has a right to apply for bond or bail and goes through the jury trial. Finally, in juvenile justice system offender is found delinquent or innocent, parole is based on surveillance and activities to reintegrate juvenile into community, while in adult justice system an offender is ether found guilty or innocent, and parole is based on surveillance and monitoring of illicit behavior. (Hess, Orthmann, Drowns, 2010)
To conclude with, positive or negative outcome of similar juvenile cases, as one described in the paper, depend on various factors. Of course juvenile justice system is not ideal and needs improvement, as probably everything else in the world of law. But important is the fact that it struggles for children, not against them.
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