We know that finding the right juvenile lawyer can be utterly overwhelming.
On top of the stress you’re already feeling about your child’s case, you now also have to navigate a sea of attorneys who all seem to be promising the same things. Who you choose to defend your child is a decision with life-altering consequences. An attorney can be the difference between your child getting back the future you wanted for them — or not.
So how do you decide? We’re here to arm you with all the knowledge you need to feel confident about your decision:
What is juvenile law?
Juvenile law is separate from other forms of criminal law. It’s important to know what the differences are so you know what to expect.
Adult vs. juvenile courts
In Minnesota, there are special courts, called juvenile courts, that handle all juvenile cases.
The juvenile justice system is separate from the adult criminal justice system. For example, juveniles aren’t charged with crimes, but are accused of committing “a delinquent act”. Instead of a conviction, the court will enter “a delinquency adjudication”, and instead of ordering a sentence, they order a “disposition”.
These terms may seem confusing, but remember that they function essentially the same as the adult-law counterparts that you may be more familiar with. The difference is that juvenile court is intended to be more focused on rehabilitation rather than harsh punishment.
Do juveniles have the same rights as adults?
To put it simply, no.
For example, while juveniles have the right to an attorney, in most states they do not have the right to a jury trial (constitutionally, only adults have the right to trial by jury). In Minnesota, juveniles only have the right to a jury trial under extended juvenile jurisdiction. This is when is a child has been given a stayed adult criminal sentence and a disposition. If the minor violates the terms of their disposition, then the adult criminal sentence goes into effect.
What age counts as a “juvenile” in Minnesota?
In Minnesota, any child aged 17 or younger is considered a “juvenile” under state law. Note that a child cannot be adjudicated as a “juvenile petty offender” until age 10 (any cases involving children under 10 are handled as civil CHIPS, or children in need of protection or services, hearings.)
Any person 18 or older who has allegedly committed a crime is tried in adult court.
What cases are tried in juvenile court?
Juvenile delinquency cases are tried in juvenile court.
This includes crimes allegedly committed by children — if the crime had been allegedly committed by an adult, then the case would be tried in adult court.
However, this also includes offenses that only apply to juveniles (in other words, offenses that would be lawful conduct if committed by an adult) — such as truancy, running away from home, underage drinking, or drug offenses. These are known as status offenses, or juvenile petty offenses.
According to the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, the most common juvenile arrests are made for:
- Simple assault
- Drug abuse
- Disorderly conduct
- Curfew violations
What can I expect from the process?
The juvenile justice process is different from an adult criminal justice proceeding and generally includes the below steps:
Filed by the prosecutor, the petition accuses the juvenile of an unlawful act.
- Detention or Initial Hearing
At the initial hearing, the minor is informed of the allegations against them. At this point, they can enter a plea either admitting or denying guilt.
This hearing is also sometimes called a detention hearing, because this is also where it is decided whether the minor will be held in custody or released to their parents.
If it is determined the minor will be held in custody, they cannot post bail to be released.
- Jurisdictional Hearing
This is the adjudication process — similar to an adult trial. The judge hears the case and decides whether the juvenile is delinquent or not.
- Disposition Hearing
At this hearing, the judge delivers the disposition, which is similar to the sentence in adult court.
In general, however, the juvenile process tends to be more informal than adult court. This means that many juveniles never reach the point of a formal hearing, and often it means that they will face alternative, less punitive penalties.
If your child is found delinquent, they’re more likely to:
- Face time in a juvenile facility rather than go to jail
- Receive counseling or community service rather than receive full punishment.
In what situations will a juvenile be tried as an adult?
That said, under specific circumstances, a court can decide to try a juvenile as an adult, applying the full force of the law and exposing the juvenile to adult criminal convictions and penalties — including prison time.
This is called a “waiver” — because a judge is waiving the protections that juvenile court provides.
During the transfer hearing, the burden is on the prosecutor to prove why the case should be transferred to adult court.
In Minnesota, a minor can only be tried as an adult if:
- They are at least 16 years old
- They are accused of an offense that would result in a presumptive commitment to prison under applicable laws and sentencing guidelines
- Or they are accused of a felony committed with a firearm
Do you really need a lawyer for a juvenile case?
Given the fact that juvenile court is designed to offer more protections for juveniles, you may be wondering if you really need a lawyer for a juvenile case: and the answer is yes, especially for juveniles who have been found delinquent before, or who are accused of a serious crime.
Here’s why — an attorney can:
- Increase your chances of getting charges dismissed entirely
- Achieve a better, less punitive disposition for your child
- Fight to keep your child out of pre-adjucation detention
- Prevent your child from being tried as an adult
Simply, an attorney will ensure that your child has the best chance possible at walking away from this situation with their future intact.
How do I choose the right juvenile lawyer?
The best way to know if a lawyer is right for you is to schedule a free consultation with them. When in consultation, you should ask the following questions:
- What is your experience with juvenile cases? How many cases have you handled?
- Have you ever handled a case like my child’s before?
- How much of your practice is spent in juvenile court?
You should also plan to share the facts of your child’s case, so the attorney can describe their legal strategy and let you know how they would defend your child.
How do I expunge my child’s record?
Even after becoming an adult, your child’s record can stay with them. In Minnesota, juvenile records are automatically sealed. This means they cannot be viewed by the public — however, the public can view the records of offenses that would be a felony if committed by an adult where the child was at least 16 years old at the time of the offense.
However, even sealed records can still be accessed by government agencies and can prevent your child from working in a hospital or in childcare, for example, or from getting federal security clearance or military enlistment.
That’s why the best way to protect your child’s future options is to have their record cleared entirely. This can be done either by having the charges dismissed during the court proceedings (preventing the child from being found delinquent in the first place), or by seeking expungment or sealing of the court records (after the child has already been found delinquent previously).
If your child’s record is expunged, this means that they no longer have to legally tell prospective employers, landlords, or colleges that they’ve been arrested before. But it may still mean be able to be used to increase the punishment for convictions as an adult.
This is why it’s critically important to secure the best possible defense as soon as possible — it’s much harder to expunge a record than it is to have it dismissed in the first place.
Fight for the future you want for your child
Yes, we have the experience and expertise you need in an attorney — but more importantly, we have a unique approach. We don’t plead clients guilty at the first opportunity, we don’t make bargains that seem to be in your child’s favor (when they’re really only in the prosecutor’s best interest), and we stop at nothing to give your kid the best fight possible.
We’re parents ourselves. That’s how we know you’d do anything to protect your child — so would we. That’s why you must choose the attorney who will fight for your child the way you would — with everything we’ve got.