Juvenile Attorney Birmingham- Juvenile Law & Juvenile Delinquency
Being the parent or guardian of a child charged with a crime and facing juvenile court can certainly be stressful for your entire family. At WAR Law, we are experienced, knowledgeable, skilled and highly trained in juvenile law and juvenile rights and we understand that your family will have many questions. We will assist you by providing answers to your questions and guiding you through the legal process. Many common questions families have are:
What is the legal process for juveniles charged with a crime?
Will my son or daughter have a permanent criminal record?
What are the potential punishments that my child could be facing?
It is important that your child be represented by an experienced, competent attorney who specializes in family court matters, juvenile law and juvenile criminal defense (juvenile delinquency). At WAR LAW, we have been advising and representing juveniles faced with criminal charges since 1999. We know the juvenile justice system well and will help you to make the best decision for the best interest of your child.
Alabama has specially designated courts that are charged with the responsibility of handling juveniles who have been charged with a crime. These juvenile courts exist in every county in Alabama. Even though your child has been charged with a crime, the court system tailored specifically to juveniles is far different from adult criminal court. There are two basic types of juvenile criminal matters, juvenile delinquency cases and child in need of supervision (CHINS) cases.
A child found to be delinquent is a child under the age of 18 who has committed an offense which, if the individual were an adult, would be considered a crime. Some examples of typical juvenile delinquency charges are theft of property, theft of a vehicle, drug offenses, harassment, and certain sex crimes. A child in need of supervision (CHINS) is one who has committed an act which, if that child were an adult, would not be considered a crime. Often, the juvenile court and the State will conclude that the child is in need of care or rehabilitation. Some examples of CHINS cases are truancy cases, cases where a child is disobedient to parents, or where the child is a runaway.
There are some matters that the juvenile court will not hear even if the child is under the age of 18, such as traffic offenses (except DUI). The juvenile court will also generally not hear cases where a juvenile 16 years of age or older is charged with a capital offense, a Class A felony, a felony which has an element of the offense of the use of a deadly weapon, a felony which has an element of the causing of death or serious physical injury, a felony which involves the use of a dangerous instrument against certain officials or persons or trafficking in drugs. Such cases will usually be transferred to adult court and the juvenile will be tried as an adult.
How do juvenile cases begin?
Any individual such as a law enforcement officer, a school official, a neighbor, a relative or a parent can file a juvenile delinquency petition or child in need of supervision (CHINS) petition with the juvenile court.
What happens after a petition has been filed?
A juvenile intake officer will screen the petition to make sure it has sufficient merit and then that officer will determine whether to file a petition with the court. The intake officer will also notify the child of his or her legal rights including the right to be represented by an attorney. If the child is being held in the youth detention center, the intake officer will notify the parents that the child is being held pending a detention hearing. You should be aware that in most cases, the child’s parent or guardian will be made a party to the case. This is very important because you, as the parent or guardian, can be required to pay fines, court costs, restitution and other costs. You can also be ordered to participate in certain activities which the court deems is in the best interest of the child, such as participating in counseling. As a party to the case, if you do not participate and cooperate with the orders of the juvenile court, the juvenile court can hold you in contempt of court. This is one of many reasons it is extremely important to seek experienced, competent legal representation for your child and your family when faced with a juvenile law matter. It is very important that you and your child know all of your child’s rights, your child’s liabilities, your family’s rights and your family’s liabilities prior to your child’s first appearance in juvenile court or your child’s first discussion with the juvenile court intake officer.
What happens if the intake officer does not file a formal petition with the court?
The juvenile intake officer may, with the consent of the child and the parents or guardian, enter what is called an informal adjustment. Under the terms of an informal adjustment, the child and family must agree to participate in counseling with the juvenile intake or juvenile probation officer. The intake officer has the option of terminating the informal adjustment deeming that the child needs no further intervention. The intake officer can also opt to terminate the informal adjustment and file a petition with the court if the child and parents are not cooperating with the intake officer, if the child and parents miss scheduled appointments with the intake officer or if the intake officer feels the child needs further intervention.
My child is being held in the youth detention facility, what’s next?
Alabama law requires that a hearing be held within 72 hours of your child’s detention. This is what is commonly called a “detention hearing.” At that time, you and your child will appear before the juvenile judge. The juvenile judge will determine if your child will be allowed to return home or if your child will need to be detained in the youth detention center. The juvenile judge will consider a number of factors in making this determination including, but not limited to, your child’s delinquency/CHINS history, your child’s school performance, recommendations from the juvenile probation offices and the District Attorney’s office, and your child’s demeanor. Choosing a competent, experienced family court lawyer like Wendy Allison Reese who has represented a wide array of juveniles faced with criminal charges since 1999 is paramount.
My child is innocent what should we do?
Your child is entitled to a trial. All juvenile proceedings are closed to the public and your child’s trial will be heard by the juvenile court judge without a jury being present. At the trial, the District Attorney who represents the State will have to prove that the allegations against your child are true. Your child will have the opportunity to present a defense by calling witnesses on his or her behalf. If the District Attorney meets his or her burden of proof and the juvenile court does not find merit in your child’s defense, the charge will be found “true.” Juvenile courts do not use the term “guilty.” If the District Attorney does not meet his or her burden of proof or the juvenile court finds merit in your child’s defense, the charge will be found “not true.” If the charge is found not true, the juvenile court will dismiss the petition and your child will be free to go. If the charge is found to be true, the juvenile court will then determine the consequences to impose upon your child.
My child’s case has been found “true,” what’s next?
If your child pleads true or the charge is found to be true after a trial, the juvenile judge will determine which consequences to impose. Your child’s attorney will be able to argue for the least restrictive punishment available. Things such as good grades, good behavior at home and at school, and cooperation with the juvenile probation officer can all be used to argue that your child is not in need of severe sanctions.
What kind of sanctions is my child facing?
Remember that the purpose of the Juvenile Justice Act is not only to hold your child accountable for the undesirable behavior committed, but also to rehabilitate and to supervise your child so that hopefully your child will never have another dealing with the criminal justice system. The juvenile court has a wide latitude of options available. The court may require your child to perform community service, place your child on probation, and/or require your child to pay restitution. Your child may also be ordered to attend and complete a “boot camp” program. Your child could be committed to the Department of Youth Services. If your child is committed to the Department of Youth Services, they will evaluate your child and establish an individualized service plan which must be completed prior to your child being released from the Department of Youth Services.
What happens if the court finds my child to be a “serious juvenile offender?”
The juvenile court judge may find a child to be a “serious juvenile offender” if the child has been adjudicated a delinquent child and the delinquent acts(s) if committed by an adult, would constitute a Class A felony, a felony resulting in a serious physical injury, a felony involving physical force, a deadly weapon, or a dangerous instrument. A “serious juvenile offender” is required to spend a minimum of one year in a Department of Youth Services facility. A review panel will review the child’s progress quarterly and may, at the end of the one year term, extend the term of commitment at the facility, order alternative treatment, or release the child.
Does my child have a right to an appeal?
Yes. If your child’s case proceeds to trial and you and your child are unhappy with the outcome, your child is entitled to an appeal to the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals. A notice of appeal must be filed with the clerk of the juvenile court within 14 days from the date of judgment. WAR Law has offered both trial and appellate services to its clients since 1999. If you and your child decide to pursue an appeal, we will explain the appellate process to you so that you are fully informed and can make the best choice for your child.
Is this going to effect my child forever?
Juvenile court records can be sealed. This may mean that if your child does not commit another offense, the charge may not effect him or her forever. There are exceptions to this rule. Our office will discuss these exceptions with you and fully inform you of the long term impact, if any, on your child. If your child receives another delinquency case or an adult youthful offender case, any juvenile court records will be treated as if they were never sealed. There are some cases where your child’s record can be expunged. In these cases, all agencies or offices having records regarding your child, will be court ordered to destroy those records. This will have the same effect legally as if the charge never occurred.
What is the process for sealing my child’s juvenile record?
To seal a juvenile record, you and your child must wait two years from the close of the juvenile delinquency case. To qualify, your child cannot have been convicted of or adjudicated delinquent of any felony or a misdemeanor involving sexual offenses, drugs, weapons, or violence, or threats of violence. Further, there can be no actions pending against your child in juvenile court or in adult criminal court at the time your motion to seal the juvenile record is filed or pending. WAR Law is experienced in helping juveniles’ petition the juvenile court to seal juvenile records and will be happy to assist your child.