Tuesday, April 3, 2012

My Kid is in Trouble -- Making the Right Decisions

One of the main reasons I decided to go into criminal defense was to assist juveniles charged with crimes.  I have believed for some time that one of the biggest failures of our justice system is their inability to effectively rehabilitate juvenile offenders.  For years, the basic aim of juvenile courts was to find ways to rehabilitate juvenile offenders and return them to a law abiding lifestyle.  This is in stark contrast to the goals of the adult justice system, which attempts to use punishments as deterrents with adult offenders.  However, something significant has changed with the juvenile system.

More and more, we are seeing prosecutors certifying juvenile offenders as adults.  In the state of Minnesota, a motion for certification can be filed if the alleged offender is between the ages of 14 and 17 and the crime they are accused of is at the level of a felony.  This certification process has been essentially the same for a long time, and by US standards, isn't particularly strict (Kansas, for instance, can certify children as young as 10).  However, as news media puts more and more emphasis on crimes committed by juveniles, public pressure on prosecutors has increased significantly.  Victims families, community members, and victims' rights groups are asking for tougher and tougher punishments for juvenile offenders, meaning that kids as young as 14 can go to state prison for things like schoolyard fighting, shoplifting, and possessing drugs.  The question that begs to be answered is whether this change in strategy is effective, or whether charging young people in this fashion does less to discourage future bad behavior and more to help create the "career criminal" that juvenile courts were created to prevent?

The reason for this shift is understandable.  Crimes committed by people under the age of 18 don't affect their victims any less than crimes committed by people over the age of 18.  A crime is a crime and has consequences.  People affected by crime want retribution for their suffering, and the easiest way to get it is to punish the person responsible to the fullest extent of the law.  It's easy to understand the potential consequences of allowing a 16-year-old to walk away after less than 5 years of detention for shooting a 12-year-old boy.  While in Minnesota, a felony charge is all that is required for prosecutors to move to certify a minor as an adult, usually such measures are reserved for violent crimes, gun-related crimes, sexual assaults, and other crimes that create a threat to public safety.  Most "minor" felonies (if there is such a thing) won't meet the standards prosecutors use to determine whether to motion to certify a minor as an adult.

The truth is that for kids on the young end of the spectrum, being charged as adult could result in an earlier release than that which would be granted by juvenile courts.  For example, if a 14-year-old is accused of felony sexual assault, being charged as a minor would almost assuredly place the child in custody until at least their 19th birthday.  Being tried as an adult could result in a sentence as short as 3 years, which would have them back home before graduation.  Also, keep in mind that the entire time this "child" was in prison, they were more or less left to their own devices.  While minors and adults are housed separately in jail, there are very few opportunities for rehabilitation when in a general prison.  The child would not have access to the same services that they would have in a juvenile detention center.  Those three years of incarceration would largely amount to wasted time that could have been used to fix the issue that cause the problem in the first place.

So, as a parent, what can you do to ensure that your child, if charged as a juvenile delinquent, is given the best chance to succeed in life moving forward?  Sometimes it's not working every possible angle in an effort to exonerate them.  It's never easy to believe that our children are capable of criminal behavior, but when a problem arises, getting that child help is of the utmost importance.  By hiring a Minnesota juvenile defense attorney, you are hiring someone who understands what you and your child are going through.  You're hiring someone who can help walk you through the process and help you to determine the best path to ensure the best possible outcome for your son or daughter's life, not just for this trial.  If your child has found themselves in a compromising position with the law, it's up to you to help them do what's best for them.  Contact a Minnesota juvenile defense attorney today to get your child on the road to a better tomorrow.

*An important note regarding Minnesota juvenile defense attorneys:  When you hire an attorney to represent your son or daughter, that attorney is not employed by you.  They can not share what they discuss with your child with you.  They can not take direction from you regarding defense strategy.  The attorney will be your child's attorney, not yours.  This is an important distinction, as what is in the best interests of your child might not necessarily be what's in your best interests.  Keep this in mind as you move through the process of defending your child's criminal case.

As always, any content provided in this blog is not intended to be legal advertising or legal advice.  It is solely for entertainment purposes.  If you have a matter that needs the attention of a lawyer, don't try to piece together a strategy by reading online blogs and advice.  Contact a Minnesota criminal defense attorney today to get the legal services you need to be successful.

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