Juvenile offenses in Kansas and Missouri are a distinct and different category within the field of criminal defense. Why?
- Juvenile crimes are handled in special courts set up in each state county, with procedural and legal rules that can be quite different from adult criminal cases. In addition, the juvenile justice system has large numbers of social workers, probation officers, and even separate facilities where juveniles are sometimes kept. The juvenile justice system is truly a parallel and separate system.
- Communication between the defense attorney and the accused juvenile presents its own special issues. In many instances, the juvenile defendant is reluctant to discuss the circumstances that led to criminal charges being filed. The attorney must have excellent interviewing and communication skills, as well as sensitivity and attention to the mentality of juveniles.
- The parents or guardians of the juvenile are additional actors in the process, and must be made aware of the special requirements and conditions of the juvenile justice process. However, the attorney’s client is the juvenile facing the charge, not a third party family member. Communication, disclosure, and client management can present unique issues in this situation. In some circumstances, local rules may restrict the accessibility of certain reports and records.
The penalties and consequences of juvenile cases can be serious, even though technically juveniles are meant to be considered a separate and distinct class from adult criminal defendants. We believe that every child’s future is worth protecting, and we understand what is at stake in every juvenile criminal case. Parents and juveniles often do not fully appreciate the fact that a juvenile could face a lifetime of missed job opportunities along with financial and social struggles due to a mistake as a teenager. Many juvenile courts are also overstaffed with court appointed legal counsel or public defenders who may have very large workloads that prohibit the type of personalized attention that a private law firm can offer.
Successful strategies in juvenile cases begin right at the outset of the case with a detailed review of the facts, circumstances, and evidence in the case. Interviews with the juvenile should focus on the precise events or circumstances that gave rise to the accusation at issue. In reviewing the legal issues and in discussions with the prosecutor, it is important to demand strict proof of the elements that define the offense in question. Finding the bright line rules in the criminal statutes and then chipping away at them is vital. For example, was the youth actually truant from school as many times as the prosecutor claims? Is there any evidence of this? Some truancy rules require a certain amount of missed absences, and these cannot be proven, the case collapses. Juveniles also tend to be subject to peer pressures or act in groups, and this fact can raise issues of culpability or duress.
In rare situations, serious felony offenses can be declined by juvenile court and tried in adult court. A juvenile attorney can fight this process, and try to keep the case in juvenile court. Most of the constitutional rights that adults have are also provided for juveniles who are accused of a crime. It does happen that law enforcement or school officials will question, interrogate, or violate the legal rights of juveniles, without the knowledge of a parent or guardian. It is not unheard of for these officials to try to trick minors into revealing incriminating information. Law enforcement officers are experienced in gamesmanship and misleading both adults and juveniles in order to get people to implicate themselves. In these situations, it is critical for the juvenile to retain an attorney as quickly as possible.
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