Your First Day in Juvenile Court


 
You have been Ordered to Court for an arraignment. This means there has been a Complaint and Petition filed that charges you with a delinquent act. A delinquent act is any action that, if done by an adult, would be a crime (or disobeying a Court Order). Your arraignment is simply the time for you to either admit or deny the delinquent act. (In adult Court, you would either plead “guilty” or “not guilty.”)

 

You must know your legal rights, so you can decide whether to admit or deny. These rights include:

 

·        The right to be represented by an attorney

·        The right to be presumed innocent

·        The right to a trial, in which a prosecutor must present evidence of your delinquent act

·        The right to cross examine witnesses in your trial (through your attorney)

·        The right to present witnesses in your defense

·        The right to subpoena witnesses for your defense (i.e., to use a Court Order to require a witness’ presence)

·        The right to remain silent (to refuse to testify)—and this silence will not create a presumption of guilt—or the right to testify in your own defense (The right to remain silent and the right to testify are your rights, and no one—your attorney included—can force you to do either. It is your choice alone.)

·        The right to be acquitted until and unless the prosecution proves your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt

·        The right to appeal the Court’s ruling to a higher Court, if you are found guilty

The only way to exercise or demand these rights is to deny the charges against you. If you admit a delinquent act, the Court may accept your admission, adjudicate you (find you “guilty”) and enter a disposition (like sentencing in adult Court) just as if you were found guilty at trial. A denial in Court—even if you did the act—is not a lie; it is the legal way to exercise all your rights.

 

Knowing these rights, and knowing that you surrender (give up) all these rights if you enter an admission, you also have the right to admit the charges against you.

 

A “typical” disposition might include the following:

 ·        Probation for a period of up to 24 months

Probation generally requires a monthly visit to a probation officer, and payment of a $30 supervision fee each month.

 

Conditions of probation will include such things as:

Attend school each and every day with no unexcused absences

No unexcused school tardies or early check-outs

Participation at school, to be reflected in good academic achievement

No school discipline write-ups

Obey the lawful commands of your parents or guardians

A curfew: after this time each day, you must be at home unless you have special permission by the Court to be elsewhere, and Compliance Officers will randomly check to see if you are obeying the curfew.

You may also be required to submit to random drug or alcohol screens, attend counseling or classes, or have other requirements—depending on the nature of your case.

 ·        Community Service

Work performed for a government or non-profit organization, with reports to the Court of the hours you serve.

 ·        Reviews

Generally an appearance in Juvenile Court each month, with reports from your school, parents, counselors, etc.

 

In some cases—such as minor offences—it may be possible to admit a delinquent act and request an informal adjustment. In these cases, the Court accepts an admission but does not formally adjudicate the case (i.e., does not find you “guilty”). Rather, the Court holds the admission, and places you on Conditions of Release very similar to the terms of Probation, but with the intent to dismiss your case after several months of excellent reviews. If your case is informally adjusted and ultimately dismissed, you will have no formal record of juvenile delinquency. And you will never be placed on probation; so there are no monthly fees to pay, and often no community service to perform. However, if you have any write-ups (disciplinary actions) at school, any unexcused absences, poor academic performance, or reports of misbehavior at home or elsewhere, your admission will be formally accepted, an adjudication of guilt entered, and you will be placed on probation—with no credit for the time you were on informal adjustment.

 

If you deny your charges, all that will happen at arraignment is the entry of your denial; you will be given another date for your trial. (And if you ask for a trial, immediately contact our office so we can prepare!) If you admit, the Court will adjudicate (find you “guilty”) and enter a disposition (“sentence you”). If your charge is minor—and you believe you can meet the Court’s demands—we can request an informal adjustment. This informal adjustment is solely at the Court’s discretion. Once an admission is made, you cannot withdraw it if the Court decides to adjudicate and enter disposition.

 

There are two other important points:

 We (the Public Defenders) represent you, the juvenile. We do not represent your parent or guardian. It’s great if you and your parents agree about what you should do; but if you don’t, we will do what you ask us to do. Your parents are welcome to hire a lawyer. Also, since we are your lawyers, whatever you tell us privately is confidential and will not be shared with anyone without your permission.

 

If you need more information or want more time with us, tell us. We can ask the Court for time to discuss your case if you feel more time is necessary. When we are working with you on your case, you are the most important thing at that time.

Our primary role ends when your disposition has been completed. But if we can help you in any way, you are welcome to contact us. And remember, if you ask for a trial, you must contact us very soon so we can subpoena witnesses, get records, and prepare for your trial.

 

Thank you for allowing us to represent you.

 

Michael Parham

Circuit Public Defender for the Appalachian Judicial Circuit

 

Fred Forsythe

Chief Juvenile Defender