Young people under 18 accused of illegal or criminal acts are often dealt with through the juvenile justice system. Although similar to the adult criminal justice system in many ways (procedures include arrest, detention, petitions, hearings, rulings, disposal, placement, probation, and re-entry), the premise behind the juvenile justice process is that young people are fundamentally different from adults, both in terms of the level of responsibility they hold for their actions and the potential for rehabilitation.
What is the purpose of the Juvenile Court?
The juvenile justice system has evolved and undergone significant changes since its founding in the late 18th century. Before its creation, youth of all ages and genders were often confined together with dangerous adult criminals and the mentally ill in large overcrowded and deteriorating penal institutions. A series of social movements and attempts at creating reformation, training, and industrial schools followed to address the issue of delinquent youths to varying degrees of success.
This collection of institutions and programs were finally brought together with the creation of the juvenile court. The court was intended to be a place where a child could receive individualized attention from a concerned judge. Instead of failing children, the purpose was to create a system of probation and separate rehabilitation and treatment facilities to provide supervision, counseling, and education for minors.
In addition to maintaining public safety, the primary goals of the juvenile justice system were skill development, adaptability, rehabilitation, addressing treatment needs, and successful reintegration of youth into the community.
The purpose of the juvenile court is:
- To protect citizens and communities from crimes committed by young people.
- To ensure that young people who commit crimes are held accountable for their actions.
- To develop a structured source of education, vocational skills, social skills, emotional self-regulation, and basic life skills so that young people can grow and mature to prevent further criminal behavior.
- To provide fair hearings for youth and other stakeholders that recognize and enforce legal rights, such as due process and the right to counsel.
A legal professional can help you handle the situation better than if you go it alone. They know what to do and what not to do and can help you throughout the process.
The role and knowledge of a juvenile defender
The juvenile defender is probably the only individual in the judicial process dedicated to understanding, clarifying, and defending children’s explicit and legitimate legal interests. When they cannot obtain adequate assistance from minors rights’ advocates, these rights and protections become meaningless. Without an advocate for the protection, guidance, and support of minors facing the legal system, these young people could face life-changing consequences by the Bucks County Juvenile Justice system.
Advocates of minors must focus on two unique areas:
- Youth development and communication
- The complexity of juvenile court procedures
Juvenile defenders face unique challenges when fulfilling their responsibilities to young customers. They play a crucial role in determining the future of these children. Many youths in the juvenile justice system come from impoverished, abusive, or neglectful backgrounds. Therefore, some of the primary challenges faced by attorneys include:
Promoting meaningful client participation in court proceedings
Effective communication with clients is the backbone of any lawyer’s meaningful defense. Adolescence is when young people begin to develop personal autonomy, resist authority figures, and establish a coherent and stable identity. As a result, teenagers assume various identities. Establishing an effective attorney-client relationship requires conscious attention to the development of every young client.
If young people think that lawyers will condemn their actions, these entirely appropriate developmental characteristics may make them reluctant to provide certain information to their lawyers. They may also be unwilling to provide their lawyers with information about friends who are co-defendants or participants in the criminal activity. Teens may also assume that they are being judged.
Communication challenges faced by young people often come up in court. The judge usually informs the youth of their rights during juvenile court proceedings and then asks fundamental questions about whether the child understands.
At a more basic level, young people must meet several conditions before being released, but one study found that teenagers did not understand as much as one-third of the court-ordered release conditions. This is one reason why communication between a juvenile defendant and his or her defense attorney can be so critical.
Ensuring timely appointment of counsel
Delay in appointing a lawyer will harm the relationship between the lawyer and the client and will hamper preparation of the case. Without establishing a trustworthy relationship with the client, the lawyer will not work as effectively. This is true for both minor and adult clients.
This trust will build up over time. Suppose defense lawyers and their clients met in court for the first time and did not have the opportunity to discuss the hearing process, ask and answer questions, and get other people’s views on the matter. In that case, the minor defendant may be less cooperative and suspicious of the proceedings.
There are cases where the ombudsman for minors has sufficient time to prepare for the juvenile hearing. In many cases, however, juvenile advocates in many jurisdictions have less than five minutes to prepare their initial court appearance for young clients.
Waiving of critical rights
Young people are often forced to give up their rights. From their first meeting with the police where they may be forced to succumb to a search, the interrogation room where they may be subject to interrogation by adults without a parent, lawyer, or advocate to support them, to the initial hearing where they may not be fully informed of the seriousness of the proceedings. In many jurisdictions, the waiver of these rights occurs before the attorney is appointed and therefore without an attorney’s help or advice.
Minors are easily persuaded in the juvenile justice system to ignore or discount the advice and counsel of court-appointed child advocates. Some stakeholders believe that minor advocates and their insistence on due process will only “slow down” the juvenile court system and hinder necessary services. There is no process or procedure that should rise above due process. Efficiency and human rights can coexist.
Getting the help of Bucks County criminal lawyers is essential to upholding the due process rights of youth and ensuring the accountability of the juvenile justice system. The number of young people accused of crimes who waived their right to counsel, whether explicitly or implicitly, without understanding the severe consequences of the decision is worrying. Youth should have the opportunity to meaningfully negotiate with representation from trained juvenile defense attorneys before they are subject to juvenile justice proceedings.