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THE BARNES & Fersten Juvenile Criminal Defense Attorneys in TN

Award Winning Client Service, Proven Results



Attorney John Barnes, Attorney Brandon D. Fersten, and Attorney Oscar Butler

Knoxville Juvenile Defense Attorneys Lawyers


Parenthood is filled with its challenges from day one. Despite the difficulties during every stage of your child’s life, from the newborn, infant, toddler, and teenage stage, you eventually learn how to handle the situation through a Google search, YouTube or TikTok, and asking friends, family, and your doctor.

Unfortunately, nothing can prepare you to protect your child from the consequences of their actions when they commit a criminal offense. At that point, you need an experienced juvenile defense attorney to protect your child’s future because the consequences of their actions may lead to them being detained by police and in a detention facility for a significant time period, and even being transferred to adult court to be tried and sentenced as an adult.

At Barnes & Fersten, our Knoxville criminal defense lawyers represent children, teenagers and high school students who are charged with misdemeanor and/or felony juvenile delinquency offenses. Our lawyers have a longstanding history of success in defending juvenile’s accused of committing crimes in Knox County, Blount County, Loudon County, Anderson County, Campbell County and Sevier County.

Our attorneys routinely have success at:

  1. Negotiating favorable outcomes that avoid convictions;
  2. Preventing children from being found guilty;
  3. Expunging juvenile’s criminal offense from their record so it does not affect their college or job applications;
  4. Preventing jailtime as punishment for your child’s actions;
  5. Opposing the state’s motions to transfer children’s cases to adult court;
  6. Suppressing evidence from being used against your child; and

Every case is different and requires a thorough investigation into the facts and circumstances leading to your child to be charged with a crime so that we can resolve their case as favorably as possible under the facts and circumstances of their case.

Common Juvenile Crimes In Tennessee

Barnes & Fersten’s attorneys have successfully represented juveniles by getting the charges dismissed or reduced, and ultimately expunged including but not limited to the following charges:

Every case is different, and we cannot guarantee a particular result. We will guarantee that we will do everything we can to get the best result possible based on the facts and circumstances of your child’s case.

What to consider when hiring a juvenile defense attorney?

First and foremost, your juvenile defense attorney should understand the specific laws and procedures of the juvenile court. Not every criminal defense lawyer should handle juvenile cases because the procedures are entirely different. Barnes & Fersten’s attorneys have handled every facet of a juvenile defense case from transfer hearings, detention hearings, and trials.

Second, the juvenile defense lawyer should focus on building a relationship with your child even more so than yourself. Although you may be paying for your child’s attorney, your child is the client. This means that attorney-client privilege is between your child and their attorney, and the lawyer should respect that relationship by only telling you details of your child’s case after receiving permission from the child.

Whenever we meet with a potential juvenile client, our attorneys discuss every detail of the case with the child without the presence of the parent. This allows our attorneys to build a special attorney-client relationship based on trust with the child. Our attorney assures the child that we are going to do everything we possibly can to help them and we let them know that if they do not want us to be their lawyer, we will not be their lawyer regardless of their parents’ decision. This allows the child to understand the nature and importance of the attorney-client relationship and results in the child providing us with more details about what occurred and about some struggles in their life that put them in their current situation. Our attorneys pride themselves on their ability to form a relationship with children and learn about their childhood, and what they want to do in the future so we can use that information to provide them the highest level of defense possible.


Transfer Hearings: Can my child be tried as an adult?

Yes, your child may be tried as an adult in adult court but only after the prosecutor has filed a motion to transfer the case to adult court and only if the judge makes specific findings during the transfer hearing.

First, the prosecutor must file written notice through a Motion to Transfer within 90 days of your child being charged with the offense with at least fourteen (14) days written notice prior to the transfer hearing so your child and his or her attorney may prepare for the hearing. In most cases, our attorneys will request the judge to continue the hearing beyond the fourteen (14) days because it is insufficient time to prepare for the hearing that will impact the rest of your child’s life. We need to review any 911 calls, dash and/or body camera footage, and potentially file motions to suppress evidence from being admitted into evidence. It usually takes beyond those 14 days to find an alternative rehabilitative program that will help your child learn and grow from the criminal offense he or she may have committed.

Can the State file a Motion to Transfer for any crime committed by my child?

No, the State may only file a Motion to Transfer in limited circumstances that depend on your child’s age and the crime allegedly committed.

Your child’s case can only be transferred to adult court to be tried and punished as an adult if he or she is charged with:

  1. 14 years or younger:
    • First degree murder, second degree murder or attempted first or second degree murder.
  2. 14-16 years and 364 days:
    • First or second degree murder, rape or aggravated rape, rape or aggravated rape of a child, aggravated or especially aggravated robbery, aggravated or especially aggravated burglary, kidnapping, aggravated kidnapping or especially aggravating kidnapping, commission of an act of terrorism, carjacking, or an attempt to commit any such offenses.
  3.  16 years or older:
    • Robbery or attempt to commit robbery.
  1. 17 years:
    • Any criminal offense. It is entirely the prosecutor’s decision whether to seek transfer or not if your child is 17 years old.

Barnes & Fersten have successfully convinced prosecutors not to file a motions to transfer and to withdraw a motion to transfer (meaning they essentially dismiss the motion on their own before the judge decided) based on numerous factors such as children’s likelihood of rehabilitation, aspirations in life, lack of criminal history, and academic success.

It is essential that you hire an experienced juvenile delinquency lawyer to represent your child to convince the district attorney to keep their case in juvenile court. If the district attorney intends to transfer your child’s case, then you and your child will receive written notice of the time, place, and purpose of the hearing at least 14 days prior to the hearing. If you have not already retained a lawyer, you do not have time to waste please contact us to talk to one of our lawyers as soon as possible.

What will happen at the transfer hearing?

At the transfer hearing, the court can only transfer the case if the judge finds probable cause to believe that:

  1. the child committed the act as alleged;
  2. the child is not committable to an institution for the developmentally disabled or mentally ill;
  3. the interests of the community require that the child be put under legal restraint or discipline; and
  4. your child committed the alleged delinquency conduct.

In finding probable cause, the court has 6 factors that they evaluate. Your juvenile defense lawyer should understand these 6 factors and argue why they do not apply, or if they do apply, advocate strongly for why they should not apply to your specific child’s case to avoid transferring the case to criminal court. The six factors include:

  1. the extent and nature of the child’s prior delinquency records;
  2. the nature of past treatment efforts and the nature of the child’s response thereto;
  3. whether the offense was against person or property, with greater weight in favor of transfer given to offenses against the person;
  4. whether the offense was committed in an aggressive and premeditated manner;
  5. the possible rehabilitation of the child by use of procedures, services and facilities currently available to the court in this state; and
  6. whether the child’s conduct would be a criminal gang offense if committed by an adult.

The possible rehabilitation of your child is usually the most important factor in your child’s case where your child’s attorney should look into rehabilitation efforts before the hearing. Our attorneys have routinely continued transfer hearings and requested juvenile judges to send our juvenile clients to a rehabilitation program for a certain amount of time before the hearing to provide proof that rehabilitation is possible. Our strategy in doing so is simple: how can the judge transfer your child to adult court if they allowed your child the opportunity to prove they can be rehabilitated and your child does everything they are supposed to do to prove to the judge that they have been rehabilitated by completing a rehabilitation program.

If my child receives jail time, will they serve in an adult jail? 

No, your child will be housed in a juvenile correctional facility unless the judge orders commitment to an adult facility because the juvenile facility is inadequate to protect the public, other children and your child. However, your child will be housed separately and removed from adult inmates for their protection.

Miranda Rights: Why was my child questioned without his or her parents present?

Often times children are questioned by police officers, school resource officers and school administrators without the child’s parents present. Sometimes, they are questioned without being advised of their Miranda rights or, if they are advised of their Miranda rights, they do not

Miranda Rights for Juveniles

 Two requirements must exist to prove your child was entitled to his or her Miranda rights:

  1. your child must have been in custody; and
  2. your child must have being interrogated.

If both conditions are met, the officer’s failure to mirandize your child makes any statements your child made subject to suppression. This is especially true for children because courts view children as more easily manipulated by law enforcement and less likely to understand and assert their rights against an authoritative police officer and/or principal.

(1) Custody requirement:

Your child was “in custody” if, under the totality of the circumstances, a reasonable person in your child’s position would consider himself or herself deprived of freedom of movement to a degree associated with a formal arrest. For example, if the police officer retains your child’s driver’s license during a traffic stop, then for Miranda purposes, your child is considered in custody because no reasonable person would believe that he or she could simply terminate the encounter by asking the officer to return their license and because driving without a license is an additional traffic violation.

Moreover, specifically for children in a school setting, your child will usually be considered “in custody” when questioned by a principal, school administrator, police officer and/or school resource officer in the principal’s office or another room in the school because your child will not feel as if he or she is free to walk away from such an authoritative figure without consequences.

(2) Interrogation requirement

It is not necessary that your child was left in a room alone with police officers or detectives for hours like you may see on tv shows. Instead, an interrogation exists whenever your child is being asked questions that are reasonably likely to elicit incriminating responses while already in custody. If your child voluntarily begins to speak while in custody it will not constitute as an interrogation.

(3) Right to remain silent

Usually, once a child invokes their right to remain silent, an officer cannot ask questions that are likely to result in an incriminating response for the full time that your child is in custody plus an additional 14 hours. However, there are some exceptions to this rule. For example, if your child invokes his or her right to remain silent but then later begins voluntarily speaking to the officer on his or her own, then the statements may or may not be subject to suppression.

(4) Right to a lawyer

Similarly, if your child invokes his or her right to a lawyer, your child cannot be questioned about the specific crime that your child was arrested for committing without your child’s lawyer present, after your child is advised of his or her Miranda rights. However, if the officer begins to question your child about a different crime then there may not be a violation of the miranda rights.

The question becomes: Did your child unequivocally tell the officer that he or she wanted a lawyer, and if so, the questioning must immediately stop. Unequivocally requesting a lawyer means your child said “I want a lawyer now” rather than “I think I need a lawyer.”

Can my child be questioned without a parent present?

At this moment you may feel outraged that your child was questioned without your permission or presence. Unfortunately, the answer is not entirely straight forward. Generally speaking, an officer may question your child after reading your child his or her Miranda rights without your presence.

However, there are numerous factors that go into whether your child voluntarily waived his or her miranda rights based on the totality of the circumstances including:

  1. Your child’s age, experience, education and intelligence;
  2. the juvenile’s capacity to understand the Miranda warnings and consequences of a waiver;
  3. the juvenile’s familiarity with the Miranda warnings or ability to read and write in the language used to give the warnings;
  4. any intoxication;
  5. any mental disease, disorder or retardation; and
  6. the presence of a parent, guardian or interested adult.

Thus, although technically you do not have to be present for the interrogation, officers usually should notify the parents and if they can arrive at the school or police station within a short time period allow the parent to do so because otherwise it can impact the validity of the child’s “waiver” of his or her Miranda rights.

Child’s Future: Will my child’s criminal charges effect their future employment or college application?

Yes, if your child is convicted they may be required to disclose that information on a college or job application, and potentially a professional licensure application such as to obtain a law degree or medical degree.

As such, it is imperative that you hire your child a lawyer that truly cares about your child’s future. We believe that from your first interaction with the attorneys at Barnes & Fersten you will quickly realize that our lawyers will do everything they can to help your child. Our attorneys do everything they can for your child’s charges to either be dismissed or convince the prosecutor to allow your child to enter either an informal adjustment, pretrial diversion or judicial diversion.

An informal adjustment and pretrial diversion are both outcomes that allow your child’s case to be dismissed after a certain period, usually 3 to 6 months, on probation where they will have to complete certain conditions. Both outcomes do not require an admission of guilt by your child. A judicial diversion similarly allows the charges to be dismissed after probation but requires an admission of guilt in court. This means that if your child violates the judicial diversion, the prosecutor may take away the judicial diversion and the judge may use your child’s guilty plea to find them guilty whereas a violation of an informal adjustment or pretrial diversion starts the case over again as if they never entered into the agreement.

Contact Barnes & Fersten today for a free juvenile defense consultation so we can begin to form a specific strategy for your defense. Whether your child has been falsely accused or your child made a mistake and needs some help to get back on the right path, we would love to help your child’s tomorrow be better than their today.

We represent individuals charged with juvenile delinquency felony and misdemeanor charges across East Tennessee, including but not limited to Knox County, Loudon County, Anderson County, Blount County, Sevier County, Union County, McMinn County, and Roane County.