The Juvenile Delinquency Case Roadmap

Barnes & Fersten Law Firm

Barnes & Fersten Law Firm

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If your child has been arrested, the first step to protect your child’s rights and ensure that their juvenile criminal charge does not have any long term impact on their life is to hire a juvenile criminal defense lawyer. Our attorneys understand that the thought of your child facing criminal charges is inevitably terrifying and stressful. This is likely the first time in your child’s life that you do not have control. However, you can take control and help your child by hiring an attorney that will help you through the process, fight for your child and who will answer each and every question about the process. The team at Barnes Law Firm has put together this guide to help you understand the process of a juvenile delinquency case arising out of criminal charges. If you have specific questions about your child’s case, it is important to speak with an experienced Tennessee juvenile defense attorney right away.

Arraignment: Your Child's First Time In Court

Your child’s first court date will not decide your child’s case.  Generally, the first court date will consist of:

  • Making sure you receive a copy of the petition and are aware of the charges against your son or daughter;
  • The court finding out whether you have or will hire a lawyer, or whether you are applying for appointed counsel; and
  • Setting a new court date for either negotiations or a hearing.

Do you need a juvenile defense lawyer for the first court date? Not strictly, but it is a good idea because even at the first court date there are things that can happen that could harm your child’s case. For example, the prosecutor might try to get your child’s case moved to adult court. The sooner you hire an attorney for your child, the sooner your child’s attorney can start requesting discovery and building a defense strategy to keep your child’s case in juvenile court, prepare to negotiate a favorable negotiated resolution, and ultimately prepare to have a bench trial.

In some circumstances, your child’s lawyer may be able to request a change in your child’s pre-trial conditions on that very first day. If you believe that your child’s pre-trial conditions are too stringent and that they should be reduced, make sure to inform your lawyer and they should discuss this with the district attorney to have the conditions reduced immediately, if possible.

"Status" Or Negotiation Dates

Your child will likely have a few additional court dates for your child’s juvenile defense lawyer to discuss the case with the district attorney who is prosecuting your child’s case in an endeavor to negotiate the best possible negotiated resolution of your child’s case.

By the second court date your child’s lawyer should have most or all the materials, reports, videos, medical records, etc., necessary to investigate and defend your child’s case.  The district attorney may or may not have also reviewed your child’s case and any video evidence. In some instances, your child’s lawyer may feel confident that the district attorney will eventually offer a better deal which may also result in your child’s case taking additional court dates.

Many cases will be resolved at one of these negotiation dates, either by a negotiated plea that you are happy with or with a dismissal of charges that often times come with some sort of condition. We will also petition the court, through a motion for expungement, to expunge your child’s record early, rather than waiting a year after the successful completion of any requirements that your child had to complete as part of a negotiated resolution.  

Juvenile Adjudicatory Hearings: Judge Trial

If your child’s case does not get dismissed or resolved through negotiations between your child’s lawyer and the prosecutor, then the case will proceed to an adjudicatory hearing.

An adjudicatory hearing is the equivalent to a trial in adult criminal court. The main difference between juvenile court and criminal court is that juveniles are not entitled to a jury trial. Instead, the judge will decide if your child committed the offense that your child was charged with committing.

Just like a jury trial, the prosecutor must present admissible evidence against your child to prove that your child committed the offense beyond a reasonable doubt. The prosecutor must establish each element of the offense that your child is charged with committing beyond a reasonable doubt. Your child’s defense lawyer should point out the elements that were not proven beyond a reasonable doubt to the judge in an endeavor to convince the judge to dismiss the case.

In addition to vigorously cross-examining all the State’s witnesses, your child’s lawyer should determine how to present your child’s defense. This may include having witnesses testify or having your child testify. Before ever coming to these decisions your child’s lawyer should discuss the benefits and harms that may result from each of these decisions. Similar to adult court, your child has the right to testify or not to testify and your child’s decision cannot be used against your child. This is an important decision to make that your juvenile defense lawyer must discuss with your child.

Time Limits On Scheduling Adjudicatory Hearings

Normally, cases should be heard within 30 days of the filing of the petition if scheduling appears to the court to be reasonable and feasible considering the circumstances of the case.

Otherwise, every case must be heard within 90 days of the date of the filing of a petition unless the State is able to show the judge good cause for the need for more than 90 days. This is extremely critical for your lawyer to know these deadlines to push the court to dismiss the charges against your child for failure to prosecute if the hearing is not heard or scheduled to be heard within these time limits.

However, in most cases, it is in your child’s best interest to reset the case past those deadlines. Your child’s lawyer should explain why the case is being reset and continued past these deadlines and it should be for strategic reasons only.

Can Illegally Obtained Evidence Be Used Against My Child?

Maybe. The State may introduce evidence that was illegally obtained, and it is up to your juvenile defense lawyer to understand the law on seizures to be able to file a motion to suppress the evidence or to object to any evidence that was illegally seized or obtained at the adjudicatory hearing. Without your attorney objecting to the evidence’s usage, it can and will be used against your child.

What About Conversations That My Child With His Or Her Probation Officer?

No, statements made by your child to the youth services officer or designated intake officer is admissible against your child prior to the dispositional hearing. This means that any statements your child makes to his or her court designated officer cannot be used against your child unless he or she is found guilty and has a disposition hearing.

DISPOSITION HEARINGS: SENTENCING YOUR CHILD

Your child will not have a dispositional hearing unless your child is found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt at an adjudicatory hearing. If your child has a dispositional hearing, the court must hold a dispositional hearing within 90 days of the adjudicatory hearing. However, if your child is in custody at the time of the adjudicatory hearing and remains in custody after the adjudicatory hearing then the dispositional hearing must be held within 15 days of the adjudicatory hearing.

Additionally, your child’s dispositional hearing may be held immediately after the adjudicatory hearing, but it is important to know that it is considered a separate and distinct hearing. Your child’s lawyer should consider whether your child’s dispositional hearing should be held on a later date to present character witnesses and other potential statements from medical providers to decrease your child’s sentence.

If We Continue My Child's Dispositional Hearing To Another Date, Will My Child Be Taken Into Custody?

Very unlikely. The court may enter a temporary detention of your child, but only where such detention appears to be necessary for the protection of your child or others, or where necessary to assure your child’s appearance at the dispositional hearing.

In most circumstances, your child will not be taken into custody, but the court may issue various temporary orders that are in the child’s best interests. It is critical for your juvenile defense attorney to emphasize to the court that it does not need to make any interim orders pending the dispositional hearing. Because your child has been on probation for an extended time and is still awaiting a trial, his or her attorney should emphasize that the conditions are sufficient or perhaps be reduced based on your child’s compliance throughout the duration of the case.

Will My Child Be Taken Into Custody After The Dispositional Hearing?

Not necessarily. The court will use the dispositional hearing to come up with a specific plan for your specific child’s needs based on the court’s findings from the adjudicatory and dispositional hearing. The judge is supposed to select the least restrictive punishment, in kind and duration, that is appropriate based on the seriousness of the offense, the degree of culpability indicated by the circumstances of the case, and the age and prior record of your child.

Judges prefer to sentence juveniles to be treated and rehabilitated through community services and resources when appropriate and available, rather than putting your child in a detention center. Your juvenile defense lawyer should do everything possible to convince the judge that your child does not belong in a detention center and to prove that a detention center is not appropriate to rehabilitate your child.

At the end of the dispositional hearing, your child will have the right to appeal the court’s decision. If an appeal may be appropriate in your child’s case based on some sort of procedural error that occurred during the hearing or because of some other legal reason, your child’s lawyer should discuss the potential for an appeal with you and your child.

Talk To An Experienced Juvenile Defense Attorney

If your child has been arrested, the first step to protect your child’s rights and ensure that their juvenile criminal charge does not have any long term impact on their life is to hire a juvenile criminal defense lawyer. Our attorneys understand that the thought of your child facing criminal charges is inevitably terrifying and stressful. This is likely the first time in your child’s life that you do not have control. However, you can take control and help your child by hiring an attorney that will help you through the process, fight for your child and who will answer each and every question about the process. The team at Barnes and Fersten Law Firm has put together this guide to help you understand the process of a juvenile delinquency case arising out of criminal charges. If you have specific questions about your child’s case, it is important to speak with an experienced Tennessee juvenile defense attorney right away.

Attorney At Law, Managing Partner

Brandon D. Fersten is an esteemed Knoxville attorney practicing DUIcriminal defense, and juvenile law. Known for his empathetic approach and commitment to his clients, he brings a record of favorable case outcomes including dismissals and not guilty verdicts at jury trials resulting in Brandon being recognized as one of the “Top 40 Under 40” in Criminal Defense, U.S. News’ Best Lawyers: “Ones to Watch,” and Super Lawyers’ “Rising Stars”. Brandon’s professional accolades, combined with his passion for justice, position him as a reliable criminal defense advocate in the East Tennessee legal landscape.