Juvenile Criminal Defense
If your child has been taken into custody, the first thing you need to know is that the juvenile justice system is designed to rehabilitate juvenile delinquents. While this may come as a relief, it’s important to understand that even juvenile offenses can have severe consequences. If adjudicated delinquent, your child may face a range of penalties up to an including detention or even a sentence to the Arizona Department of Juvenile Corrections until his or her 18th birthday.
However, because the juvenile court system is designed to rehabilitate children, there are alternatives available. These alternatives include state funded programs and other classes designed to help children get back on track at little or no expense to you. As a parent of a child facing these circumstances, it is also important to understand that you may be 100% liable for any judgments of restitution ordered against your child. This can impact your own financial resources and even your credit. If your child has been wrongfully accused, it’s important to fight back.
Naturally, you want the best possible outcome for your child and his or her future. If you find yourself facing these circumstances, the best thing you can do is find an attorney who can help walk you through the process and advocate in the best interest of your child and his or her future.
Stages of a Juvenile Criminal Case in Arizona
When a juvenile has been arrested for a criminal offense and detained by the police, the court must conduct a Detention Hearing within 24 hours to determine the juvenile’s release conditions, if any. A Juvenile Probation Officer may contact the juvenile and his or her parents to gather background information. The Juvenile Probation Officer will then make a recommendation to the court as to what type of release is appropriate based upon the information gathered. The judge may release a juvenile to the care and custody of a parent or guardian, may impose conditions of release such as house arrest and electronic monitoring, or may detain the juvenile. If the juvenile poses a threat to the community or poses a flight risk, detention is likely.
After the Detention Hearing has been completed, the court will schedule an Advisory Hearing to inform the juvenile of the charges that have been filed against him or her and his or her right to an attorney. The Advisory Hearing also acts as the first opportunity to address release conditions if a juvenile was cited and released at the scene.
A Transfer Hearing is designed to allow for oral argument regarding the prosecution’s request to transfer a juvenile into the adult court system. If your child is 14 years of age or older, he or she may be subject to transfer into the adult system depending upon his or her prior juvenile criminal history and or the nature of the offense(s) charged.
If a juvenile is transferred into adult court, he or she faces the same consequences that an adult would face if convicted. For example, if a juvenile is convicted of an Aggravated Assault with a Deadly Weapon Dangerous in adult court, he or she must be sentenced to the Arizona Department of Corrections for no less than five years.
In some instances, a juvenile who is 15 years or older may be directly filed into the adult court system without a Transfer Hearing. Any juvenile who meets the statutory requirement for a Direct File may be filed in the adult court at the sole discretion of the prosecution. It is important to talk to an attorney regarding the types of offenses that qualify for a Direct File; however, most “violent crimes” and/or crimes committed by “chronic felony offenders” qualify. Any Transfer Hearing or Direct File can have very serious consequences and should not be taken lightly.
If the case remains in the juvenile court system, a Pre-Adjudication Hearing is scheduled 45-60 days after the Advisory Hearing. This hearing is generally an opportunity for the judge to see how the juvenile has been doing on release or while in custody. It is also an opportunity to discuss the progression of the case to ensure that all the evidence has been provided to the defense. The parties may discuss plea negotiations at this stage as well.
Once the defense attorney has contacted the prosecution and negotiated a favorable plea bargain agreeable to the juvenile, he or she will schedule a Change of Plea Hearing. At the Change of Plea Hearing, the plea agreement will be entered into an accepted by the court. A plea agreement typically involves the modification of the charge(s) to a lesser or different charge in exchange for the dismissal of the higher charge(s) and may involve several rounds of negotiations. However, there is no guarantee that a plea agreement will be offered. By law, the prosecution is not required to extend an offer.
If no plea bargain can be reached, the case proceeds to a Witness Adjudication Hearing. A Witness Adjudication is equivalent to a trial in adult court, except that the facts and evidence of the case are presented to a judge who will render the final verdict. It is the prosecution’s burden to prove each and every element of the charged offense beyond a reasonable doubt to convict. A juvenile is presumed innocent until proven guilty. It found guilty of the charged offense or a lesser offense, the juvenile is said to have been “adjudicated delinquent.” If found not guilty, the case is dismissed and your child cannot be tried again for the same offense.
If a juvenile enters into a plea agreement or is adjudicated delinquent, the court will schedule a Disposition Hearing at which time the juvenile will be sentenced. At the Disposition Hearing, the court will take into consideration the recommendations of the probation department, the prosecution, and the defense attorney. The judge will also consider the facts and circumstances surrounding the charged offense, the juvenile’s prior criminal history, if any, and the juvenile’s behavior while on release or in detention. The judge will then impose the appropriate consequences for the juvenile which may vary greatly depending upon each individual case.
In the state of Arizona, victims of crimes have the right criminal restitution whenever there is a conviction. Restitution may include costs to repair or replace damaged or stolen property, costs associated with traveling to and from court, lost wages and medical bills. A restitution hearing is designed to allow the victim to present testimony to support his or her claim. It is also an opportunity for the defense to question the validity of the restitution claims if the claim is disputed. As a parent, you may be fully liable for any judgments or restitution rendered against your child.
If an individual wishes to fight a conviction or dispute the plea agreement as entered, he or she must file an appeal. Appeals are time sensitive and once a decision regarding appeal has been rendered, opportunity for further appeal is often limited. It is important to talk to your attorney in more detail about the appeals process if you find yourself in this situation.