Tips for Families on Selecting the Right Juvenile Defense Attorney

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Most adults, let alone juveniles, do not know what to expect when they enter the criminal justice system. With their limited experience, a juvenile and their parents can feel devastated by an arrest. When they get the call that their child has been placed under arrest, some parents will enter a highly protective mode while others may be angry at the child, the authorities or anyone else involved in the case.

Meanwhile, juveniles in custody must withstand the behavior of the adults around them in addition to the powerful emotions they feel. Both parties need guidance to take the next step: finding an appropriate defense attorney.

Parents need to understand how the court defines the term juvenile in their particular child’s case and the differences between a juvenile lawyer and one who defends adults. They need to know what to look for in a juvenile lawyer and where to find one suitable for their situation.

The term juvenile is used to refer to a person below a specific age. In the United States, people under the age of 18 are usually considered juveniles. Once a person surpasses that age, he or she will be charged as an adult.

Juveniles, according to law, are not considered capable of committing a criminal offense. However, there may be exceptions to the law depending on their age and severity of the crime committed. Criminal charges can cause difficulty for a juvenile in multiple areas, such as completing school, getting a job and being accepted into college.

It is critical to find the right type of attorney to help the juvenile avoid repeating the offense and suffering the consequences listed above.

A juvenile attorney has expertise in juvenile legal matters and has been licensed by the federal and state government to represent juvenile cases in court and in front of other legal bodies.

Juvenile law has a set of criteria for handling juvenile cases, rights, punishments and other legal issues. However, unlike other branches of legal practice, most juvenile law is theoretical and abstract both in content and form. The lack of concrete guidelines can make juvenile law difficult to comprehend by most adults.

Characteristics of a qualified juvenile attorney

While selecting a juvenile attorney, you should begin with the basics.

  • Is the attorney board certified in juvenile law?
  • Has the attorney ever been sanctioned for misconduct by the state bar association?
  • Is there negative publicity associated with the attorney?
  • Does the attorney enjoy the good opinion of peers and clients?

Once you have answered these questions, you are ready to move on to the next phase of selecting an appropriate attorney. You should now consider the experience, knowledge and reputation of each juvenile lawyer before retaining one.

Experience: Due to the theoretical nature of juvenile law, as opposed to case law for adults, experience plays a prominent role in determining the quality of a juvenile lawyer.

Knowledge: Experience isn’t everything, however. A good juvenile lawyer also requires a good educational foundation as well as lessons learned through handling previous cases. An attorney who has handled juvenile cases has valuable intelligence surrounding juvenile court:

  • The consequences of conviction to the juvenile
  • The tendencies and character of judges
  • Common strategies and tactics of prosecutors
  • Availability of treatments, programs and options other than incarceration.

A knowledgeable juvenile lawyer understands how to protect the client’s record and keep the juvenile out of the prison system whenever possible.

Reputation: Reputations are earned. A knowledgeable, experienced lawyer may need the strength of a solid reputation to get the best outcome for the client. An attorney’s reputation can be found through a review of previous cases and the testimony of past clients.

Once you are ready to speak with an attorney, get all the facts of the case, including the juvenile’s history and any other relevant information. Each attorney has his or her own requirements about how to provide legal assistance and advice. Use the specifics of the case to guide the best selection of an attorney to save on consultation fees.

Findlaw has an excellent questionnaire to use when consulting with attorneys to determine the best lawyer for your case and to learn the estimated fees for that law firm. It contains questions regarding the attorney’s history with your specific concern and other information you will need to make the best selection for your case.

Where to find juvenile lawyers

Word of mouth is often the best testimonial for a juvenile attorney. If a friend, relative or acquaintance has consulted a juvenile lawyer, ask for a recommendation including why they believe the attorney is a good selection for your case. You can learn about the lawyer’s style, personality and method of working more easily from someone who has been there.

Ask for references and contact them. The responses you get can tell you whether this attorney has the client’s best interests in mind. Just as with friends, references should be able to talk about a lawyer’s experience, knowledge and reputation.

If you know of no one who has retained a juvenile lawyer, or if you wish to keep the case confidential, there are other ways of finding and retaining an attorney.

  • Search the Yellow Pages and online.
  • Reach out to your state bar association, the court or a nonprofit organization that works with troubled youth.
  • Look for online directories of attorneys specializing in juvenile defense cases.
  • Visit juvenile court where you can observe the defense attorneys at work or speak to one outside the courtroom.
  • Visit the court clerk to ask whether a defense lawyer has juvenile law experience.

Local and regional nonprofit centers concerned with juvenile justice may have a list of recommended attorneys for you to choose from.

Finding a qualified juvenile lawyer to handle a case is similar to finding a defense attorney for any other type of matter. While it is crucial for the attorney to be board certified and to have a good reputation, experience and knowledge weigh just as heavily in your decision.

Juvenile law is a highly specialized and theoretical branch of law. You need to find someone who is comfortable defending a client under these circumstances.

Attorney Matthew Sharp practices criminal defense in Houston.

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