gotten up two minutes earlier I would have caught the little weasel in the act.
was, I looked out my kitchen window just in time to see our troubled 16 year old Matt drive away in our treasured 1999 Camaro.
It was .
launched on a journey through the courts and left with lots of questions. I decided to do my homework and make the answers
available to you. After all, we work with traumatized kids. They’re likely to get into trouble at some point. And that
leads to traumatized adults…US.
treated like adults in the justice system. First, a juvenile isn’t “arrested.” He’s “detained.”Matt told us he had run away to “find himself.” We asked him if he found
himself at PlatteValleyDetentionCenter. Second, juvenile cases are heard in front of
a judge only in family court.Third, juveniles are not convicted of crimes; they
are adjudicated.Fourth, in most cases
juveniles will be given into their parents’ custody without actual bond.
are three ways a juvenile might wind up in court. You are probably familiar with the first: DEPENDENCY AND NEGLECT. That’s the way most of these children
came to live with us—their parents were charged with dependency and neglect and the kids were removed from the home.
I’m not going to address that one as the only obligation you may have in court is to bring the child. The second way
a minor might end up in the legal system is as a STATUS OFFENSE CASE. This means runaways, and those children who have gotten
so hard to handle that their parents have lost the ability to control them. Third, a child may be in court as a DELINQUENT.
That means he is accused of offenses which would be charged as crimes if he was an adult.
STATUS OFFENSE CASES:
A runaway child.
ran away from home when she was fourteen. There was a family disagreement and she told us she was going to go hang out with
some friends until she calmed down. When she didn’t come home that evening, we were worried, but not panicked. We figured
she was with her friend and so, safe. BUT WE DIDN’T HAVE THAT FRIEND’S PHONE NUMBER OR PARENT’S LAST NAME
SO WE COULDN’T CHECK UP ON HER.
hadn’t returned home by mid-morning the next day, my husband Charlie went down to the police station (or as we call
it here in our small town, the “cop shop”) to report her as a run away. While he was filling out the papers, the
phone rang. The officer who answered it told Charlie it was our daughter. She had turned herself in after spending a sleepless,
frightened night in the park…the Greeley, Colorado Park 170 miles away from home. Our daughter wanted to come home.Charlie
drove to Greeley
and picked her up.
to know if your child is picked up as a run away are:
Running away is not a crime. Police will pick up your child and return him or her to you…not
to a detention center. UNLESS the child is a habitual run away.
Although there is no 24 hour waiting period for reporting missing persons under age 18, police don’t
have to start searching for a run away immediately. The only children who pose a critical situation for them are kids under
thirteen and those with mental disabilities.
Social Services may get involved. A habitual run away may be put in out-of-home placement.A judge may mandate that your child have counseling, or that your family have counseling.It is a good thing to set up the counseling on your own, before a judge gets involved. Call your local
community mental health center (many of our kids are already on Medicaid, so you won’t have to worry about the cost.
Other children who are not on that program will qualify for a sliding “ability-to-pay scale” through a community
mental health center, but not through a private counselor) to get an appointment.
Beyond Parental Control:
This one can be pretty subjective. It includes
kids who drop out of school, run around with bad crowds and get involved with questionable and/or dangerous activities. You
have to prove you have lost control and are not just trying to abdicate your responsibilities. And if you are successful,
custody may be assumed by the Department of Child services and the child put in foster care. This is a tough step to take,
but one that—in the long run—may be the best for both of you. Beyonders don’t need that kind of stress.
What to expect:
Your child will usually be detained. This means placed in a juvenile
facility until he can be arraigned. There must be a court hearing within 48 hours. A judge will decide whether to release
him into your custody or to detain him in the facility until a formal hearing. The judge may recommend your child take part
in a community program with counseling, monitoring, public service, etc. or he may refer him to the juvenile court.
In most cases the child will be released to you with no bond.
Remember Matt and the stolen Camaro? The judge sent us to an office for the SB94 program.
This is a Colorado bill which provides for monitoring of offenders without incarcerating them. It involves holding them to conduct standards
(school, counseling, medications, curfews and home rules) and maybe using an ankle monitor to keep track of their location.
put on an ankle monitor and placed under home detention for the next two weeks. He was given a little black box to attach
to our telephone. They told Matt that as soon as he got home he should plug the box in and experiment with it: have someone
watch the monitor as he walked away from the house in all directions to give him an idea of how far he could go from the monitor
before the light changed from green to yellow.
paged his case manager whenever he got out of that range. It would take over the telephone line with a series of loud beeps
and any other call would be interrupted.
the case manager allowed Matt to leave the house, but he had to be home by on weekdays and by on weekends. And every time he left or came home, that infernal machine
took the phone over.
If he is referred to the juvenile court, another court date will be set…usually within 10 days. At that time, you will be advised of the charges that are being made against your child
and given the opportunity to ask for a court appointed lawyer.
the thing about public defenders. YOU ARE NOT GOING TO GET JAMES WOODS. Woods plays the high profile lawyer Shark on his TV show of the same name. You are not going to get a
high profile lawyer with years of experience and sage advice. You are going to get a young kid fresh out of law school who
probably will be so overwhelmed with the number of cases that have been shoveled off onto him he won’t even look up
from his manila folder to greet you. He probably won’t know what you look like the next time he sees you and he certainly
won’t know squat about your case. He will take you aside minutes before your case is called and talk to you about it.
AND he won’t remember what he told you.
your child committed serious crimes (sexual offenses, major theft, etc.) it isn’t a real problem. Again, the norm prevails.
Most of the charges will probably be dropped; he will enter a guilty plea to the rest and receive probation, possibly with
Useful Public Service hours and a fine. But you won’t find this out until later, so pretend I didn’t tell you.
When you go to court: You may not be able to bring your cell phone
into the courthouse. Some courthouses don’t allow cameras either. So it’s a good idea to lock these items in your
car. You will probably have to pass through a metal detector so take that into account when you dress for the day. Dress neatly
and comfortably…forget the three-inch heels.
You will be given a time to be there. This is probably not the time your case will
be heard. It is your docket time. There will usually be a few other cases assigned
to the same time and the judge will call them in the order they’re listed on the docket
sheet posted just outside the courtroom. And courts usually run late.
inside the courtroom is limited, so you will most probably wait outside in a hall or waiting area until close to your docket
time. Bring reading material.
time before the judge may be less than a minute. This depends upon your attorney’s preparedness. If he asks for a continuance
(again, the norm) and the judge grants it, you won’t even speak.BUT A
PARENT MUST ACCOMPANY A JUVENILE TO COURT. THIS IS BECAUSE YOU ARE A CO-RESPONDENT. Parents may be held liable for their child’s behavior, including financial debts
incurred because of the crime.
If your case isn’t settled at this point, another court date will be set. The prosecution may offer a plea bargain (the thing I mentioned earlier and said to pretend I didn’t tell you.)
This, too, is the norm. Some courts even run these cases through in batches.
All the defendants sit together ( we were in the jury box) and the judge reads the info which pertains to all of the kids
at one time, then addresses each about their particulars. If the charges are very minor (I was surprised…simple assault…fighting…is
a minor offense) the judge may sentence your child at that time. If not, he or she will be referred for a PSI…a pre-sentencing investigation.
The PSI has several parts. One is a profile questionnaire
your child will fill out which asks things like “have you ever passed out after drinking?” and then a qualifier
like “1-3 times, 4-7 times, 7-10 times, more than 10 times.
asks questions like “Do you ever hear voices no one else hears?” They’re
not talking MP3 players here.
part of the PSI is
an interview with you, the parent. This is your opportunity to explain your kid’s probable responses to his interview.
(Matt responded to the passing out question saying he had passed out after drinking more than 10 times. He said that he had
sold drugs. That he used drugs. I explained to the interviewer that he had done these things while he was still with his birth
family, before he was taken away from them, when he was 8! I told her my family didn’t even drink.)
is a financial questionnaire to determine your capability to pay any fines and fees assessed. (They
can assess a fee for monitoring your child during probation.)
The PSI will be used to determine your child’s
sentence. Although the plea bargain is pretty standard, the judge has some leeway in sentencing.
Department (the department responsible for doing the PSI) will make recommendations.
Probation may include regular visits to the probation department office (in our case it is a 100 mile round-trip at $4 plus a gallon gasoline) curfews, requirements to attend school and
even to maintain a certain average. He may have to do Useful Public Service
work for the city or county such as weeding along a road or washing police cars.) Your
child may be required to get and hold a job so that he can pay restitution if it is ordered. He (read: you) will have to ask
permission to go out of state or to stay overnight anywhere besides your home. Your child may be mandated to attend counseling,
too. And he will be ordered to stay away from questionable companions and to keep from breaking any laws during the probation
period. He may not be allowed to have any firearms (anything that discharges something) so even hunting and paint balling
may be out of the question. Note: If the crime took place in a county besides the one where you reside, you may need to ask
for a change of venue so that a probation department nearer to your home may supervise your child.
these requirements depend upon the structure of the probation system where the offense took place and upon available resources
(such as youthful offenders programs.) And counties vary in what they can offer. Remember the SB94 program I mentioned? That
is a Colorado
bill. Not every state can offer that. Nor does every county have job and education resources.
You need to accompany
your child to all legal meetings. This includes intake, meetings with juvenile court people and juvenile diversionary program
people, probation staff meetings, and ALL COURT APPEARANCES. In most states, you may be listed as a “Co-respondent” and so must be
present. And judges take parental involvement with their children into account when considering cases. But even if you are
not required to attend, think about the incredible bonding opportunity this presents. This child’s parents failed in
their responsibility to protect and nurture him. They didn’t, or were unable to, stand by him when he needed them. BUT
YOU CAN. This message is VERY POWERFUL:
I hate what you did, but I love you. I am committed to you and I am here
for you, even though you acted foolishly. You can count on me.
I don’t know about
your experiences, but almost all of the foster children who have passed through our home have NOT been able to count on the adults in their lives. They’ve learned not even to ask. Your involvement with
them will speak volumes.
What if your
child is tried as an adult? Juvenile cases differ from adult cases in several
ways. Kids aren’t arrested, they’re detained. They aren’t convicted,
they’re adjudicated of delinquent acts, not crimes. Their cases are not heard
in front of a jury and the sentencing is intended to rehabilitate, not punish.
But if a child is older, or commits a very serious act, he or she may be treated as
an adult and tried in adult court. Juvenile courts usually hear cases involving persons up to age 18. ( And children
below the age of 10 are usually considered too young to commit a crime and so aren’t held legally culpable.) In some
states, even children under 18 who are charged with crimes like murder, rape or crimes committed with a handgun may be prosecuted
as an adult. This is largely up to the District Attorney, although a judge may override and send the case to juvenile court.
If your child is tried as an adult, all fifth amendment rights pertain to him: right of speedy trial, trial by jury, right
to question accusers, etc. IT IS IMPERATIVE THAT YOU HAVE LEGAL REPRESENTATION.
If your child is charged with a more serious
offense, or if this is not his first offense, he may be sentenced to a juvenile detention center. Some of these facilities
are like a college campus, with restrictions. Others, however are very confining. “Boot camps” are confrontational
and stricter than most adult jails. A judge will usually try to make the best fit for your child.
If your child was tried as an adult, he
may be sentenced to one of these juvenile facilities until he is eighteen, then transferred to serve out the remainder of
his sentence in an adult prison.
AGAIN, IF YOUR CHILD COMMITS AN ILLEGAL
OFFENSE, IT DOES NOT MEAN YOU ARE A BAD PARENT. It means you have volunteered to take a
“throw-away kid “ who came to you already hard-wired to mistrust, to lie, perhaps to steal and to consider violence
an acceptable means to an end. Or it could simply mean that you have a good kid who made a mistake. In either case, it is
NOT the child’s offense that defines you. It is your response to the offense. Good parents always rise to the top.