December 13, 2019
In this episode, Mike discusses juvenile court including significant differences that parents and guardians should know to best support and protect the child.
Welcome to In Your Court and today we’ll focus on the important differences between juveniles and adults when being tried in court. In this episode, Mike will talk about Juvenile Court and share three things that parents and/or guardians need to know to best support their child in the process. I’m Jordan Rich and I’m pleased to be back with Mike Contant an attorney whose firm, Contant Law, specializes in criminal defense including defending juveniles.
JR: So Mike, let’s begin with an overview of what a juvenile will face, what a juvenile’s experience will be like in a criminal court how it either differs or is the same as an adult.
MC: Sure. So, the juvenile criminal process, it’s called the delinquency process is actually very similar to that of an adult process. They have all the same rights, most of the same procedures as the adult court. They both follow the same rules of procedure. Juveniles are entitled to all those same protective rights: the right against self-incrimination – I like to refer to it as the right not to tell on yourself — the right against illegal searches and seizures the ability to challenge those things. The right to have a trial before a judge or a jury if they if they choose. They also have rights to be considered innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt very similar in many cases to the adult court. Those rights are all the same rights the juvenile has and the processes is are almost identical.
JR: Okay there are a lot of implications though. People might have the wrong impression that when one turns adult that all of those charges whatever they might be my go away. That’s a misconception that people have?
MC: Absolutely. So that’s a big mistake that parents make as well as juveniles make, when they are thinking about what to do with these charges. Many any people think that the juvenile record becomes either sealed or expunged when the person turns eighteen it just somehow magically disappears. That’s not the case. In Massachusetts, the record is around essentially forever and it can follow a juvenile even into adulthood. It can affect their ability to obtain jobs in the future depending on the level of access that the employer has. It can affect their ability to get into college, affect their ability to receive financial aid, and it can definitely affect their ability to get into the military; I’ve seen many military recruiters trying to come into court to undo charges in order to get the kid into a particular branch. It can follow them into adulthood should they pick up additional criminal charges later and that juvenile record can be used against them in determining what sentence they might receive as an adult for another criminal matter. So it’s extremely serious to get out in front of these things and make sure that you’re treating it seriously in not just blowing it off because, “well, it’s just a juvenile case nothing bad can happen”.
JR: Lots of, as I say implications, so let’s talk about the role of the parents or legal guardians in the case of juvenile who’s facing charges. What do you see as their role?
MC: Their role is to help guide and support their child. I always tell parents quite simply they have a very different job than I do. Their job is to guide and protecting and to help their child become a successful person, to become a good person to become a contributing member of society. My job is simply to help them to get the least amount of punishment or quite frankly no punishment to these particular charges. In many cases the child may have actually committed the crime however, that’s not my job. My job is to make sure the prosecution proves that they did that or keep them from proving they did that in order to make sure they have the least amount of punishment possible.
JR: Well there’s a lot at stake here I think that’s the key element limit this is that could affect a young person’s life for forever
MC: Right. So the other thing is and I always have to stress this with the parents is the juvenile – the child – is my client. This the one circumstance in which a twelve- or thirteen- year-old kid has the right to order me around as the attorney so to speak. If they are smart they will listen to the advice that we’re giving them and guide them through this process. But they’re the client. Many times parents will want to overreach, again in the best interest of trying to help their own child however, they oftentimes will overstep but ultimately any major decisions that get made have to be made by the child with of course the support and guidance of the parents.
JR: Would you have a scenario an example in general terms of how doesn’t work well when a parent oversteps
MC: Sure, it confuses the situation oftentimes, we’re dealing with again, adolescents, children between the ages of twelve and eighteen. They don’t know where to turn. They want to listen to mom and dad, because they don’t want to go home and get yelled at a get in trouble for it. But they also want to listen to me because I actually have experience in the field. They get very confused very quickly. And sometimes they don’t make the best decisions under that enormous pressure that is between the two forces there and so ultimately a parent who may have no legal training and may have no experience in this either could get their child in certain circumstances to make a quite frankly a poor legal decision.
JR: Mike, we know that the ages twelve to eighteen in Massachusetts that legal definition of juvenile doesn’t necessarily correspond in other states that way though.
MC: It does not
JR: Okay. And the question that people probably have as I do is, what if under the age of twelve an individual commits some kind of crime or is accused of something what happens then?
MC: There is no punishment in the juvenile court a criminal charge cannot be brought against that person. Oftentimes there’s other mechanisms through the juvenile court that can be used. There is what they call a child requiring assistance petition that can be filed. The child can be provided services by the courts, such as counseling. If it’s bad enough they can be removed from the home and put into a group home setting. However, as far as a criminal record or criminal punishment there’s nothing that can be done.
JR: As an attorney who specializes in this area, I mean working with adults working with young people is different. Tell me in your own experience.
MC: It is different. But I will say I will stress one thing,
I stepped in the juvenile court after being an attorney for about five years. I
had never dealt with a juvenile case before. First time in I realized the similarities
in the system and I also realized,
“You know what? The kids have the same rights and I want to treat them the same I want to give them the same respect as I give any adult client.” So we have to, you know understand that they are children but at the same time not talk down to them you have to be straight forward with them.
JR: So, your job is, along with defending someone, is educating both that individual and their parents or guardian because the whole mess of stuff that people get themselves into and it’s very confusing and a lot of fear involved
MC: Of course. Fear and stress goes hand in hand with everything we do so we have to educate both the parents and the juvenile’s as to exactly what’s happening in the case that we have to make sure they understand everything that’s going on to make sure that they’re comfortable with it.
JR: Can you just speak to something we’re going to be focusing on in another podcast, that’s Miranda Rights. Very quick definition would be great to start and then I guess the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, as you point out to me, has put in safeguards in the case of a juvenile waving such rights. And we’re gonna do a whole podcast on this because it’s so important but what are the Miranda Rights in general and how are juveniles being affected.
MC: Most people understand the Miranda Rights from TV. You know everyone’s heard someone get … seen someone get arrested and hear that you have the right to remain silent, that you have the right to have an attorney, you have the right to have the attorney present during any questioning. You have the right to stop questioning at any time. Those are the basic Miranda rights and they’re meant and to make sure that someone doesn’t confess to the police without being properly advised of their rights in the situation. It goes hand in hand with the Fifth Amendment and the right against self-incrimination or as again I like to refer to it the right not to tell on yourself.
JR: And in the case of Massachusetts any changes in the law that people should know about that have affected juveniles.
MC: It’s less of a recent change, however, in addition to just being read those rights, juveniles have additional safeguards put into place. In if a child is under the age of fourteen it’s required that they consult the parent prior to waiving those rights. Police can’t just go pull a kid out of school and start questioning them if they’re say thirteen years old. Between the ages of fourteen and eighteen the better practice they say is that a parent should be present and the juvenile should have the opportunity to consult about what the rights are and whether or not they should waive those rights. And the only time it’s going to be allowed in court if that didn’t occur, is if the police can demonstrate that the person has a very high level of sophistication or experience in the court system.
JR: Okay. In summary then we’re talking about a very serious time in a young person’s life family involved maybe school, I mean there are a lot of moving parts. If people are concerned, confused and have questions obviously they can reach out to you but why is it so critical for anyone in this position to have the kind of expert help that they are going to need?
MC: Again, I look at it like this: most children and many adults are short-sighted, okay. They don’t, they can’t see beyond their own face sometimes, particularly children. Most kids don’t think about anything more than what’s going on that weekend and playing with their friends. So they don’t think about protecting themselves. They don’t think about how this case is going to affect them five, ten, fifteen or twenty years down the line. It’s very important because it can have long-reaching effects and I like to come in to be that guide and say, “Hey listen, you may not, you may want to do what the easiest thing is now and that could mean getting on probation or taking some sort of a plea and that’s gonna end things quickly, but it could come back to hurt you later on and you have a good case here. We want to see what we can do to make sure you have a better sentence or no sentence at all.
JR: Well, Mike as we’ve discussed, this could be a critical moment in someone’s life and it’s important to get professional, sound legal advice from someone who really knows what he or she is doing.
MC: That’d be the best advice.
JR: All right. Mike, thank you as always.
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