Kids make poor decisions sometimes. It’s part of being a kid. But sometimes, kids make really poor decisions, and end up charged with a crime in juvenile court. So, the question many parents will ask themselves is, do I need to get my child a lawyer, like a criminal lawyer?
For most offenses, the answer is probably yes, you do need to hire a lawyer to defend your child. Many people have a false notion that juvenile offenses don’t really matter because they don’t go on your permanent record. In most states in the U.S., that’s simply not true. Juvenile offenses can have long-term consequences that can saddle your child with a record into their adulthood and can have an impact on them for the rest of their lives.
A juvenile conviction can be used against your child in determining a sentence if they are ever charged with or convicted of a crime as an adult. A juvenile conviction for a sexual offense could result in your child being placed on a sex offender registry, even into their adulthood. It could prevent them from being able to purchase or possess a gun. It could come up in a criminal background check by a school or an employer.
Also, in the short term, there can be serious consequences to your child and to you. While the juvenile system is set up to rehabilitate more than punish, there is still some punishment involved. And rehabilitation can sometimes feel a lot like punishment. Depending on the seriousness of the offense, your child or you can be required to pay fines and court costs. Your child can be removed from your home and placed into a juvenile detention facility, or even into foster care. Your child can be placed on probation and required to complete classes or drug testing, and you may be required to pay for those classes or testing.
In some cases, however, there may be a deferral program that is offered to your child upfront in order to allow them to avoid having a juvenile record. If that is the case, it may not be necessary for you to hire an attorney to represent your child in the proceeding. You should, though, consult with an attorney regarding the programs available in your state prior to attending any court hearings. You should not go into the process without an understanding of what is likely to happen to your child. At a minimum, pay to consult with a lawyer prior to going to court so that you know what is likely to happen.