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Last Updated on: 15th October 2023, 09:08 am
Being arrested as a juvenile is scary. Even more frightening is facing the legal system without an advocate who understands the unique needs of young people. Juvenile defense lawyers in Westchester County, New York provide critical legal representation to youth charged with crimes. This article will explain common juvenile charges, the juvenile justice process, key rights of minors, and how a dedicated juvenile defense attorney can help.
Westchester County prosecutes juveniles as young as 7 years old in Family Court for acts that would be crimes if committed by an adult. Common juvenile charges include:
Juveniles typically face misdemeanor charges, but can also be accused of felonies like robbery or assault. Schools often refer cases to police instead of handling discipline internally. Once a youth is charged, they enter the juvenile justice system.
Juvenile cases in Westchester County are handled in Family Court, not criminal court. However, juveniles still face probation, community service, counseling, or detention. Understanding the juvenile justice process can help families prepare an effective defense.
Police can arrest minors without a warrant if they have probable cause a youth committed a crime. After arrest, police may release the juvenile to a parent or guardian. However, they can detain a minor until a detention hearing before a Family Court judge if:
Detention centers in Westchester include Woodfield Cottage and non-secure detention at Children’s Village.
Accused youth must appear before a Family Court judge, sometimes called an “initial appearance.” The judge decides whether to release or detain the juvenile until adjudication. Judges consider factors like:
An experienced juvenile defense lawyer can advocate for pre-trial release at the initial court appearance.
The adjudication trial determines guilt or innocence on the charges. It is a bench trial – no jury – before a Family Court judge. The prosecution must prove guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt,” the same standard as adult criminal trials. Key rights for juveniles during adjudication include:
Juveniles can be found “guilty” or “not guilty” on each charge. Youth found “guilty” proceed to the disposition phase.
If found “guilty,” the court holds a disposition hearing to determine the penalty. Common juvenile dispositions include:
An experienced juvenile defense lawyer negotiates with the prosecution for the lightest consequence that rehabilitates the youth without severely disrupting education, home life, or mental health.
Though juvenile court aims to rehabilitate rather than punish, minors still have important due process rights, including:
* Youth can refuse to answer police questions during arrest or interrogation. Anything said to police can be used later in court.
* Minors have the right to a lawyer during any questioning by police or prosecutors. The court must provide an attorney if the juvenile cannot afford one.
* Juveniles enjoy the right against self-incrimination, the presumption of innocence, and the high “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard of proof at trial.
* Youth can appeal “guilty” verdicts, disposition orders, or violations of their rights. An attorney handles the appeals process.
* Juvenile records are sealed and proceedings are confidential. This prevents youthful mistakes from haunting minors throughout adulthood.
Skilled juvenile defense lawyers vigilantly protect these rights throughout the legal process.
Juvenile defense requires specialized legal skills, knowledge of child development, and passion for protecting youth. Here are key ways a dedicated juvenile lawyer can help:
Many first-time and low-level youth offenders qualify for pre-trial diversion programs like Project Fresh Start instead of traditional prosecution. Diversion provides counseling, community service, and other resources without the stigma of a conviction. An experienced juvenile attorney knows how to secure diversion for eligible minors.
Juvenile prosecutors often take a rehabilitative approach. An effective juvenile lawyer negotiates with the prosecution to minimize charges and consequences. Many cases can be resolved through plea bargains to lighter penalties like probation and counseling.
Juvenile lawyers investigate the facts, research the law, and interview witnesses to build the strongest defense. Defenses like mistaken identity, lack of proof, or self-defense may result in dropped or reduced charges.
Navigating the juvenile system is confusing and scary for kids. A dedicated juvenile attorney explains each step in a developmentally appropriate way so the minor understands what is happening.
At detention, disposition, and violation hearings, a strong juvenile lawyer argues to the judge for the youth to remain at home and in school. Zealous advocacy can prevent unnecessary detention and excessive consequences.
An experienced juvenile attorney knows how to seal juvenile records following the case so mistakes do not haunt the youth into adulthood. Sealing records allows a fresh start.
Finding a juvenile lawyer who dedicates their practice to representing minors makes all the difference. The juvenile justice system is complex, but an experienced juvenile defense attorney can guide the youth and family through the process while protecting the minor’s rights. Every accused youth deserves dedicated legal advocacy.
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