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Juvenile challenges and opportunities in the criminal justice system

| Nov 20, 2020 | Criminal Defense |

“Separate and parallel.”

That is an introductory description employed in a national legal website spotlighting the American juvenile justice system.

It is a notably succinct descriptor, obviously, but its quick depiction implies volumes of unstated information and embodies some firm assumptions.

The separate/parallel phrase underscores a key distinction, namely, that existing between dual governing systems applicable to adult offenders and minors charged with crimes, respectively.

Those are predicated on different norms and expectations, with this view concerning young offenders across Northeast Ohio and nationally being widely held by justice authorities and in the general public: Juveniles facing criminal challenges often find themselves in legal hot water owing to rash and immature behaviors, not wanton or premeditated conduct aimed at committing crime.

As such, there has always been a bedrock principle stressing rehabilitation rather than punishment when possible in juvenile criminal matters.

Most adults – and certainly parents – readily understand the rationale underlying that view. Juvenile offenders (commonly teens charged with criminal offenses) are simply not adults. Most young people are comparatively influenced by peer pressure and still-evolving mindsets that often contribute to rash and ill-reasoned conduct.

Legions of youthful offenders face potentially harsh sanctions in cases where they never intended to commit wrongdoing. Moreover, many juveniles engage in unlawful behavior without even knowing it was taboo or in instances where they materially underestimated the consequences.

Negotiating the varied and complex juvenile justice system

Many alleged criminal offenders still deemed as minors are essentially blank slates when they encounter the justice system. Notwithstanding authorities’ inclination in many instances to promote a rehabilitative rather than purely punitive result, outcomes are varied. Timely and proactive input/representation from proven and empathetic legal counsel can often materially influence the direction a case takes.

Prosecutors and courts can consider multiple and varied factors in a given juvenile case, and an experienced criminal defense attorney will ensure that all mitigating evidence is comprehensively and persuasively presented. Factors that might be stressed include the following:

  • Alleged severity of an offense
  • Offender status (e.g., evidence re prior record, school status, home environment, participation in social activities and so forth)
  • Offender’s age and gender
  • Available alternatives to formal charging and punishment (for example, counseling, victim restitution, community service and/or a relevant training program)

Young people make mistakes. They must be held accountable for them, of course, but accountability often best makes sense when it links to a real chance at rehabilitation and the promise of a positive future.