“Your Son’s Been Arrested.” (Now What?)

kid in handcuffsFirst the good news:  The 1.6 million juvenile arrests in 2010 — about 4,800 for every 100,000 children under age 18 — represents a 21% decline from 2001, and an even more dramatic drop from 1996, when there were about 8,500 arrests for every 100,000 children.  Many police departments and prosecutors now support station adjustments or diversion programs to try to minimize the long-term impact of a child’s involvement in juvenile court.  And our friend Judge Ciavarella of the infamous CASH-FOR-KIDS SCANDAL will never again decide the fate of an arrested child.

Now the bad news (beyond the fact that your child was just arrested — sorry about that):  Your child’s involvement in juvenile court can have repercussions lasting far beyond the end of any sentence he or she may receive.  As  much as we may want our kids to cooperative with adults — and as much as kids may think that telling adults what they seem to want to hear will get them out of a jam more quickly (which is why kids are notorious for making false confession), it doesn’t always work out that way.  You and your child should base your decisions with full knowledge of your rights, and understanding the potential consequences of your decisions,  The COLLATERAL CONSEQUENCES of a delinquency adjudication (a criminal conviction) can be severe and last long after the sentence has been completed:  preventing a return to school, harming future employment or professional licensing prospects, evictions, risking immigration status, losing driving privileges or perhaps even lifetime registration on a public offender list.

So what to do?  A REPORT prepared by the Children and Family Justice Center of Northwestern University Law School and the Illinois Children’s Mental Health Partnership — NOT to be a substitute for competent and affordable legal representation you should get (and the report provides links to legal and other resources, and lists questions you can ask of your attorney) — identifies the following rights and steps:

1,  Before An Arrest:  It’s been estimated that over 70% of children in the juvenile justice system have mental health issues.  Pro-actively reaching out for counseling, knowing where to call a crisis-intervention hotline or hospital in an emergency, and pursuing special services (see our prior post, SERVING OUR SPECIAL NEEDS KIDS: THE IEP) could help.  If a child’s behavior problems are caused by mental illness or there is medicine for sever behavior problems, alerting the police in advance, or telling the 911 dispatcher in an emergency, may increase your chances that the police will understand that your child’s actions could be caused by illness.

2.  Your Child’s Rights:  If arrested, your child has a right to remain silent, to a lawyer, to talk to a parent or guardian and to know why he or she is being held.  Your child should give his or her name, date of birth, address and how to reach a parent or guardian — and should tell the police that they do not want to talk until they have had an opportunity to talk to you.

3.  Your Rights:  Parents and guardians have a right to be notified of their child’s arrest or detention, a right to know why and where their child is being held, and a right to a lawyer for their child.  (The attorney, by the way, is your child’s lawyer, not yours).

4.  At The Police Station:  Tell the police you want to be allowed to see your child right away.  Don’t discuss what happened with your child (the discussion could be recorded) and don’t tell your child to tell the police what happened, even if he or she is innocent of any crime.  (Police are allowed to say things that are not true to try to get your child to talk).

5.  Police Options:  The police may issue a warning, issue an informal station adjustment (warning the child to improve his behavior), a formal station adjustment (a record is made and the police can set rules for the child to follow to keep the case out of juvenile court), or facilitate a police diversion (in which the child agrees to certain conditions such as counseling or drug treatment instead of going to juvenile court).  Alternatively, the police can issue a formal complaint and the case will proceed to juvenile court.

6.  In Juvenile Court:  Be on time.  Dress neatly (cover the tattoos and take off the jewelry).  Turn cell phones off.  Listen carefully.  Stay calm and respectful (rude or belligerent behavior will not help).  Juvenile court proceedings are supposed to be confidential, and open only to family members, court employees, crime victims and a few select others approved by the court.

7.  The Prosecutor:  The prosecuting attorney can determine that there is not enough evidence to proceed and dismiss the case, or decide to handle the case with a probation adjustment — setting conditions which, if followed, will result in a dismissal of charges.  Alternatively, the prosecutor can pursue charges through a juvenile petition.

8.  Pre-Trial Proceedings:  The judge will decide whether your child can go home, will be confined to home with electronic monitoring, or sent to a shelter, a residential treatment center or remain in juvenile detention until trial.  The judge may offer court supervision, potentially the last chance to have the charges dismissed.  The case could also be transferred to adult criminal court if the child is over a certain age and the charges are serious enough.

9.  The Trial, Sentencing and Beyond.  Your child has a right to a trial and, absent a plead agreement, the “adjudication hearing” will be held, after which the judge will determine guilt.  When a child is found guilty, the court holds a disposition hearing, where the judge will review a probation office’s social investigation report (another chance for you to tell the probation officer about any mental illness, substance abuse or other issues the court should consider).  The judge may place your child on probation, and if a condition of probation is violated, incarcerate your child.  If your child pleads or is found guilty, he or she also could be sent to a residential treatment center, a juvenile detention center or a youth prison operated by the state. Children sent to youth prison operated by the State of Illinois potentially can be held until they reach the age of 21.  Children found guilty have a right to appeal within 30 days of sentencing.

10.  Resources.  There are many statewide and local resources for mental health counseling, to provide legal assistance for those who cannot afford it, and — hopefully — to expunge your child’s arrest records (something we will cover in a future post).  Links to the report referenced on THIS WEBSITE will steer you to some of those resources.

Coming soon:  other challenges, resources, expunging arrest records and other opportunities.  Stay safe.

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