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Juvenile Crimes and the Criminal Justice System

Unless an attorney intervenes, juvenile criminal records follow defendants forever.

Contrary to popular myth, the state does not automatically seal or expunge juvenile criminal records when former offenders turn 18. These crimes have long-lasting consequences. Most people assume a juvenile criminal conviction is a tip-of-the-iceberg matter. If police arrest the offender and prosecutors pursue the matter, they would probably have several previous brushes with the law that went unrecorded.

Aside from the forum, a juvenile criminal case is not much different from an adult court criminal case. So, as outlined below, several defenses are available in juvenile criminal matters. A good Fort Worth juvenile defense lawyer develops these defenses and then uses them at trial, or more likely during plea negotiations, to successfully resolve a juvenile criminal matter and minimize or eliminate the long-term damage that such records cause.

The Pretrial Process

An effective defense begins long before defendants appear before judges. A Fort Worth juvenile defense lawyer must investigate these cases to develop defenses.

Procedural defenses are very common in criminal cases. Officers often bully suspects into giving statements in obvious violation of their Fifth Amendment rights. The law clearly states that officers cannot interrogate suspects in custody without first apprising them of their rights.

“Custody” does not mean arrest or handcuffing. People are in custody when they do not reasonably feel free to leave. Most children do not feel free to leave when they see officers approaching. Furthermore, the Fifth Amendment itself is very broad. Children need not pose for pictures or appear in lineups.

Furthermore, the burden of proof is high in criminal cases. Usually, a credible eyewitness must testify as to all aspects of the offense. Circumstantial evidence, by itself, usually is not good enough.

Usually, to properly evaluate a case, a lawyer delays the proceedings as much as possible. Delay also hurts the party with the burden of proof, which is the state. As time passes, evidence deteriorates. Delays are frustrating for everyone, but they’re a necessary part of the pretrial process.

Resolving a Juvenile Criminal Case

Most juvenile criminal cases settle out of court. If the state’s evidence is weak or a defense could apply, the plea bargain usually includes a charge or punishment reduction.

Prosecutors often offer one-step reductions (felony to Class A/B misdemeanor or Class A/B misdemeanor to Class C misdemeanor). A/B misdemeanors do not have the same collateral effects as felonies, and Class C misdemeanors are basically traffic tickets. Assault is a good example, This offense has three levels: aggravated (felony), ordinary (Class A), and ABC (assault by contact, a Class C misdemeanor).

Pretrial diversion is a common punishment reduction. Prosecutors basically suspend the case while the defendant performs community service and completes other program requirements, such as a substance abuse evaluation. If the defendant successfully completes the program, prosecutors dismiss the case.

As mentioned, the state does not automatically seal juvenile criminal records. However, an attorney can usually obtain this relief if the defendant meets minimum qualifications and convinces a judge that the criminal offense was a one-off mistake. Before and after arguments (I hung around some bad people that I no longer associate with) are usually compelling.

Rely on a Hard-Working Tarrant County Juvenile Defense Lawyer

Juvenile convictions have serious, long-term consequences. For a free consultation with an experienced Fort Worth criminal law attorney, contact the Law Office of Kyle Whittaker. We routinely handle matters throughout North Texas.