There are many misconceptions about the juvenile justice system, just as there are about the adult system.
Unfortunately, the person who pays the price for these misconceptions is the juvenile.
That juvenile is also the one with the most to lose.
Attorney Sam’s Take On What Passes For Massachusetts Criminal Justice
The goal in the criminal justice system in general is, of course, to “do justice“. But, what does that mean? Most likely, if you ask 80 different people, you are likely to get 360 different answers. It depends on the individuals’ experiences and perspectives. However, over the years, we have culled together general beliefs on what Justice should mean in a court of law. We have spent a great deal of time discussing the realities on how that all works out in adult criminal court.
What do you figure is the situation in the juvenile setting?
“Well, I would imagine that it works pretty much the same and that there is a different court because you can’t mix juvenile and adult defendants together.”
While it is true that juvenile and adult criminal defendants are supposed to be handled separately in court, this is not the only difference between juvenile and adult criminal court. In fact, the plan seems rather hopeful in the beginning. The primary issue is the fact that the defendant is a juvenile. Therefore, much attention is paid to his/her development. You know, to put them back on the right path if they have strayed from it.
“That sounds great! So my kid is more likely to get the benefit of the doubt and should emerge relatively unscathed!”
Not necessarily. You see, you now will find yourself co-parenting with a probation officer. As an added little bonus, DCF, whom we have discussed before) will likely also join in this co-parenting team. You see, your judgment is now a bit suspect. If you are happy with progress you see and your child’s probation officer is not, then the court will not be pleased with either you or your child.
“Well, my child will still be able to live with me, right? I mean, they are not going to send him to jail or anything like that?”
No, unless your child is being charged as an adult, regular jail is not likely to be a part of his case or disposition. However, there is the Department of Youth Services (“DYS”). Your child may find himself or herself in their custody. That might mean that they are supervised from home, or your child may be removed from your home to live in what will amount to a juvenile jail. There are also proceedings that can occur where DCF wants your child removed from custody altogether.
“But they are supposed to want what is best for the child, right? Isn’t it a kinder and gentler situation?”
It can be. It can also be something very different. You see, you will still have to deal with the other court participants who are not only prosecutorial-minded, but are also watching their own backsides the same way their counter-parts in adult court do.
I remind you that nobody complains that a court is “too tough” on crime…even if the defendant is a child.
“Do they take into account that this is my child’s first problem with the law?”
To some degree. Don’t expect that to save the day, though. For example, a first-timer, even if nobody was actually hurt in the case, could find themselves looking at DYS commitment. You will find that he/she will have to face punishment sometimes for not only what did happen…but what might have happened.
“I thought they wanted what was best for the child’s development”.
The term “tough love” comes to mind…one thousand-fold.
“But what if I had my child cooperate completely with the police? You know…admit everything, lead the officers to everyone involved and answered all their questions? Surely that will help him.
To some degree. Maybe. It will also hurt him because the Commonwealth will absolutely use the evidence handed to them by your child against him. I have handled some cases where, but for said cooperation, there would have been no prosecution. His cooperation became simply a footnote in the matter. A fairly small footnote.
“Other than what you just told me, are there any other penalties that I have to worry about other than the possibility of my child being taken from my home and put into DYS?”
Well, if that is not enough for you, your child’s case will remain on his CORI for quite some time. Further, if the event happened anywhere near school (and sometimes even if it has not), there may be a matter of suspension or expulsion. This all means that, when all is said and done, your child will have fairly dark black marks on his scholastic and professional future. These will come back to haunt when he tries to get additional education or any work.
Aren’t you glad that the Juvenile Justice System is primarily concerned for your child’s well-being and progression into adulthood?