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The Parent's Role in Juvenile Court

Throughout my years as a juvenile defense attorney in Tampa, FL, many parents have asked me about the role a parent plays in the criminal accusation proceeding in juvenile court. Outside of the criminal justice and delinquency system, parents have the sole decision making authority for the child when it comes to important matters impacting the child's health or legal rights.

In juvenile court, however, the child ultimately makes the final decision. Although the parent and child are usually in agreement about the best course of action, this article discusses possible conflicts that can sometimes arise in these cases. This article also explains what parents can do to help their child make the best decisions to resolve their case under the best possible terms.


How Can a Parent Help Their Child in Juvenile Court?

The parent is required to appear with the child for all court appearances. The parent will often help the child make decisions on how their case should be resolved or what strategy the criminal defense attorney should use when fighting the charges. 

The parent can also help their child understand the immediate and long term consequences of the case, especially when the child might be facing adjudications of delinquency in juvenile court. The criminal defense attorney, with the help of the parents, can explain the consequences of juvenile delinquency court at each stage of the case. Those stages of the case can include consent decrees, adjudicatory hearings or admissions colloquies.

The parent should also help the child understand the direct and collateral consequences that might apply depending on how the case is resolved. The collateral sanctions apply by operation of law even when they are never mentioned by the court at the sentencing hearing. The parent should also help the child understand any discretionary disqualifications that might come into play in the future.


The Role of a Criminal Defense Attorney in Juvenile Court

When it comes to the role of a criminal defense attorneys the 2001 Selected Standards of Profession Responsibility provides:

As a representative of clients, a lawyer performs various functions. As an adviser, a lawyer provides clients with an informed understanding of the client's legal rights and obligations and explains their practical implications.

As advocates, a lawyer zealously assert the client's position under the rules of the adversary system.

As negotiator, a lawyer seeks a result advantageous to the client but consistent with requirements of honest dealing with others.

A lawyers acts as an evaluator by examining a client's legal affairs and reporting about them to the client or to others.

The role of the criminal defense attorney in a juvenile case was discussed in the Supreme Court decision, In re Gault, 387 U.S. 1 (1967) which granted every child the right to an attorney in a juvenile delinquency case. The Supreme Court held that children are entitled to the assistance of an attorney whenever they are charged in juvenile court with committing criminal acts.

"A proceeding where the issue is whether the child will be found to be 'delinquent' and subjected to the loss of his liberty for years is comparable in seriousness to a felony prosecution. Therefore, the child needs the assistance of a criminal defense attorney to deal with the direct and indirect consequences of the arrest and prosecution, investigate the facts, talk to witnesses, obtain due process, and help the child present a defense or mitigation at trial or a sentencing hearing. The juvenile "requires the guiding hand of counsel at every step in the proceeding against him." Id. at 36.


The Role of the Parent in Juvenile Court

A parent places an important role in the proceedings as well. In the Gault decision, the United States Supreme Count found:

"...constitutional due process strictures, ethical mandates, and juvenile justice standards all underscore the fact that it is the child, not the parent, who is the client and decision maker... It is the juvenile, not the parent or guardian, who faces a potential loss of liberty at the pretrial detention and disposition stages of the proceeding... It is the juvenile, therefore, who possesses a fundamental due process right to legal representation."

In those rare cases in which the parent and the child disagree on what action the child should take in the juvenile court case, it is the attorneys duty to be loyal to the wishes of the child and defer to the child's decision making authority, regardless of whether the child's parent has paid the attorney or is contributing to the legal costs.


Conflicts between the Parent's the Child's Wishes in Juvenile Court

In certain cases, the parent might want an outcome that is opposed by the child. Sometimes, one or both of the parents are the alleged victims in the case. This explanation of the role of the criminal defense attorney, the child, and the parent can be helpful in those cases.

At the Sammis Law Firm, we represent juveniles charged with criminal offenses. These cases are always difficult, especially when the child and the parent do not see eye to eye on the way the case should be resolved. The child and the child's attorney should always consult with the parents.

Often the child relies completely on the parent's wishes. Having a criminal defense attorney working with the parents is almost always the best solution. But when a conflict exists, it is important for the parent to understand the limitation on their decision making authority in this one area of the child's life.


Last updated by on Friday, August 18, 2017.