There’s a war going on in the North Carolina criminal justice system, and children are on the front lines.

The juvenile justice system in the United States began in 1899, with the idea that separating children from adult offenders would have the potential to rehabilitate young people early on. Instead of exposing children to adult penitentiaries and hardened criminals, the youth justice system was intended to help teenagers remodel their lives productively.

Court decisions in the 1960's set this policy on a sound legal footing. Children were not to be treated as property, courts agreed, but as young citizens deserving some due process rights.

Over the last twenty years or so, our society has soured on the notion of using the justice system to rehabilitate. American voters want punishment. Politicians have been only too happy to oblige that demand. Laws now require longer prison sentences and offer fewer options for parole.

The public’s fear of criminals has even begun to creep into juvenile procedures. The public believes that the juvenile justice system has failed to deal with violent crime and repeat offenders. They want a “get tough” approach for teens that mirrors the punishment given in the adult justice system. More and more often, the law diverts young people out of the more compassionate juvenile justice system and into the harshly punitive adult criminal courts.

North Carolina provides a perfect example.

Rule One when your child is arrested: Keep the case out of adult courts

The juvenile justice system in North Carolina does not offer kids the full legal rights they would receive as adults. Specifically, juveniles are not granted the following rights:

  • The right to bail

  • The right to trial by jury

  • The right to a speedy trial

  • The right to represent oneself in court

However, if the juvenile’s case is transferred to a North Carolina adult criminal court, the teenaged criminal defendant will regain all those legal rights automatically. That’s not something you want to happen. If your child is prosecuted as an adult, he can receive an extended prison sentence and a permanent criminal record.

Young people do retain certain key legal rights within the North Carolina juvenile justice system, including:

  • The right to remain silent and not answer questions

  • The right to have a parent, guardian, or custodian present during questioning

  • The right to consult with an attorney and to have an attorney appointed to the case at no charge

Making the best use of your child’s right to an attorney

Your child does not have to accept a court-appointed attorney. As a concerned parent, you can hire an experienced North Carolina criminal defense lawyer to represent your child’s interests in juvenile proceedings, family court, or criminal court.

You should be aware at the outset that the confidentiality relationship between a lawyer and client will exclude you, to an extent. You should not expect to participate in—or even be present for—all conferences between your child and the attorney, nor will the lawyer always tell you afterward what was said in those conferences.

A legal defense for a juvenile in North Carolina should make every effort to keep the case out of the adult criminal justice system. If that is not possible, then your child’s defense attorney should work to minimize the possible impact of a conviction in criminal court. Your New Hanover County defense attorney should actively seek to have charges dismissed and felony charges reduced to misdemeanors.

At Speaks Law Firm, we don’t think that a teenage misjudgment should bring a lifetime of punishment. Our Wilmington juvenile crime lawyers are known for superior skills in negotiating with prosecutors and juvenile court officials in getting the best possible outcomes for our clients. Call 877-593-4233 today to learn how our legal team can help you and your child avoid the worst consequences of a criminal record.


R. Clarke Speaks
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Trial Lawyer and Founder of Speaks Law Firm, P.C.
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