Juvenile Law is comprised of two general areas, delinquency and depravation cases. Juvenile court has authority over both of these areas, and if you face legal action related to either category, you will need a lawyer who is experienced in juvenile law to help you.
The Big Mistake You Must Avoid
One of the biggest mistakes any child or parent can make is thinking; “Why do I need an attorney? It’s only Juvenile Court.” To put it simply, some of the most important decisions concerning your children, and your rights as a parent can take place in Juvenile Court.
Yes, You Do Need an Attorney
A defendant in a delinquency case, or a parent in a deprivation or neglect case should retain a juvenile law attorney as early as possible in his or her case, whether it is during the investigation or the day before the arraignment or hearing. You always have the legal right to represent yourself, but it is often a bad idea because you’re going against a District Attorney or a Special Assistant Attorney General that is well versed with the law. Your best bet is to hire a juvenile law attorney that has specific experience defending juveniles. Juvenile law attorneys understand the juvenile court rules and procedures, which are a lot different than those in the adult court system, and the stakes can be higher than you think.
The Court’s Authority
The Federal Juvenile Delinquency Act defines juvenile delinquency (any act that is otherwise a crime, but is committed by someone under 18 years of age) and sets forth rules by which state laws must comply with regard to juvenile court procedures and punishments. Juvenile crime is called an act of “delinquency” and requires court intervention to correct the delinquency. These courts are known as juvenile courts and they have their own special rules and procedures. If a child found guilty of a juvenile law crime, they may be sent to a juvenile jail or another public institution, placed in a foster home, or returned to the parents and placed on probation or house arrest.
The juvenile court has broad authority in both juvenile delinquency and deprivation cases. In Deprivation cases, the court can remove your children from their homes, order their placement with relatives or in foster care or group homes, permanently terminate parental rights, create new parental rights, and involve various agencies, such as the Department of Family and Children Services, to provide needed services. In short, the Juvenile Court has the authority to break your family apart.
In delinquency cases, the juvenile court can also order children confined in locked facilities, such as the Youth Detention Center (jail for juveniles), youth ranches, or place them on probation with the Division of Juvenile Justice. Accused juveniles can even be transferred into adult court if the juvenile court waives or relinquishes its jurisdiction.
When the court decides to remove a child from his or her home, placement and responsibility for that child is given to a governmental agency. In delinquency and status offense cases, that agency is the probation department; in abuse and neglect cases, the agency is the Department of Family and Children Services. The agency is then responsible for meeting the health and educational needs of the child, as well as providing the care, treatment, and guidance the child may need.
A Quick Overview of the Juvenile Court Deprivation Process:
1. When a complaint is filed, within 72 hours a hearing is held (similar to a probable cause hearing):
Court decides if a child is in danger, and where a child should stay until the adjudicatory hearing. After the 72-hour hearing, a deprivation petition has to be filed, or the complaint will be dismissed. If the child is placed in state custody, a petition must be filed within 5 days. If the child is not placed in state custody, a petition must be filed within 30 days. Saturdays, Sundays and legal holidays do not count in 72 hours.
2. Within 5 or 30 days a Petition is filed:
If the child is in state custody, the court will hold on Adjudicatory Hearing to decide if the child is deprived within 10 days of the filing date. If the child is not in state custody, the court will hold on Adjudicatory Hearing within 60 days of the filing date.
3. Within 10 or 60 days an Adjudicatory Hearing is held:
The judge listens to testimony and other evidence, decides the facts of the case and makes a ruling about whether or not the child is deprived. If the judge finds the child is not deprived the case will be dismissed. If the judge finds that a child is deprived, a Disposition Hearing will be held either immediately or within a reasonable period of time.
4. If deprivation is found, a Disposition Hearing is held:
Court determines what kind of placement is in the best interests of the child. Placement may be with one of the following:
- Childs parent, guardian, or other custodian
- DFACS (state custody / foster care)
- If the court orders that DFACS shall have custody, that order is valid for 1 year starting from either the day of the first judicial finding of abuse or the day the child was removed from the home.
5. Review Hearings (Every 30-90 Days):
Judicial Review Hearing-a hearing before the judge to review your progress in the case plan and determine how to proceed with your case. Citizen Review Panel-a group of trained community members who review your progress on the case plan and make recommendations to the judge about how the case should continue.
6. Permanency Hearing-(Occurs 1 year after child is taken from home, or if DFACS recommends non-reunification):
The final plan for the child will be determined.
The final plan could include:
- return child to parents
- termination of parental rights
- possibility of adoption
- extension of DFACS custody for 1 year
- grant custody to a relative until the child is 18 years old.
Now You Know Why Legal Help is So Important
Given that these decisions are so serious and affect fundamental rights, it is very important that if a juvenile case involves you or your child, you consult a qualified attorney who can advise you more specifically about the court process as it relates to your case.
Which Juvenile Law Attorney Should I Hire?
James T. Johnson has extensive experience practicing before juvenile courts, and has spent over 15 years representing hundreds of minors and parents in Juvenile Court Delinquency and Deprivation cases across Northern Georgia.
He is a member of the National Association of Counsel for Children, a former Juvenile Public Defender, a current contract attorney for Indigent Juvenile Defense, and is a sitting Judge in Jasper Municipal Court, and has set as a Judge Pro Tem in Juvenile Court.
Attorney James T. Johnson’s longstanding interest in the welfare of minors arrested and brought before the juvenile courts, and parents accused of deprivation and neglect, as well as his years of juvenile case litigation, makes him a confident advocate and defender of your child’s rights. Whenever possible he will seek a reduction of charges or case dismissal, in addition to minimal and alternative sentencing.