Aside from suffering serious injury or death, the one thing every parent dreads hearing is that their child has been arrested and accused of committing a crime. Especially if your child has never been in trouble before, dealing with Wisconsin’s juvenile justice system can be a traumatic experience. That is why it is important to remain calm in such situations and contact a qualified Appleton juvenile court attorney as soon as possible. You and your child will need legal assistance to get through the process, hopefully with a favorable outcome that does not permanently brand your child as a criminal.
Remember, you are not alone. There are roughly 44,000 juvenile arrests in Wisconsin every year, according to the Wisconsin Council on Children & Families (WCCF). Over 97 percent of those arrests were for nonviolent crimes, such as shoplifting or drunk driving. And while 44,000 arrests is certainly significant, the overall arrest rate has actually declined by 60 percent since 2002, according to WCCF.
Chapter 938 of Wisconsin Statutes spells out the state’s Juvenile Justice Code. Basically, any minor who is at least 10 years old and under the age of 17 is under the jurisdiction of the juvenile court. If a minor is charged prior to his or her 17th birthday, the juvenile court retains jurisdiction over the case even if it is not adjudicated until after their birthday.
A juvenile crimes case usually starts with an intake hearing before the relevant county’s Department of Human Services. The intake officer can decide to close the case without further action, enter into a deferred prosecution agreement, or recommend the filing of formal charges. Deferred prosecution means the intake worker signs a written agreement with the juvenile and their parent. So long as the juvenile complies with certain specified conditions, no formal charges will ever be filed.
If the intake worker believes that charges are necessary and appropriate, the case is sent to the local District Attorney, who then has the discretion to file a “delinquency petition,” which is the juvenile court equivalent of a criminal complaint. Before or after this petition is filed, the accused juvenile can be taken into custody. In many cases, the minor will be released back to his or her parents following a custody hearing. However, a judge may order the juvenile held in detention, a group home, or a foster home, pending the disposition of the petition.
It may take several additional juvenile court hearings to resolve the case. Much like an adult court, there is a plea hearing (arraignment), pretrial motions, and a fact-finding hearing (trial). As with anyone else charged with a crime, the burden is on the District Attorney to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the juvenile committed the alleged offenses. Unlike an adult court, however, there is no jury in juvenile court. The fact-finding is conducted solely by a judge.
If the judge finds the juvenile delinquent, i.e. guilty of the crimes alleged in the petition, there will be a disposition hearing to determine the child’s placement and impose rules regulating their future behavior. A social worker will usually prepare a report for the judge assessing the juvenile’s home life and risk of future criminal behavior. If the juvenile is at least 12 years old, the judge can order placement in a corrections facility for up to 2 years if the delinquency offense is one that would normally be punishable by at least 6 months in prison and there is proof that the juvenile poses an ongoing “danger” to other persons or property.
If the juvenile is accused of a serious crime, such as murder, the District Attorney may initially file the case in adult court. In other cases, the District Attorney may seek a “waiver” to transfer a case from juvenile court to adult court based on an individual juvenile’s age, prior record, and the offenses alleged. In either situation, the juvenile has the right to seek a hearing regarding their status.
Everyone has a constitutional right to the assistance of counsel when they are charged with a crime. This right is even more critical when the accused is a juvenile who may not even be fully able to appreciate the nature of the proceedings against them. No matter what your child is accused of doing, he or she has the right to aggressive representation from an Appleton criminal lawyer. If your child has been arrested, call the offices of Hammett, Bellin & Oswald, LLC today at 866-720-0009.