When your kid is accused of a crime, your first response may be to worry about the consequences. Will your child go to jail? Will they be able to get into college, or get a good job? Will they be taken away from you?
All kids make mistakes, and North Carolina understands that a mistake made by a minor does not always indicate that they are a dangerous person or intend to lead a life of crime. While minors aged 16 or older who are accused of a criminal offense must go through North Carolina’s adult criminal system, our state has a separate system for minors under the age of 16 that focuses more on rehabilitation and education than it does on punishment.
The Juvenile Criminal System in North Carolina
If your child is accused of a crime and the crime is serious, he or she may be taken into temporary custody. Minors may also be taken into custody if officers believe they ran away from home, school, or a residential facility. This custody will not last more than 24 hours.
While a child is in custody, officers will contact their parent or guardian. The parent will also be invited to attend an intake meeting with their child to discuss the complaint made against them. In this meeting, know that the child can speak freely to the court counselor, and that nothing they say will be used against them if the complaint goes to court.
This meeting is extremely important. If the parent does not attend, the complaint will land in court. Most intake meetings end one of three ways:
- Filing a petition
If the complaint regards a serious felony, the petition will be filed regardless, and charges will be pressed against the child.
If the case is diverted, your child will still face consequences, but will not have an ugly mark on their criminal record. A diversion program might include community service, counseling, or paying restitution. If the diversion program is completed on time, the complaint will be dismissed and the child will not have to step inside a courtroom. However, if your child commits another crime, or does not complete the terms of the diversion, a petition will be filed and you will have to proceed with the case.
In the event that a petition is filed, you and your child will have to show up in court and plead your case. Attendance is mandatory, just like at the initial intake meeting. Your child will receive a summons in person, and they are required to follow that summons. If the child does not appear, they will be sentenced to a juvenile detention facility. If you do not appear as the parent, you may be charged with contempt of court.
In court, the child has the ability to prove their innocence. If the court finds the child guilty, however, they will be taken into custody, and juveniles cannot post bail to get out of custody.
There are two types of custody for juveniles in North Carolina: secure custody (juvenile detention or youth development centers) and non-secure custody (a relative’s house, foster home, psychiatric facility). The child is only sent to secure custody if they are considered dangerous to society.
In either case, there will be an adjudicatory hearing a few days after custody has begun. The hearing will determine whether or not the child needs to stay in custody. These hearings may continue every 10 days until a judge determines that the child can be released.
Even after your child is released, the consequences of the crime may follow them for years. You may be able to get their record expunged, but this is a separate process and only applies to some juvenile crimes.
How to Defend Charges and Complaints against Your Child
There is a long road to juvenile detention, and many opportunities for your child to get complaints dropped. In order to take advantage of these opportunities, however, you and your child will have to show up and be compliant with North Carolina’s criminal justice system.
Just like an adult, your child has the right to legal counsel. A lawyer can help your child through the process, including bringing in and questioning witnesses that may prove their innocence. Investing in a defense attorney is investing in your child’s future. If you would like to know more about hiring a lawyer for a juvenile case, reach out to us.
About the Author:
Jan Elliott Pritchett is Managing Partner at the Law Firm of Schlosser & Pritchett and one of North Carolina’s top rated criminal defense attorneys. With a practice dedicated 100% to litigation, Mr. Pritchett protects the legal rights of clients who have been charged in federal and state criminal matters, as well as DUI/DWi, motor vehicle accidents, personal injury, and traffic violations. In practice since 1995, Mr. Pritchett has earned a reputation as a highly talented and fearless lawyer, being listed among the state’s “Legal Elite” and recognized as one of the Top 100 DWI Lawyers in North Carolina by the National Advocacy of DUI Defense. He currently serves as the Co-Chairman of the North Carolina State Board of Legal Specialization, Criminal Law Specialty, and Vice-Chairman of the North Carolina Bar Association, Criminal Justice Section.