Interviewer: When a child gets in trouble, how do their parents know what will happen next? For juveniles, there is family court; and they could also be charged as an adult in some cases. In other cases, you said they could qualify for this Adolescent Diversion Program. So how do you know your options and what to do?
Stuart: Usually, it is the court’s decision for the most part. So by hiring an attorney, the attorney will avert where it is supposed to go and what is going to happen. Normally, it is really close to the cut off age.
I mean a 17 year old will end up going to criminal court and probably not to family court. A 14 year old- other than one who committed some major or some violent crimes- will probably end up at family court as opposed to criminal court.
The distinction is that once they get to one of these courts, you can petition the court, based on a motion to switch it if it is in the best interest. Sometimes it is not in the best interest for a case to go to family court, and sometimes it is in the best interest with the parties involved to keep the case in criminal court. Although that does not sound normal, that is the case.
Interviewer: I know you cannot give me all the circumstances, but why would someone ever want to go to criminal court when they can go to family court instead? Isn’t family court just a slap on the wrist?
Stuart: No, the real issue is for the more serious crimes that end up in criminal court but go back to family court. Remember, family court does not see serious crimes all the time. So they see it as more serious, and they treat it as more serious.
So what is going to happen to some extent is they are going to see the crime is serious, and they could actually place the child away from his parents. They could put him into a group home or something like that for 30-90 days.
Meanwhile, in criminal court they see the more serious crimes more often. So they may determine that the kid may just need probation. They will give him probation and seal his case.
Although it happens in criminal court, it is sealed from all criminal records so no one knows it is there. Again, even though it happened in criminal court, no one ever knows that it is really there because it has been sealed.
Interviewer: So this is kind of like the small fish in a big pond, big fish in a small pond.
Stuart: Unfortunately, the way things are going now they are both big ponds. It is just the nature of it. I do not use that analogy because it is the difference of one carp around a lot of goldfish, as opposed to one carp around a lot of carp. It is just a different type of crime that they are seeing.
Interviewer: So, in a way, a juvenile will have a lower profile in criminal court as to the seriousness of the crime, versus family court where they may say, “Wow, this is really bad.” They are not used to seeing that; and may over punish the person.
Stuart: Exactly. Also, criminal court has different sanctions than family court. It is not a great sanction to put a kid on probation to keep him on the straight and narrow.
However, in a lot of instances, it is much better than family court. There, they may take him out of his environment totally because they want to help him. They may think the best environment is sending him to a facility, as opposed to where he is with his family. They just sometimes make it wrong.