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Is Your Child In Trouble With The Law? Read This First

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Article by attorney Jim Dearie. June, 2019.

There are significant differences in how adults and juveniles are treated in the Court system. The primary difference is that, while adult Courts intend to punish lawbreakers, juvenile courts intend to rehabilitate youth and prepare them for successful futures as functioning adults in society.

Juveniles Have A Right To An Attorney: A Word To The Wise About Talking To Police

Sometimes juveniles and their parents do not realize that the minor child has a right to an attorney. A minor child is not required to speak to police officers who “just want to ask some questions.”

In my experience as an attorney, representing juvenile clients for decades in Ohio Courts, I often find myself wishing I had reached the juvenile and the parents before they talked to the police, but that is rare.

Talk to a lawyer before talking to police.

Very often, in an effort to be helpful, or hoping to quickly put matters behind them, parents encourage the child to tell investigators everything they know and everything they have done. I understand, and I respect where this is coming from. Parents wish for their children to be honest and share what has happened in any incident, even if it may get the child in trouble. In my experience, however, this usually does not play out in the Court system in a way that parents or juveniles expected.

A simple phone call to a lawyer will not cost you a thing for the first consultation. You can get some basic questions answered and decide if you need to have a lawyer for your case. Please call us before you have any interaction with the police. We are available anytime night or day, office in the Cincinnati area, and our office in the Dayton area.

Everything You Say Can And Will Be Used Against You In A Court Of Law

Parents and juveniles should realize that when minors tell law enforcement everything they know, they may be setting themselves up for a long fight in Court afterward. What they thought might get them a slap on the wrist, some after-school detention, or some community service hours, often ends up leading instead to time spent in a juvenile detention center and a public record that can affect their schooling, scholarships, and job opportunities in the years ahead.

Always Show Respect For Law Enforcement

I have the utmost respect for our law enforcement, and I understand the child’s desire to set things right, even after they have done something wrong. But I still advise everyone, adults and juveniles alike, to talk to an attorney before talking to the police.

Sometimes a juvenile may show disrespect to a law enforcement officer. Obviously, this is a bad idea for many reasons. It is important to understand, however, that simply stating that you do not wish to answer any questions is not a sign of disrespect. It is your constitutional right, and the police officers know and understand this.

Never Lie To Law Enforcement

Never, ever lie to law enforcement. A juvenile has every right to respectfully decline from answering anyone’s questions, but you do not have the right to lie during a police interview or investigation.   Just simply state, “I would like to speak to a lawyer before talking to anyone else about this,” and law enforcement will have to cease questioning immediately. You may choose to say nothing, and you have every right to have an attorney to speak on your behalf.

Additional Benefits Of Having An Attorney

An attorney can ask questions of your accusers and of law enforcement, and find out important information about your case.  Nothing your attorney says can be used against you.  Additionally, everything you tell an attorney is held in the strictest confidence because of the lawyer’s ethical duty to protect the attorney-client privilege. An attorney who discloses anything a client has said in confidence is at risk of losing his professional license to practice law, so obviously, your attorney takes this very seriously.

Other articles you may be interested in:

What Should I Do if My Minor Child is Arrested in Ohio?

Penalties for Teen Sexting in Ohio

What to Expect with a Juvenile Traffic Charge

Juvenile Court Appearances

If a juvenile is charged and ordered to Court, the child must make an appearance, even if it is for a minor traffic offense.  In traffic cases, adults have the option to pay off their tickets and move on. This is not true for juveniles, be it for traffic offenses or any other charges.

The juvenile must appear in Court, accompanied by at least one parent or legal guardian for all Court hearings in the case, from start to finish.

Adult Charges Vs. Juvenile Charges

When an adult is charged with a crime, the charge may be brought as either a misdemeanor (a relatively less serious crime) or a felony (a more serious crime, which carries a penalty of 1 year in prison or more). If found guilty, the crime will go on the adult’s record, and s/he will have to pay fines, serve time in detention, complete community service, or pay his or her debt to society in some other way as decided by the judge of the court.

Offenses that are considered criminal in adult cases, are civil offenses in the Juvenile Court. The names of the offenses follow the adult criminal code. In the Juvenile Court, however, offenses are often referred to something like this: “would be a fifth-degree felony if charged in adult Court.” or “would be a minor misdemeanor if the offender were an adult”.

There are some charges that apply to juveniles and not to adults, such as underage drinking, violating curfew, or truancy, and traffic laws that are unique to drivers under the age of 18.

No Jury In Juvenile Court

Adults have a right to a jury of their peers in deciding the outcome of any criminal charges brought against them.

Juveniles are not afforded a jury. All cases are tried before a judge or magistrate only.

Jail / Prison Vs. Juvenile Detention Center

At its core, the adult justice system exists to punish those who violate the laws of the city, county, state, or federal government.

The juvenile court system, on the other hand, primarily seeks to rehabilitate minors found to be in violation of the law. Time in a juvenile detention center may feel to a child like punishment, since they are kept away from their family and friends, with limited visitation time. However, the treatment of residents in a detention facility is very different. Juveniles in a detention center continue to go to school, and work with counselors.

Pretrial Detention For Adults And Juveniles

Both adults and juveniles may sometimes be required to spend time in jail or juvenile detention center prior to a trial. For adults, this is usually true for violent crimes.

For juveniles, a judge may sometimes order a juvenile to remain in a detention center a few days while the child is evaluated to determine if there is a risk that a child will likely do harm to self or others. It is very common for a juvenile held for a risk assessment to determine this risk. A juvenile can usually be released with home GPS monitor into the care of parents or other adult who can supervise the child’ activities while awaiting trial.

Verdicts For Adults And Juveniles

When charged with a crime, an adult will appear in Court for an initial hearing and plead either “guilty,” “not guilty,” or in some cases “no contest.” Juvenile Court does not use these terms. A juvenile will enter a plea of either “admit” or “deny” at the initial Court hearing.  A plea of “no contest” is not an an option for juvenile defendants.

Criminal cases in adult court usually end with a guilty or not-guilty verdict from a a judge or jury. Adult defendants who have been found guilty are said to have been “convicted.”  An adult conviction becomes part of the person’s permanent record.

When a finding is made on a juvenile’s guilt or innocence, they are said to have been “adjudicated.” The judge or magistrate will adjudicate the child to be an “unruly child,” “delinquent juvenile,” a “juvenile traffic offender,” or the charges may be dismissed. Juvenile adjudications are part of the juveniles records temporarily, but may often be expunged afer a period of time (more on expungement below).

Sentencing For Adults And Juveniles

The “sentence” in a juvenile case is called a “disposition.” The judge or magistrate will draw up a “disposition order,” detailing what is expected of the juvenile following adjudication. Disposition may include time in a juvenile detention facility, payment of fines, community service, apology letters to victims, It is extremely rare for a juvenile to go to the Department of Youth Services (DYS). DYS is a facility for juveniles who have committed very serious offenses and have resisted other attempts at rehabilitation.

Sanctions in juvenile Court usually consist of a combination of the following: time in the juvenile detention center, community service, house arrest, curfews, apology letters, very small fines, and/or counseling.

Generally speaking, those found delinquent will not be sent to adult detention facilities as minors. This can change, however, if a juvenile is found to be a “serious youthful offender,” a special category for minors who commit repeated or especially serious crimes. When a juvenile is sentenced to a detention center term that extends beyond their 21st birthday, the juvenile can be transferred to an adult jail or prison for the remainder of the sentence. These are called blended sentences, since the sentence is served in two different detention facilities based on the age of the offender. In Ohio, youth who finish out their terms in the juvenile detention center, and who have shown good behavior both while in detention and on parole, may have the adult jail or prison term forgiven.

Expungement And Sealing Of Records Is Easier For Juveniles

Expungement or sealing of juvenile offenses is easier and broader for juveniles than for adults. After a juvenile has been adjudicated as delinquent, unruly child, or juvenile traffic offender, the child may apply to have the public record sealed or expunged. When a record is sealed, it is moved to a secure file, separate from public records files. The adjudication record is then only available in certain circumstances to law enforcement or the Court.

When a record is expunged, any physical or electronic record of the charge is destroyed and is permanently irretrievable. A record that has been sealed will be expunged automatically by the Court five years later or upon the juvenile’s 23rd birthday, whichever is earlier. Once your record is expunged you may truthfully say that you have no Court record.

In order to have your juvenile record sealed or expunged, you must apply through the Court, and will likely undergo a hearing prior to the Court’s granting of your request.


The main differences in adult and juvenile Court are that

  • juveniles do not have the right to have their cases heard by a jury
  • juveniles are adjudicated as unruly child, delinquent child, or juvenile traffic offender, rather than the more familiar adult terms of being convicted or found guilty or not guilty
  • the intent of juvenile detention is rehabilitation rather than punishment
  • sealing of records and expungement are easier and broader for juveniles than for adults.

Ohio Lawyers For Your Juvenile Cases
Warren County, Butler County, Hamilton County,
Montgomery County, Greene County, and All Of Southwest Ohio.

Dearie, Fischer & Martinson LLC attorneys have decades of experience representing juvenile clients in the Cincinnati and Dayton areas. Call us about your case and we can discuss how we can help you through the Court system and obtain the best result for your child’s case.

In the Cincinnati area, call our Lebanon office at our office.

In the Dayton area, call our Beavercreek office at our office.