Why Juvenile Cases Should Be Tried

by Jamison Koehler on January 7, 2014

When I was a public defender, a major challenge was the client with a lousy case and a good offer on the table who nevertheless insisted on taking his case to trial.  He didn’t trust his lawyer to provide good legal advice.  And he often had some zany idea about what he thought was going to win the case. (In my experience, retained clients generally take the advice of their lawyer.)

By contrast, again in my experience, juveniles in court-appointed cases often pose the opposite problem:  They are only too willing to plead guilty even in cases that should be tried.  This is based, I think, on a lack of sophistication. They know what happened.  And they don’t seem to get this whole notion of the government being forced to prove its case.

Most juvenile cases should be tried.  Because the emphasis in juvenile court is on care and rehabilitation as opposed to punishment, courts will generally not pose the dreaded “trial tax” (i.e., longer sentence) on a juvenile who exercises his constitutional right to trial.  The only real exception is when (1) the facts are bad, and (2) the government is offering to dismiss felony charges in exchange for a misdemeanor plea.

4 Comments on “Why Juvenile Cases Should Be Tried

  1. Obviously, I don’t know what it’s like where you practice, but here that’s not the case.

    First, nearly all kids are questioned in ways that should result in throwing out their statements, but if you try to argue that, it’s going to be the cop’s word against the kid (and SOMETIMES a parent can contribute that cops refused to let them talk to their children after the parent heard the child ask for the parent — then it’s THEIR word against the cop, which is not much better. And, hey, we have an admission.

    Second, the failure to take responsibility — that is, the insistence that the state prove its dase — is taken as evidence of the need for “greater rehabilitation”; i.e., a harsher sentence.

    But, then, our juvenile system is just a training ground for DDAs, because the belief is that they can’t do as much damage by learning on kids.

  2. Rick: Yes. I should have probably clarified that I am talking about my experience in D.C. only. (I had only four months of trying juvenile cases in Philadelphia.) And in D.C., all f0rmal interrogations and statements by juveniles are recorded, thereby preventing some of the problems you describe.

  3. What if the kid says, “I did it, and I want to take responsibility for it”?

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