Sometimes Kids Need Lawyers, Too

“One thing remains constant: children, most of all, need access to competent counsel when they come before the power of the state. Regardless of rehabilitative intentions, the truth remains that when a child’s liberty and freedom are at risk, meaningful access to legal advice and counsel is essential.”

-National Juvenile Defense Standards

Sometimes kids need lawyers, too. On June 8th, Mrs. Cook’s phone rings. The voice on the other end is saying nasty things. She hangs up, disgusted, and immediately makes a complaint to the police. Later the same day, 15-year old Gerald “Jerry” Gault is arrested along with his friend for the crime of lewd phone calls. Jerry is sent to a juvenile detention facility. No attempt was made by police to notify Jerry’s parents as to his whereabouts.

Meanwhile, Jerry’s parents have been at work all day and are confused when they cannot find Jerry once they get home. After sending Jerry’s brother out to look for him, the Gaults discover, by way of another parent, their son has been arrested. Mrs. Gault drives to the detention facility where she is told there will be a hearing on her son’s case the following day.

Jerry spends three nights at the detention facility before he is released to his parents. At a second, very informal, hearing on June 15th, Jerry is sentenced to six years in detention, until he turns 21 years old. If Jerry had been an adult when he was convicted of lewd phone calls, the maximum sentence would have been two months in jail and a $50 fine. From the day Mrs. Cook’s phone rang to the day Jerry was sentenced was seven DAYS. That was in 1964.

In the resulting case, In re Gault, the United States Supreme Court established that children have a right to counsel in delinquency proceedings. In re Gault also demonstrates exactly how fast things move in juvenile court. Juvenile defense work requires a breadth of knowledge one can only acquire through special training and time working in the system.

While juvenile law has developed and expanded dramatically since Jerry Gault was arrested in 1964, “one thing remains constant: children, most of all, need access to competent counsel when they come before the power of the state. Regardless of rehabilitative intentions, the truth remains that when a child’s liberty and freedom are at risk, meaningful access to legal advice and counsel is essential.” National Juvenile Defense Standards, Forward.

Juvenile defense is a specialized practice anchored in juvenile-specific training and practice.

Involvement with juvenile court can be confusing and scary for the entire family. This video from The Center for Court Innovation documents the feelings of anxiety and stress families go through once they are “in the system.” While the video is geared specifically to New York, it applies equally to Arkansas and provides a good overview of what to expect when you are in juvenile court.

If your child needs an attorney, consider the 10 following “Guiding Principles” found in the National Juvenile Defense Standards when making your decision:

  1. Juvenile defenders play a critical role in the fair administration of justice for children;
  2. Juvenile defense is a specialized practice anchored in juvenile-specific training and practice skills;
  3. Juvenile defense requires zealous advocacy;
  4. Juvenile defense requires competence and proficiency in court rules and the law;
  5. Juvenile defense requires legal representation that is individualized;
  6. Juvenile defense requires representation that is developmentally appropriate;
  7. Juvenile defense is based on the clients’ expressed interests;
  8. Juvenile defense requires that clients be meaningful participants in their defense;
  9. Juvenile defense includes counseling clients through the legal and extralegal processes;
  10. Juvenile defense includes ensuring that clients and their families are treated with dignity and respect and that there is decorum in the courtroom.

More About: Heather Ryan Campbell

As a prosecutor in juvenile court for five years, Law Group attorney, Heather Campbell, was responsible for approximately 15,000 delinquency cases. These matters ranged from minor violations, such as vandalism and shoplifting, to much more serious crimes, including gang-related shootings prosecuted in adult court. The process and outcome of a delinquency proceeding can drastically impact the rest of a child’s life. As a juvenile defense attorney, Ms. Campbell provides her clients and their families with up-to-date knowledge of the criminal and juvenile legal systems as well as the diligent and individualized defense that every child deserves.