Juvenile Court Defense in Minnesota

Juvenile Defense Attorney Thomas Gallagher

Thomas Gallagher, a Minneapolis criminal lawyer, has represented young people in juvenile delinquency cases in Minnesota juvenile court, since 1988.

Gallagher is experienced not only as a juvenile lawyer, but also as a criminal defense lawyer, a civil commitment defense lawyer (mental illness and chemical dependency cases), with educational and volunteer background in Psychology and with Autistic Children.  To the extent that traditional juvenile court is both a criminal, due process-oriented court, and a problem-solving court; these experiences and the resulting skills are helpful for Juvenile Defense Lawyer Gallagher’s clients.

Traditional Juvenile Court
When a juvenile is claimed by the government to have violated a criminal statute, most of the laws generally applicable in adult criminal cases apply.  There are some significant differences, however.

What we now think of as “traditional juvenile court jurisdiction” was the result of legal reform social movement of the late 19th Century.  It is premised upon a fundamental belief that children, or young people, are not as responsible for their behavior as adults, are more lacking in judgment, and are primarily in need of rehabilitation.  Unlike adult criminal cases, when it comes to juvenile delinquency cases – the most important public policy to be served is the goal of rehabilitation.
This fundamental public-policy choice influences most of the differences between adult criminal court and juvenile delinquency court.  For example the terminology is different.  In traditional juvenile court it is not called “criminal defense.” It is called “juvenile delinquency defense.”  In juvenile court, there is no criminal Complaint.  Instead there is a Petition for Adjudication of Delinquency.  In juvenile court, there can be no conviction of a crime.  Instead, an adjudication of delinquency is possible.  Adult criminal cases are a matter of public record.  But in traditional juvenile court cases the general rule has traditionally been to keep the juvenile’s court records closed to public view.  Even so, there are serious exceptions, and the trend has been to make juvenile delinquency court records more and more public.  See the web page here on juvenile court records in Minnesota.

Minnesota juvenile defense - handcuffsLawyers in juvenile court are mostly government lawyers – from the County Attorney’s and Public Defender’s offices. Most cases in juvenile court in Minnesota are either:

  1. CHIPS (“Child in need of protective services” – allegedly; formerly called abuse and neglect cases) petition cases, or
  2. juvenile delinquency petition cases.

Though Gallagher has represented people in both kinds, Gallagher generally does CHIPS cases for only existing criminal defense clients.  Gallagher has commonly represents children in juvenile delinquency petition cases, and has decades of experience doing so.

Differences between Juvenile Delinquency and Adult Criminal Cases

To analyze and problem-solve in a juvenile delinquency case, Gallagher first considers the case as if it were a normal, adult, criminal case; then, modifies the analysis slightly to fit the differences presented by traditional juvenile court. The most important of those differences may be:
(a) types of dispositions or outcomes;
(b) the availability of government records of criminal or delinquent allegations and any adjudications; and
(c) the lack of a right to jury trial.  In recent decades, traditional juvenile court is no longer the only option for government prosecution of certain juveniles.
When it comes to claims of violations of criminal statutes by juveniles, there are three broad categories of types of cases:
  1. By far the most common, “traditional” juvenile court jurisdiction;
  2. Adult court certification; and
  3. A hybrid of the previous two, Extended Juvenile Jurisdiction (“EJJ”) which stays an adult sentence with probation conditions.

The latter two are less common, and are for the most serious cases.

Within the context of “traditional juvenile court,”
 where the majority of juvenile cases are still handled, there are two categories of cases:

  1. Claims of behavioral conduct which would amount to a crime if performed by an adult, i.e. in violation of Minnesota criminal statutes.
  2. Claims of conduct which would not be a violation of law if done by an adult.  These are sometimes termed “status offenses.”  Examples would include, truancy, violation of curfew, etc.

Where does it start? For Gallagher, it usually starts with a phone call from someone other than the child, asking about legal help.


“Near our vineyard there was a pear tree laden with fruit that was not attractive in either flavor or form. One night, when I [at the age of sixteen] had played until dark on the sandlot with some other juvenile delinquents, we went to shake that tree and carry off its fruit. From it we carried off huge loads, not to feast on, but to throw to the pigs, although we did eat a few ourselves. We did it just because it was forbidden.”
– Saint Augustine, in his book, Confessions, circa 398 A.D.

The main competitive advantage a private lawyer, like Gallagher, can offer (compared to a public defender) is time spent working up the defense case. (Public defenders tend to be great lawyers, but with a heavy case load due to chronic under funding by the state.)  Of course, someone is paying for that lawyer time and effort. This is the way a private lawyer like Gallagher can generally achieve superior results – by putting in more time and effort than otherwise would occur.

The next step is an initial meeting in Gallagher’s office. This is normally a meeting of the potential client and his or her parent(s). As we begin to work up the defense case, we start with the client’s information about what is at stake, what is involved, what the facts appear to be, and the claims made against the client. Much like any criminal defense case, we start with identifying potential consequences (including so-called “collateral” consequences), and the desired or needed outcome.  Cases, or required outcomes, that appear more challenging call for the allocation of more legal resources to the effort.

In adult criminal cases, there are two major bright lines in terms of outcomes whether a public “criminal record” will result, and, whether there could be a commitment to prison. The former correlates to cases where the person has no prior convictions, generally. The latter bright line correlates to cases where the person either has prior convictions or is facing a serious felony claim.

With juveniles, there is still the concern over the “criminal record” for people who don’t have one yet. In juvenile cases, instead of the bane of a prison commitment, there is that of an “out of home placement,” such as “county home school.” County home school seems like “the workhouse for kids,” and can intensify exposure kids to troubled peers. This is less often a real concern unless the juvenile has prior adjudications, or is facing a serious felony claim.

Seven things to consider in juvenile delinquency cases, for parents, “children” and lawyers:

  1. Parents do not want their kid to be adjudicated delinquent if it can be avoided. This is the juvenile, functional equivalent of an adult “conviction” record. Out of home placements are especially feared. In terms of programming, the government is facing serious resource limitation issues. Despite its good intentions, your kid would be better off with a private solution if you can afford one.
  2. Avoid preaching or judging the child (or anyone). Avoid blaming. Redirect attention to the future, and problem-solving.  Beware dependency and co-dependency behaviors.
  3. These cases are important and often are life-changing for the client – for good or for ill. All involved must take these seriously, work hard, fight hard.
  4. Far too many of these cases are resolved via settlement. Set a goal. Then litigate until either the client’s goal can be met by settlement, or litigate to victory or defeat. Never give up. Even if lost on the question of delinquency adjudication, the question of disposition can still be argued. Sometimes judges are more compassionate than competitive prosecutors.
  5. The lawyer should make sure the client fully understands what is at stake, what her outcome goal is and why. The lawyer should be sure to listen to her and her concerns.
  6. In juvenile court, often the lawyers, and parents, are outnumbered by social workers, probation officers, and others, when discussing cases with judges, ex parte essentiallyin chambers. This is a weakness of juvenile court. Lobby and persuade all of the players when you can, where you can. Listening to them is essential.
  7. The lawyer should be sure his client hears and understands the concerns of others involved in the case, and encourage her to take it to heart. Help the client “gain insight” into how others perceive them. Help the client learn and understand tactics and strategies to win over all involved, to support client’s outcome goal. Solicit the client’s personal involvement to help do this. Coach the client. Help the client understand how to communicate effectively with others involved.

Gallagher’s Qualifications Specific to Juvenile Delinquency Cases
Representing juveniles in delinquency cases is similar to adult criminal cases, but with a twist or two.  In addition to his top-flight qualifications and ratings as a criminal attorney, Gallagher is a defense lawyer uniquely qualified to help young people and family through times of trouble:

  • Psychology undergraduate education and training (behavioral, cognitive, developmental, perception, social, abnormal, counseling)
  • including volunteer work with autistic children at Minneapolis Children’s Hospital
  • training in dependency and co-dependency issues
  • civil commitment court defense representation, and training in major mental illnesses and personality disorders
  • experience identifying mental health and chemical health issues, and using them to help his clients with their court case
  • compassion, empathy, patience and hard work
If you or someone you love has a juvenile delinquency charge, give Juvenile Defense Lawyer Thomas C Gallagher call.  He is happy to answer questions, and will set up an appointment for a free half-hour consultation to discuss it.  612-333-1500.