Juvenile Court Defense in Minnesota
Thomas Gallagher, a Minneapolis Juvenile Attorney, represents young people in juvenile delinquency cases in Minnesota juvenile court. He has since 1988.
In addition to Gallagher’s work as a juvenile attorney, he is also a criminal defense lawyer.
And he has years of experience as a civil commitment defense lawyer (mental illness and chemical dependency cases). He has educational and volunteer background in Psychology and with Autistic Children.
Because traditional juvenile court is both a criminal, due process-oriented court, and a problem-solving court; these experiences and skills help Gallagher’s clients.
Traditional Juvenile Court
When the government claims that a juvenile violated a criminal statute, most of the adult criminal laws apply. There are 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’s premise was a fundamental belief that children, or young people, are not as responsible for their behavior as adults.
Since juveniles lack the experience to develop judgment, they 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.
Compared to Adult Criminal Defense
This fundamental public-policy choice determines most of the differences between adult criminal court and juvenile delinquency court.
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 from public view. Even so, there are exceptions, and the recent trend has been to criminalize juvenile court in general; and specifically to make juvenile delinquency court records more public. See the web page here on juvenile court records in Minnesota.
Two types of cases in juvenile court
Most Lawyers in juvenile court are government lawyers – from the County Attorney’s and Public Defender’s offices. Most cases in juvenile court in Minnesota are either:
- CHIPS (“CHild In need of Protective Services” – allegedly; formerly called abuse and neglect cases) petition cases, or
- juvenile delinquency petition cases.
An easy way to think of the difference is that in CHIPS case the parent(s) are the accused; but in a delinquency case the child is the accused.
Though Gallagher has represented people in both kinds, Gallagher generally does CHIPS cases for only existing criminal defense clients. Gallagher frequently represents children in juvenile delinquency petition cases, and has decades experience doing so.
Problem Solving Juvenile Delinquency Cases
To analyze and troubleshoot a juvenile delinquency case, Gallagher first considers the case as if it were an adult, criminal case; then, modifies the analysis 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 (public, or not); 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.
- By far the most common, “traditional” juvenile court jurisdiction;
- Adult court certification; and
- A hybrid of the previous two, Extended Juvenile Jurisdiction (“EJJ”) which stays an adult sentence with probation conditions; and extends juvenile court jurisdiction to age 21.
The latter two are less common, and are for the most serious cases. based on the severity level of the charge, the prior delinquency record, or both.
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. Examples include:
- juveniles charged with criminal sexual conduct,
- Romeo & Juliet cases,
- misdemeanor assault, etc.
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.
The Next Steps
Start with a phone call
Where does it start? For Juvenile Attorney 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 advantage a private Juvenile Attorney, 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 have 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.
Initial conference or retainer meeting
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.
Focus on outcome
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 not 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:
- Parents do not want their kid to be adjudicated delinquent — the functional equivalent of an adult conviction record. Out of home placements are especially feared. In terms of programming, the government has limited resources. Despite its good intentions, your kid may be better off with a private solution if you can afford it.
- Avoid preaching or judging. Avoid blaming. Redirect attention to the future, and problem-solving. Beware dependency and co-dependency behaviors.
- These cases are important. They can be life-changing – for good or ill. All involved must take these cases seriously, work hard, fight hard.
- 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 take it to trial. Never give up. Even if lost on the question of delinquency adjudication, disposition can still be argued. Sometimes judges are more compassionate than competitive prosecutors.
- The Juvenile Attorney 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.
- In juvenile court, often the juvenile lawyers and parents, are outnumbered by social workers, probation officers, and others, when discussing cases with judges, ex parte essentially, in chambers. This is a weakness of juvenile court. Lobby all of the players when you can, where you can. Listening is essential.
- The Juvenile Attorney should be sure his client hears and understands the concerns of others involved in the case. Encourage her to take it to heart. Help the client “gain insight” into how others perceive them. Help the client understand how to win-over all involved, to support client’s outcome goal. Solicit the client’s personal involvement. Coach the client. Help the client understand how to communicate effectively with others.
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 qualifications and ratings as a criminal attorney, Gallagher is a juvenile attorney 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, using the DSM-5 and working with social workers, psychologists and psychiatrists
- 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