Arrest

If law enforcement does not have a court ordered arrest warrant, they are supposed to have probable cause before an arrest is made. The 4th Amendment protects us from unreasonable searches and seizures.

In some cases, arrests are made without adequate probable cause. If the defense can successfully argue that probable cause was not established, the case can be dismissed, even if there is strong evidence that the juvenile committed the crime.

Charges

courtIf an arrest is made in Washington State, the police will normally turn the case over to the prosecutor’s office. The prosecutor will decide if charges should be filed and determine what offense(s) they will seek a conviction for.

Prosecuting attorneys often times file charges when they shouldn’t or charge juveniles with a more serious charge than would be expected, given the information in the police report. A juvenile attorney should be contacted as soon as possible so they can negotiate with the prosecutor before charges are filed.

Any evidence that your attorney has that can weaken the case against your child should be presented to the prosecutor during pre-charge negotiations. These negotiations can sometimes result in the following outcomes:

  • Charges not filed
  • Less serious charges filed
  • Case transferred to Diversion (alternative program that prevents a juvenile conviction)
  • Preventing a Decline Hearing (hearing that determines if a juvenile will be tried as an adult)

Detention

It is less common for Juveniles to be booked into a Juvenile Detention Center immediately after an arrest. The arresting officer will decide if the child should be turned over to a parent or taken to a juvenile detention facility.

If your child is taken to a juvenile jail after they are arrested, they must be given a Detention Hearing before the end of the next court day. At this hearing, the judge will determine if your child will be released to a parent or kept in detention.

The judge will make this determination based on the seriousness of the charges, the juvenile’s criminal history, and whether or not the juvenile is perceived as a safety threat to the community.

Being Charged as an Adult

courtInstead of filing charges in the WA State Juvenile Court System, a prosecutor can file a motion for a Decline Hearing. At this hearing, the prosecutor will argue that the case should be transferred to adult court, due to the seriousness of the charges.

The defense attorney will present arguments to keep the case in the Juvenile Court system, where the penalties are less severe. The judge will then make a determination that is based on:

  • The seriousness of the crime (violent crimes and sex crimes are considered the most serious)
  • The criminal history of the juvenile
  • The age of the juvenile defendant (minors who have reached the age of 16 are more likely to be tried as an adult)

Diversion

Prosecutors in Washington State can elect to keep a juvenile case out of the Juvenile Court System by “diverting” the case to a community board. There is no finding of guilty or not guilty during this meeting. At this meeting, the juvenile and their parent meet with volunteer members of a community board to form an agreement.

Prosecutors normally allow cases to go to the Diversion Unit when the criminal allegations are less serious and the youth does not already have a juvenile record. This decision is made at the very early stages of the case, before charges are filed. Successful completion of the terms of the diversion agreement will prevent the minor from having a juvenile criminal record.

Terms of the diversion agreement can include:

  • Counseling
  • Alcohol or drug assessment
  • Restitution (Money paid to the victim for damages)
  • Community service
  • Curfew
  • Informational classes

If the diversion agreement is not signed or if the conditions are not followed, the case would be given to the prosecutor for charges to be filed.

Arraignment

If charges are filed, your child will be mailed a Summons or notice to appear at the Arraignment Hearing. The arraignment will be your child’s first hearing, unless they were jailed after the arrest.

A plea of guilty or not guilty is entered at arraignment. A juvenile attorney will normally advise your child to enter a plea of not guilty. A trial date will then be set.

Pretrial Hearings

There are normally several hearings that occur after the arraignment and before the trial date. During these hearings, the defense and prosecutor will have an opportunity to interview witnesses, the alleged victim, and the evidence that will be used if the case proceeds to trial.

The defense will also attempt to prevent questionable evidence from being used during the trial. If the defendant is in detention, a hearing can be requested to return the juvenile to a parent.

Trial

Juvenile trials in WA State are decided by a Juvenile Court judge and not by a jury. Trials (referred to as Adjudication Hearings) must be held within 30 days of the Arraignment Hearing if the juvenile is in detention or within 60 days if the juvenile is not in detention.

The majority of juvenile cases are resolved before trial. Outcomes that result from negotiations with the prosecutor can be more favorable and less risky than a juvenile trial.

However, an attorney should carefully advise the juvenile of all their options before a decision about trial is made. A victory at trial will result in a complete case dismissal, but a loss will normally result in consequences that are much harsher than what could have been negotiated before trial.