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Ethical Considerations in Juvenile Defense

Young people in the justice system face different challenges than their adult counterparts. The nature of juvenile defense requires us to question how we define wrongdoing, punishment, and rehabilitation for young offenders – all while keeping their best interests at heart.

Defending the Young and Wrongfully Accused

Children and adolescents are not immune to the world-shattering false accusations that plague the adult criminal justice system. This is true in part because the witnesses in juvenile cases are often children themselves. In fact, given that they are in their formative years, such accusations are even more common – and more traumatic – for youths.

For this reason, juvenile defense attorneys often choose to represent young clients as a matter of moral responsibility. The stakes are high in these cases, and it is the ethical duty of a juvenile defender to provide zealous and competent representation for this vulnerable group.

Rehabilitation As An Outcome

When a young person is convicted, judges must carefully weigh the circumstances of the crime against other unique factors before making a sentencing decision. Because juvenile offenders are in a formative stage of development, there is a good chance that rehabilitative measures may help them become law-abiding members of society in the future. Therefore, negotiating with the judge to ensure that penalties are rehabilitative, rather than punitive, is a top priority for juvenile defense attorneys.

There are many different types of rehabilitation programs that may be assigned to convicted juvenile offenders as a term of their probation. The most common program is counseling, which can help juveniles learn to regulate their emotions and make informed decisions. Other types of rehabilitation programs include educational programs, victim impact panels or classes, community reparative boards, family group conferences, and life-skills training.

Programs that focus on rehabilitation have been shown to be more effective than punishment in reducing recidivism rates. In addition, they can also help improve the overall well-being of the juvenile offender by teaching them new skills and helping them develop positive relationships. If convicted, a sentencing that includes rehabilitation can be the best-case scenario for all involved.

Juvenile Detention

Unfortunately, punitive penalties cannot be avoided in all cases. Punitive penalties exist on the basis that correctional facility sentences are necessary to deter future crime and to protect the public. Many argue, however, that putting children in such facilities is an unethical punishment with consideration to the impact that it could have on their development.

In theory, corrections programs for youths provide opportunities for rehabilitation, but rehabilitation measures in such programs are often criticized for being poorly implemented, counterproductive, or inaccessible. If you or your child has been convicted in juvenile court, your lawyer will be ready to passionately propose more appropriate, ethical alternatives to detention during sentencing negotiations.  Given the special considerations inherent to juvenile defense, juvenile justice law is more than just a job – it is an ethical responsibility. If you or your child is facing criminal charges, seek representation from a juvenile defense attorney who is committed to a fierce defense on ethical grounds.