By Peter Casciano, Esq.
Juvenile defense work is some of the most rewarding work that I do as an attorney. In juvenile law cases, the family is worried about the long-term consequences for their child (and sometimes about the consequences for the parents themselves).
Whether the minor is charged under CR 10-114 (underage possession or consumption), or even a more serious charge, the procedure for the hearing you may have is laid out in Court and Judicial Proceedings, Title 3, Subtitle 8A. However, prior to your juvenile hearing, you will have an opportunity to meet with a caseworker at the Department of Juvenile Services (DJS). This caseworker has the power to essentially stop the hearing from taking place. The caseworker can set up a plan for the child, similar to an adult’s period of probation, where the child must complete certain tasks like:
- Writing a letter of apology;
- Paying restitution;
- Performing community service; and
- Enrolling in drug or alcohol education.
However, the caseworker can also recommend that no plan be set up and that the juvenile proceed to the hearing stage, where a judge will determine if the juvenile is “delinquent” or “not delinquent.”
Tips for the Caseworker Meeting
The caseworker meeting is an area of juvenile work commonly overlooked by most juvenile attorneys. It can be overlooked by attorneys because of the unpredictability of the meeting and preparation work that should be done by the juvenile advocate.
At this meeting, the caseworker will read your client:
- The charges;
- The police report (if one exists); and
- The statements of any victims (if they exist).
There may be discrepancies in one or more of these documents. My plan of attack during juvenile law cases is to generally contradict only major inconsistencies that will cause the client to look better in the eyes of the caseworker. This is not the time for legal arguments, fights over minutia, allegations of constitutional violations, etc. The time for those fights is at a hearing or beyond. Instead, juvenile law attorneys should concentrate only on how to respond to make their clients look their best to the caseworker. When pointing out inconsistencies, I like to do so through my client. Sometimes caseworkers get a bit impatient with me, but I like to ask my clients directly so that caseworker can hear about the key facts that cut in our favor from my client’s mouth.
After pointing out the inconsistencies, I typically provide all information (evidence) that my client is a part of some community and is a good person. It’s important to note that sometimes, we don’t have the smartest clients, or the best athletes, or the most active in extracurricular activities. However, the best juvenile advocate will sit with the minor to determine what they do, when they do it and who they do it with. DJS is concerned about kids just floating by, with no network, no support, no help. It’s my job to show that my client is not in danger of that happening. It can be shown without a report card of all A’s or a letter from the church pastor describing how great the minor is. Think outside the box and listen to your client.
My last tip is to make sure you and your client are OVERLY RESPECTFUL to the caseworker. A caseworker’s job is difficult and, sometimes, they can be a bit jaded. Begin and end with a thank you and make sure you handle yourself as you would in front of a judge. This way you will not run into a nightmare situation where the caseworker requires the moon of the child just out of spite, hanging the hearing over their head.
Juvenile Attorney in Maryland
I am aware of some attorneys who advise juveniles to go to this meeting with their parents and if a hearing is then set, call the juvenile law attorneys for representation. I think this approach misses the mark and gives away a great opportunity to save the child, parents, and DJS from going through the hearing process at all. Knowing how to handle this meeting can make all the difference.
If you or your child has been charged with a crime being handled at DJS in Maryland, please contact me for a free consultation.
By Peter Casciano, Esq.