Juvenile Criminal Defense Lawyer in Charleston, SC

There are few things more frightening than when your child is charged with a crime – especially if they are arrested and taken into custody…

Juvenile criminal defense is different from “adult” criminal defense in many ways – for example:

  • Children are not entitled to a jury trial;
  • The potential penalties are different; and
  • The juvenile court has a different goal and different guiding principles than “adult court.”

When your child is charged with a crime, they are required to have an attorney represent them, and for good reason – children are the most vulnerable defendants who are the least able to assert their rights and defend themselves in a courtroom.

What Rights do Children Have in SC Courts?

Minors have the same constitutional rights that adults have – except for what is arguably the most important right. They do not have the right to a jury trial – if they plead not guilty and go to trial, it will be a bench trial with a family court judge presiding.

Minors have the right to subpoena witnesses and to cross-examine the witnesses against them, the right to testify, the right to remain silent, and the right to proof beyond any reasonable doubt. They just don’t have the right to a jury of 12 citizens to decide their case.

What are the Penalties for Juveniles in SC?

Regardless of what the child is charged with, the potential range of punishment is the same. The case could be dismissed, but, if it goes forward, the potential outcomes could include:

  • Arbitration, or a pretrial diversion program for juveniles;
  • Probation; or
  • Incarceration up to the defendant’s twenty-first birthday.

After a guilty plea or guilty verdict (adjudication of delinquency), in most cases, an evaluation will be ordered through the Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ). The evaluation may be a “local evaluation,” in which case the minor stays at home for the evaluation period, or it may be done at an “evaluation center,” where the minor is confined during the evaluation period.

Either way, the child then returns to court for sentencing. DJJ will make recommendations to the court based on the findings in the child’s evaluation, the prosecutor will make their own recommendation, and your attorney will also recommend what your attorney believes is in the child’s best interest.

How is Juvenile Court Different Than Adult Court?

Juvenile court in South Carolina is in the family court. The same judges that hear divorce cases, child custody and child support actions, and other domestic matters are the judges that preside over the juvenile court.

In the family court, the overarching consideration for the court is what is in the best interest of the child – even in sentencing, after a verdict of guilty, the court should ask “what is in the best interest of the child” and not “how can we punish the child.”

There are fewer trials in juvenile court than in adult court. The most likely reason for this is that juveniles cannot have a jury trial in South Carolina – many attorneys do not trust a family court judge to be the sole juror and see or hear evidence that should have been inadmissible.

SC Juvenile Criminal Defense Attorney in Charleston

If your child has been charged with a crime in the Charleston area, you want an experienced criminal defense lawyer helping them. In juvenile criminal defense cases, we get the state’s evidence, we investigate the allegations, we negotiate, and we go to trial when appropriate. Our job is to protect your child in every way that we can at every step of the proceedings.

Call Charleston, SC juvenile defense lawyer Grant B. Smaldone now at (843) 808-2100 or fill out our online contact form to schedule a free consultation.