Rioux, Donahue, Chmelecki & Peltier, LLC

Juvenile Defense

Nothing is quite as unnerving for a parent as having their child charged with a crime. In Maine, juveniles charged with crimes, face the possibility of incarceration until age 21 and the potential that a criminal adjudication could follow them for the rest of their life. Children and families dealing with juvenile criminal charges face a sudden and disorienting introduction to world of juvenile community corrections officers, bind over hearings, court procedures and unknown consequences. An experienced juvenile defense attorney will demystify the process, address the concerns of the parent and child, and advocate for a resolution that protects the juvenile’s future.

This article will address the following topics, you can use the links below to navigate to that section.

What is a juvenile crime in Maine?

Young man staring out at the ocean

A juvenile crime refers to conduct that, if committed by an adult, would be prohibited by the Maine criminal code. Juvenile courts in Maine have jurisdiction over minors up to age 18 and over adults until age 21. Most bases begin when a juvenile is served with a summons, which details the alleged offense and informs the person of the date and time that they are to appear in the juvenile court to answer to the juvenile charges.

Initial appearance on juvenile criminal charges

At the first court appearance, called the initial appearance, the minor will be called upon to either “admit” or “deny” the juvenile crimes alleged. If the person admits to the charges, the court will then impose a sentence, called a dispositions, on the juvenile. If the minor denies, then the case court will note the denial and set the matter for an adjudication hearing. In addition, the State may seek to place conditions of release on the juvenile. This means that the juvenile will be required to abide by a set of conditions – such as a curfew and requirements to stay out of trouble and to remain in school – or risk further restrictions or, in the last resort, detention in a youth detention center.

Bind-over, adult prosecution of juvenile defendants

One notable exception to the above occurs when a juvenile is accused of committing very serious crimes like murder, manslaughter, or other violent felony-level crimes. In those cases, the State may seek to prosecute the juvenile as an adult. In order to do so, the court will be required to hold a bind-over hearing. At the hearing, the court will hear evidence regarding, among other factors, the seriousness of the offense, the juvenile’s criminal history, age, emotional character and any potential danger that the juvenile poses to the public. If the court determines that there is probable cause that the juvenile committed the alleged offense it can then send the case to an adult court for prosecution. From that point on, the juvenile will be dealt with as if he or she were and adult.

Rights of juvenile defendants in Maine

In Maine, juvenile defendants have many of the same rights as adults who are facing criminal charges do. The only real difference is that any trials will be held in front of a judge and not a jury. This means that it will be the judge who decides if there is sufficient evidence to support the allegation in the juvenile petition. If the judge determines there is, he or she will issue an adjudication that the person has committed a juvenile crime. The next step is to determine the sentence, or disposition, that will be applied to the case. Importantly, the term “adjudication” is used to distinguish from a “conviction,” which results when an adult is found guilty of a crime and sentence is imposed.

Effect of juvenile adjudication or conviction

Finally, perhaps the most important aspect of the juvenile process is the lasting effect it may have on the child’s life. While it is commonly assumed that a person’s juvenile record is “sealed”, there can be many collateral consequences as a result of a juvenile adjudication. These range from the ability to qualify for financial aid to increased penalties for any future criminal charges. The extent of any such consequences will depend upon the nature and seriousness of the juvenile charge. Consulting with an experienced and knowledgeable juvenile attorney will be critical to ascertaining and limiting the long-term effects.