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A Parent's Guide to Juvenile Criminal Defense in Illinois

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The World's First Juvenile Court, Chicago

A Parent's Guide to Juvenile Criminal Defense in Illinois

     Parents everywhere experience the same cares, hopes and frustrations for their children. As a result, the parents of teenagers in juvenile court often ask the same questions: Does a juvenile case show up on a background check? How does a juvenile arrest come up in college and job applications? Does it affect joining the military?

For answers to these questions, read the Frequently Asked Questions About Illinois Juvenile Records

But, if your son or daughter has juvenile court and you need a big-picture overview of how to get safely through the case, read on. 

Illinois became the first state to create a separate system for juveniles when it opened the Chicago Juvenile Court in 1899. But, despite major updates to the law as recently as 2018, the system remains a treacherous place to navigate. Weaknesses in juvenile protection laws, ease of record sharing in the digital age and the importance of the teen years all combine to make juvenile criminal defense a high stakes area of the law. 

Because it is the duty of the juvenile defense lawyer to tell hard truths, there is much "negative" information in this guide. But, as you will see, the takeaway is that strategies exist to achieve success in juvenile criminal defense. With the right amount of attention, work and skill, your teenager's arrest doesn't have to be a barrier to their future success.

Table of Contents:

I. My Kid Was Arrested and Their is a Court Date. What is the Best Possible Outcome?

II. When Negotiations Fail: Judge Conferencing and Beating Juvenile Cases

III. Potential Penalties in an Illinois Juvenile Criminal Case

IV. Final Thoughts

I. My Kid Was Arrested and Their is a Court Date. What is the Best Possible Outcome?

The greatest solution a juvenile defense lawyer can provide is minimizing the youth's involvement in the system.

Achieving a "not guilty" verdict after a trial is great, but it's not as good as getting charges dismissed before it gets to that point. That's because the deeper one goes in a juvenile case, the more cost, time, risk and record the case creates...and the more explaining your child has to do in the future.

To see why this is true, consider the nature of juvenile justice in Illinois. It is easy to think of it as one entity, but it isn't. It's actually made up of several departments and agencies: police departments, court clerks, prosecutor's office, detention facilities, social service agencies and probation departments. Each of these entities makes their own records subject to their own record sharing laws.1 If charges are not dismissed early on, more records are created as the youth makes their way through this system. For that reason, juvenile cases dismissed early on create less "mess" than one that progresses more deeply into the system.

So how does one get a juvenile case dismissed early on?

Negotiations with prosecutors offer the earliest and best opportunity to achieve the cleanest success in juvenile criminal cases. While judges can find juveniles "not guilty" after the risk and cost of a trial, only the prosecutor's office has the discretion to voluntarily dismiss charges before it gets to that point.

Sadly, some juvenile court lawyers do not exploit this opportunity to its full potential. Instead, they make a half-hearted in-court request from prosecutors for an offer. The prosecutor, overworked and responsible for hundreds of juvenile files, feels little motivation to do more than make a "low-ball" offer. The offer is then accepted, often with life-altering consequences to the youth.

The better practice is to appreciate the negotiations stage as the opportunity it is. In-court contact is great, but a five minute conversation cannot possibly do the teenager's story justice. It is much more effective to put together a packet of materials showing why prosecutors should agree to the deal you want for the juvenile, whether that be dismissal of charges, reduction in charges or something else. 

This packet can take many forms, but it usually consists of a cover letter and attachments. The cover letter can give a brief summary of the facts, point out weaknesses in the case and, most importantly, show who the youth is as a person.

More than mere talk, however, supporting attachments can show, rather than tell, why the agreement you want is a win-win for all involved. This supporting evidence can take the form of character references, professional assessments, letters from the boss at a part time job, proof of community or church involvement, substance abuse counseling (if drugs or alcohol are involved) as well as proof of athletic and academic achievement.2

With this packet in hand, the prosecutor can review it on their own time. Some will even call the character references and verify the materials submitted. Now your child is no longer a faceless file. They have a name and a story and are much more likely to be treated with care.

This strategy is part art, part science and the specifics will depend highly on the youth's strengths, weaknesses, facts of the case and desired outcome. For more, read the Guide to Settlement Options in Criminal Cases.

II. When Negotiations Fail: Judge Conferencing and Beating Juvenile Cases

Negotiating with prosecutors is a low-cost, low-risk way to achieve success in a juvenile case. But what does one do if negotiations fail?

The disciplined juvenile defense lawyer should be prepared for this possibility. Indeed, negotiations are most successful when a lifetime of litigation experience has prepared the lawyer to walk away from negotiations and on to other options.

For juvenile cases that means requesting a "402 conference" with the judge or taking the case to trial.

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Judge Conferencing

A 402 conference is a meeting where the judge, prosecutor and juvenile defense lawyer discuss the case in the judge's chambers.3 Neither the youth nor the parents are present for this conference.

The judge hears things they normally would not hear about the juvenile, both good and bad.  After hearing from both sides, the judge makes an offer to the juvenile's lawyer which the youth can accept or reject. Note that the previous packet of materials prepared for negotiations with prosecutors can come in handy in conferencing with the judge.

The difference between this and negotiations with prosecutors is that the judge does not have the power to voluntarily dismiss the charges; only prosecutors can do that.

Continuance Under Supervision: Almost as Good as Dismissal

But judges can still offer the most lenient sentence possible and in the juvenile system that's called "Continuance Under Supervision."4 Under this program, you can avoid being adjudicated "Delinquent", which is the juvenile equivalent of a "Conviction" in the adult system.

Another great thing about cases receiving Continuance Under Supervision is that once completed, automatic expungement (destruction of the record) kicks in and the record of your file will be destroyed within 60 days.5

Read the Frequently Asked Questions About Juvenile Records in Illinois for more on what this means for job applications, background checks and more.

Note that a juvenile that is granted Continuance Under Supervision is required to "do their part"; they may be ordered to pursue schooling, work training and perform community service, among many other possibilities.6

Juvenile Trials

As for trials, other than the fact that juvenile trials are not public and you can't choose trial by jury, juvenile trials look a lot like what you see in movies and television. Prosecutors and defense lawyers make opening statements, witnesses are called to testify, they're cross-examined and the judge makes a decision after hearing all evidence and closing arguments. 

What happens the day of trial is hugely important, but the surest way to maximize chances of success on trial day is to do the out-of-court homework. This in turn depends on the specific facts of your case. For more, read the Guide to Beating Criminal cases in Illinois.

Not Guilty

If the judge finds in favor of the youth, the case is over. If this happens, the record of the case with the police and courts is automatically expunged within 60 days.7

But defeat at trial is always a possibility. If the juvenile is found "guilty", the case is continued for sentencing.8 Read the next section to learn about potential penalties in juvenile sentencing.

III. Potential Penalties and Consequences in an Illinois Juvenile Criminal Case

If the juvenile is found guilty, one of several things can happen.

First of all, yes, your child can go to "jail.9 The definition of a criminal case is the possibility of jail time, and that doesn't change just because you are in the juvenile system. They call it the "juvenile detention center", but it is essentially the same as jail. Incarceration alternatives include home electronic monitoring, removal from the home10 and juvenile boot camp.11

Cook County's juvenile detention center is in Chicago at 1100 South Hamilton. Other counties may or may not have a separate facility for juveniles; if not, Illinois law allows juveniles to be housed with adults, so long as they are kept separate from adult inmates with a sight and sound barrier.12

The judge can sentence you to probation instead of jail.13 This means you have to follow certain rules and may lose privileges. Among many possibilities, juveniles may have to wear an electronic monitoring bracelet, undergo substance abuse counseling or do community service.

Other hazards include being "Adjudicated Delinquent" similar to the meaning of getting a "Conviction" in adult cases. This can result in a permanent record affecting career opportunities and income potential.14

Some of the more common "collateral consequences" of Illinois juvenile arrests and convictions include:

Driver's License Suspension

Judges have the power to suspend or revoke a person under 18's driving privileges if the youth is convicted, even if the offense has nothing to do with driving.15

If the offense did have something to do with cars or driving, mandatory revocation can happen, whether the judge wants it to or not.16

Illinois has a zero-tolerance law on alcohol for people under 21; you can have your license suspended for up to two years if you test positive for alcohol, even if you are not convicted.17

And even if you are nowhere near a car, anyone under 21 that is ticketed for underage drinking will have their license suspended for three months.18

Lose Right to Own and Carry a Firearm 

Juvenile criminal cases can also prevent getting a Firearm Owner's Identification Card (FOID) and Concealed Carry License (CCL).19

IV. Final Thoughts: Pricing, Service Guarantees, Attorney Profile, Contact Information 

In Chicago alone, thousands of youth are arrested and enter the juvenile criminal system every year. And because the system is so overworked, not every juvenile will get the time and attention they deserve.20 Still, the system's saving grace is that it provides mechanisms that the disciplined juvenile defense attorney can exploit to the youth's advantage.

For information on fees and how you should expect to be treated during your case read the pricing policy and service guarantees. For information on the author, read the attorney profile page.

If after reading this page you would like more information specific to your facts, you may call 312.396.4112 or contact me online

Legal References

1. 705 ILCS 405/1-8

2. If you are thinking that your child doesn't have some or any of these accomplishments, that is fine. Time can be bought to get him or her to start. Indeed, many lives have been radically changed for the better because the opportunity of a successful resolution to a juvenile case spurred a sincere effort to rehabilitate.

3. Illinois Supremer Court Rule 402

4. 705 ILCS 405/5-615

5. 705 ILCS 405/5-915

6. 705 ILCS 405/5-615

7. 705 ILCS 405/5-915

8. 705 ILCS 405/5-620

9. 705 ILCS 405/5-620,705 ILCS 405/5-710; the juvenile that is found guilty can be made a "ward of the court" and sentenced to jail time under these two provisions.

10. 705 ILCS 405/5-740

11. 55 ILCS 5/3-6038

12. 705 ILCS 405/5-410

13. 705 ILCS 405/5-710(1)(a)(i)

14. Burdened for Life: The Myth of Juvenile Record Confidentiality and Expungement in Illinois, Illinois Juvenile Justice Commission, April 2016

15. 705 ILCS 405/5-710(1)(a)(vii)

16. 705 ILCS 405/5-710(11)

17. 625 ILCS 5/6-208.2(a)

18. 625 ILCS 5/6-206(a)(43); but, you may qualify for a judicial driving permit under 405/5-710.

19. 720 ILCS 5/24-1.6(3)(D), 430 ILCS 65/4(a)(2)(xii),(xiii); see also 430 ILCS 65/8 

20. The Illinois Juvenile Collateral Consequences Checklist, Carolyn Frazier, Children and Family Justice Center, Bluhm Legal Clinic, Northwestern University School of Law

Serving clients throughout the Chicago metropolitan area including those in the following localities:

Cook County including Chicago, Arlington Heights, Cicero, Evanston, Palatine, Schaumburg, Skokie, and Tinley Park; DuPage County including Downers Grove, Elmhurst, Naperville, and Wheaton; Kane County including Aurora, Elgin, and Hoffman Estates; Kendall County including Yorkville and Oswego; Lake County including Buffalo Grove and Waukegan; and Will County including Bolingbrook and Joliet.